Finally Cycling to Work

So, its Bike Week apparently, which suggests that it might be a good time to mention that I am finally cycling to work. Yes, I know it was over a year ago that I first mentioned the idea but to cut a long-story short, it took over 10 months for my bike to arrive.

Over the course of the last year, circumstances have changed slightly, leaving me only two days a week when its possible to cycle. On Mondays and Fridays, Sarah and I walk in together (its about 2.5 miles each way), dropping Ben into nursery on our way and on Thursdays (when Ben stays with my parents) we’ve been getting the bus. Still, cycling in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, when Sarah doesn’t work, is better than nothing.

My cycle route is over 3.5 miles each way, so combined with the walking, it means I’m now covering around 25 miles a week, under my own steam. Not a bad start, I think, even if there are people who cycle further in just one commute.

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Posted by Nev in Going Green, Transport with tags , , , , ,

Installing Our Wood Burning Stove

I’ve being really slow in getting this series finished off and I’m sure anyone reading has forgotten what has gone before. So far we’ve looked at why we chose a wood burning stove and how we decided which stove was right for us. Now its finally time to get into the details of installing the stove, which was a longer and more painful process than either it should have been or we could have possibly imagined.

Let’s start with a recommendation. If you’re thinking of installing a stove and your stove supplier offers a full installation service, including performing any necessary building work, its probably a good idea to make use of their services. Sure, you might be able to shop around and get a lower price for the work, but there’s a very good chance the stove suppliers actually know what they’re doing. We didn’t do this and that, I believe, was our first and biggest mistake.

I don’t know what it would have cost to have Mourne Fireplaces, our stove suppliers, carry out all the necessary work because we didn’t even ask. We had a builder in already doing some other small jobs in the house and it just seemed like a good idea to use the one builder for everything. We told Mourne Fireplaces this and they said that they’d provide us with the specifications for the opening and hearth that they’d require in order to install the stove. Everything seemed good to go.

After a false start or three (practically expected with builders), the builder turned up and within two days, we’d gone from a blocked up chimney breast and lumpy walls to a nice big opening and smooth walls. The guy who had done the work so far (not the ‘builder’, who was busy elsewhere) reckoned that everything would be finished within two weeks. I was not only pleased but quietly impressed. Little did I know that things had already started going wrong.

Over the next week or so, the builder’s visits became more erratic. We now had a different guy on site doing the work albeit very slowly. It took a long time to build up the wooden base for the hearth and then everything went quiet. More than a week went by with no one doing any work. The builder continually apologised, saying that he was busy and had a lot of different jobs on. Silly us for assuming that we were one of those jobs that he’d be busy on.

Eventually, work started again, though at best it was only three days a week and even then everything had stopped before 3pm. The wooden floor was fitted, the skirting boards attached and the new door was hung. Two days were wasted as attempts to cut the stone tiles resulted in more broken tiles than cut ones, before a proper tiler was called in. Finally, we were ready for the stove to be installed or so we thought.

On the last Thursday in June, some two months since we’d moved out of the living room, the stove installers arrived to fit our stove. Sarah and I were both at work and really looking forward to returning home to our new stove. However, it was barely 10am before I started getting messages from my parents, who were in our house looking after Ben, that things were seriously wrong.

The stove installers didn’t like the wooden structure of the hearth and weren’t happy that it would support all 95 kilograms of stove. I’d had my own concerns about the hearth before, to the point were I actually tried standing on it and bouncing on it before I was satisfied. Sure, there was a little give in it, but it wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t convinced by their argument, but I wasn’t there to do anything about it.

Having decided that they weren’t happy about fitting the stove on the hearth, the installers decided to try fitting the flue and the flexible chimney liner, so that the day wasn’t a complete washout. What they found next was even worse. When the chimney breast had been re-opened, the builders had found that it was uneven and decided to ‘fix’ things by using a wooden frame to support the plasterboard, making a nice even opening. I had never seen this as the work had been done on a day when I was in the office. This meant that the flue of the stove, which heats up to a couple of hundred degrees, would be passing within millimetres of bare, untreated wood. The plasterboard itself was an issue too, only being fire resistant (for 30 minutes) and not fire retardant. The stove installers declared that it would quite simply be unsafe for them to continue with the installation given the obvious fire risk and on that point it was hard to argue with them. Sarah was quickly on the phone to the builder, who claimed that the installers were being ‘prima donnas’ and promptly hung up.

We’d already booked a decorator to paint the room the next day. Rather than cancel, we let him carry on even though we knew that there was further disruption ahead. Meanwhile we were in installation limbo. The builder stated that he had worked to the specification provided by the stove suppliers, which he had, but unfortunately, the specification hadn’t mentioned anything about materials, only minimum opening sizes and required hearth depths. The suppliers stated that any builder should be aware of, or find out, the regulations regarding fire and stove installation when working with a chimney breast. Both sides were correct in their own way, but that didn’t help us at all.

In the end, it became clear that the only way forward was to correct the problems ourselves, something we thought we’d be avoiding by paying to get a ‘proper builder’ to do the work rather than tackling it ourselves from the start. Over the next month, I spent my evenings and weekends trying to salvage as many of the tiles as possible, stripping out the plasterboard and wooden frame and building up the uneven side of the opening with various sand & cement mixes. With the help of my father-in-law, we fitted fire-proof board secured on angle iron brackets, that meant we didn’t need the problematic wooden laths. I even filled the back section of the hearth, where the stove would stand, with concrete, topped with a smooth cement render, just to make sure there would be no obstacles to having the stove installed next time.

Due to the fact that I was doing most of the work myself and the traditional 2 week holiday that most trades take over the 12th July period in Northern Ireland, it was some time before we were able to get a tiler in and bring us back to where we thought we’d been one month previously and could ask the stove installers to give it another go. Thankfully, this time everything went relatively smoothly and our stove was finally installed. All that was left to do was to repaint the chimney breast and we were done.

These days, our stove hides behind a cage to protect it from Ben and I rarely think of the problems that we had with it that caused us to be out of the living room for four months, rather than just one as we’d expected. Using the stove is really simple and the heat it gives out is phenomenal, but I’ll talk more about that in the next installment. For now I’ll finish with a final recommendation: If you want to be sure that your builder/supplier/installer knows what they’re doing, you need to a) know something about it yourself so you can spot if things are going wrong and b) know what work they’re actually doing, not what they tell you they’re doing. Follow this advice, and you’ll not have half the problems we did.

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Posted by Nev in Going Green with tags , , , , , , ,

Choosing a Wood Burning Stove

This is part two of our wood burning stove installation saga. In part one we looked at Why Choose a Wood Burning Stove? and now we turn to the question of how to choose your stove from the seemingly endless options out there.

There are two major factors that will influence your choice of stove. One is the type of stove, of which style/appearance is a small component, but its probably best to start with the other major factor, heat output.

The heat output of a stove is measured in Kilowatt Hours (kwh) and if you want to know what those are you can check Wikipedia, but really you don’t need to know. All that’s important is finding out what output is appropriate for the room that your stove will be in. Pick a stove with too low an output and it will be hard to heat your room. Too high an output and your room may get uncomfortably hot. Thankfully there are several online tools to help you, of which this is just one example. Simply plug in the dimensions of your room and the tool will let you know what heat output you’ll need from your stove.

Choosing the type of stove you want may not be so easy, simply because there are so many different choices out there. Sometimes your requirements/situation may dictate the stove type you need. Otherwise, the only limiting factors are your budget and your patience to search through all the options.

In our case, we started out looking at ‘inset’ stoves, which as their name suggests are inset into the chimney breast so that only the front of the stove is visible. The effect is almost like having a flat screen TV that only shows the ‘flames channel’ and gives out heat too. However, our search took a twist when we found out that inset stoves are a) not quite as good at heating as other stove types, b) would still require a big fireguard to keep Ben away from them & a hearth just in case any burning wood should fall out when the door was opened and finally c) are generally more expensive than their freestanding siblings.

All of this good information came to us via the Wood Energy forum on the New House Farm website (formly known as the “It’s Not Easy Being Green” site). I would heartily recommend that anyone thinking about installing a wood burning stove should join this forum as its full of invaluable advice and many individuals who are very knowledgeable on the topic, from long-time stove users to professional stove installers.

Knowing that we required a stove with around 4Kwh heat output, the good folks of the Wood Energy forum suggested that we check out the Charnwood Country 4, Charnwood Cove 1 and Stovax Stockton 4 stoves, with all of these three being recommended as reliable, easy-to-use stoves that are good value for money. Handily, a local stove supplier (Mourne Fireplaces) stocks both the Charnwood & Stovax brands and having seen them in the ‘flesh’, we opted for the Charnwood Cove 1, with the optional store stand, based on appearance as much as anything else. Though we didn’t pick the Stockton 4, its fairly obvious that its catalog picture was a source of inspiration for our own stove install.

So our stove was picked and a deposit paid, now to get the living room ready for the stove’s installation. Our saga is only just beginning…

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Posted by Nev in Going Green with tags , , , , , ,

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