Pulling Together


More new home teething troubles

Having finally sorted out the stiff tap, at least for now, further issues have arisen.

Two days after I moved in the boiler broke down. It’s still Summer so it’s no great hardship yet, but Autumn is coming and as the days get cooler the house will need warming. The boiler is old, and it is unreasonable to expect spares will be available, and it’s positioned high on a wall in the stairwell which is a less-than ideal place to work on it. Replacement seems the obvious option, but with what?

Reducing the environmental footprint of the house is an attractive idea, and that suggests considering whether this is the right time to move to a heat pump. The idea is attractive, but expensive, though grants are available to offset some of that. At least, they are in theory. Under the current government there is a big difference between help available in theory and practice. Remember those Covid days when large numbers of people were offered vaccinations? Remember how on trying to take up the offer the normal response from the booking website was that no appointments were available? So it seems with the grants.

I can get a grant of around 50% of the cost of a heat pump installation. That’s good and makes the pump perhaps only twice the cost of a gas boiler. Well, that’s a start, but as my EPC recommends cavity wall insulation, that must be done before I become eligible for the grant. Never mind, there’s a grant available for that too. There is, of course, a snag. To get the grant I have to prove I own the house, and since it takes the Land Registry around six months to process a change of ownership, I will not receive that proof until mid-winter. A mortgage statement would also be taken as proof, but I bought the house downsizing from a larger and slightly more expensive one, so I needed no mortgage. Letters or statements from the solicitor showing completion will also do, but they are only acceptable if the solicitor provided them on note heading in PDF. Mine didn’t, just ordinary e-mail and Excel. So, I now have a delay on the first hurdle for getting the grant I need to do the preparatory work for the main grant for the work I need to do before Autumn goes too far.

There’s more. I had a surveyor assess the building for cavity wall insulation. It will only cover about half the wall area, and will cost more than the grant for the heat pump. That might not be too much of a problem if it can all be covered by a grant, but that’s not clear. The problem is that the main cost is not the insulation itself, but more preparatory work. When the house was built the bricklayer was careless, dropping large quantities of mortar into the cavity, where it settled and set atop the wall ties, creating large volumes of filled space where insulation cannot reach. These spaces will form cold spots on an insulated wall, encouraging condensation and mould growth, creating an unsightly health hazard if the wall is insulated in its current state. Removing this excess mortar will cost about £3.5k. Over the conservatory and garage scaffolds will need erecting to gain access to the wall, costing up to another £2k. Whether these additional costs can be covered by the grant is unclear. Then there’s the small question on whether the windows qualify for a grant, as they have partially aluminium frames which might prevent the fitting of trickle vents, an essential prerequisite of an insulation grant, as I understand.

And all this needs to be completed in a month or so. It’s starting to look like a tall order.

The alternative is just to replace the boiler with a new one, but even if I do that, it would make little long-term sense not to insulate the house, and I'll still need to change the boiler for a heat pump at some point, possibly without a grant. Then again, as production volumes increase prices might come down. After all, a heat pump is essentially a large fridge mechanism, and they don’t cost £10,000+ to buy, so why should a heat pump, once they are made in quantity?

Since we are in a Bank Holiday weekend, none of the above issues can progress for now, so I have turned my attention to building the garden shed. I bought the shed around two years ago for my previous house, but by the time it was delivered it was evident my time there was limited, so it went into storage in my garage and waited for me to move. Now I have finally done so, it is time finally to build it, but it is only in commencing assembly I have discovered something is wrong with the parts delivered the year before last.

After laying the base I started reading through the instructions to familiarise myself with the process. I began examining the parts, and it soon became apparent one size of screw and the clout nails for fitting the felt are missing. This is inconvenient but not insurmountable. I have a bag of screws in the missing size and clout nails can be bought in B & Q. It was only as I started screwing the panels together I discovered the real problem. Each side of the shed consists of four panels to be screwed together and to a back panel with a gable for the roof. I have now attached two panels for each side, all built on top of a floor which came in two halves. This floor construction proved a nuisance, since the panels are heavy and needed inverting to gain access for screwing. Once joined the double-size and double-weight floor needed turning over and positioning on the base. That was hard work, but at least the join across the middle gave an early clue all was not well. With half of the side walls built, they should have aligned with the join in the floor, but they were clearly nearly 2 inches short of it. It was obvious when the side walls are completed it will not be possible to attach the front of the shed to them as they will not reach the end of the floor, with which the end must align. Either the floor is too long, or the panels are too narrow. I then started calculating the parts needed to cover the joins and complete the corners. Four corner posts and six join covers are needed, but the pack of timber which came with the shed contains only nine identical strips of wood. The corner posts and cover strips are surely different, and anyway even I can add six to four, and nine is not enough. It would appear that, instead of receiving a single kit of parts, I have been sent various parts from different kits for different sizes of shed, and the result cannot be assembled. So now I must reject the item two years after delivery and try to persuade the company I am entitled to a shed which can be built or my money back. That’s not going to be easy. In modern Britain nothing seems to work any more. Here we go again.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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