Half way up the stairs is the stair where I sit

Before I start this blog proper, I wanted to share with you how challenging it is to climb to floor 2 of the extension at the moment.  The old narrow stairs were removed a couple of months ago, and we are currently part way through installing the replacement set, so at the moment I have to climb a set of steps – not a problem – to scramble between two floor joists set 400mm apart centre to centre – a bit more problematical, being quite a snug fit.  Luckily, I don’t often need to access floor 2 at the moment.

Current stairs to the second floor

A couple of days ago, I needed to climb up since we had to raise the old floorboards (see below) because part of the old floor is where the new landing needs to be.  When the master builder didn’t need his apprentice trainee deputy under-builder, I nipped up to play with the wrecking bar and lift lots of boards so that we can better see what has to go.

Floor 2 that needs removing to make way for floor 2 landing

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mike installed the second landing for this flight of stairs into the corner you last saw with the plaster drying off.

Second platform for stairs from floors 1 to 2 now complete

Having put the platform in, we next had to prepare the stairs.  First, we fitted the two newel posts (1 each at the top and bottom of the flight) which needed trimming to fit,…

Next flight of stairs taking a rest – waiting for the glue holding the newel posts to dry

…then glued the posts in place, and then lifted the flight into position, levelled it and screwed it in place.  Easy peasy (?!)

Second flight of stairs between floors 1 and 2

So we currently have 5 of 8 flights installed, which takes us slightly beyond half way which, as we all know, is the best place to be on a stairway.  This takes us to the end of today’s achievements.  In addition to the building work, we were quite busy in the cafe yesterday, with me acting as waitress and Mike having to drive to Llandudno for stocks for the Easter weekend.  It is somewhat ironic, then, that today was a lot colder than yesterday and rather quieter, so we still managed to push on with the stairs.

The stud wall visible on the right hand side, part plastered, now needs to be extended across to the left hand side

Our next challenge, which we probably won’t start until Wednesday, is to complete the stud wall above so that the floor 2 landing can link to it.  Looking at it another way…

This view was taken standing with my back to the view seen above.

for the other end of the landing, we will need to pull down part of the old floor (including the joist slightly left of top centre).  Once they are gone, we can fit new joists and joist hangers to support the platform of trimmers which will ultimately support the landing and thus the third flight of floor 1 to 2 stairs (the sixth of eight sets we have to install).  Only 3 flights of stairs to go before this part of the project is almost done – even thought these is quite a lot of serious building work to do before them.  I hope you are keeping everything crossed for us!

The secret of happiness is…a few more stairs

Last Saturday (March 24th) was something of a red letter day in that we managed to install another flight of stairs into our building project.   You can see the stairs below, having a rest on the trimmer which will support both these stairs and the landing to which they will lead.

Just checking the strength of the landing…

It took a little while to trim the newel posts to length, and then to check that the slots into which they fit are clear of rubbish, among other tasks at this stage. After an hour or so of faffing about, we glued the newel posts in place and screwed the stairs in their place – voila!

Flight 4 of stairs – the first from floor 1 to 2 – in place

I think their best side is their other side, so…

Same stairs, different angle

Ah.  So long in coming – so satisfying when finished.  For those, like me, who are impatient for progress, we moved straight on on Tuesday (having been on cafe duty Sunday and Monday) to considering the next landing.  This will have to be fitted into the corner showing (you can see all the additional noggins to support the weight of the landing) meaning we next needed to complete the wall.  Yesterday found us finishing the plywood and plasterboard combo in the morning, and Mike skimmed the area in the afternoon.

Now, to finish this wall…

I photographed the wall this morning, and you can see it is drying out nicely.  Today we are in the cafe, so assuming the wall has dried out by then, we will be able to start fitting the landing.

Wall completed (to a certain extent) and now skimmed.

There were phases yesterday when Mike did not require the services of his apprentice trainee deputy under-builder, even though I was wearing my snazzy overalls, so I skulked off to an adjacent room and (with a little help from the Master builder) fitted the plywood panel to block off a doorway that used to lead into an en suite bathroom.  I then practised my wall-paper removal skills so that the corner you can see is no longer sporting wood chip wallpaper, over-painted many times, complete with various over-painted decorative friezes previously at the top of the wall.

Disguising the old doorway begins

With the plywood in place, I then installed insulation to the other side of the gap being filled.  In due course (i.e. next time I can nag Mike to give me a hand moving the 8′ x 4′ sheets of ply (that’s roughly 2.4m x 1.2m for the modern folk – and pretty heavy whichever system you use to measure it) and trimming them to size) this side will be ply-wooded, and then we can add plasterboard and skim – I’m sure you get the picture.

and insulation in place

We are hoping to be making good progress this Thursday to Saturday, but then have a few days lined up in the cafe so who knows when the next runs of stairs will go in?!?  I love a good mystery…

One landing issue closes, and another doorway is opened…

Our magnificent project has moved forwards apace this week, with only the smallest of obstacles delaying our progress.

You see below the new trimmer in place, ready for the first flight of stairs from floor 1 to floor 2 to rest against the front of the structure (bottom of picture).  Once in place, we cut the stairs to size in the two places necessary and then offered them up to the trimmer . . . only to find that the landing ‘extension’ which Mike built the day before he went down with the ‘flu was too small!  Cue lots of measuring, reading of plans and scratching of heads.  We eventually realised that the first flight of stairs on floor 1 comprises 5 steps, whilst the similar flight on floor 0 has 6 steps, so the landing extension needed to be about 250mm longer than we had built.

Our new trimmer, in place

Next step – you can see below that we have removed the landing ‘extension’ floorboards, after which Mike had to dismantle parts of the substructure before rebuilding a bigger version.  This required us first to cut away the old floor (on the left hand side of the picture below) to give us room to work – which did then leave an uncomfortably large hole in the floor for us to work around.

The ‘old’ landing extension, being taken apart

Most of the time, I was helping Mike, cutting bits, holding bits, fetching bits, getting the tea, insisting we read the plans – all the regular trainee deputy under-builder tasks.  When I was released from these duties, I took my energy and any frustrations out on the wall you can see below, which in the fullness of time will form a doorway into an en suite bathroom…

New doorway being created

…and when I got bored with that, I returned to helping the Master as he lovingly re-crafted the landing ‘extension’.  Below you can see much of the substructure, including the noggins for increased rigidity….

The replacement landing extension, in production

…and further below you see it again with various angle brackets, flat screw plates and enormous bolts in place, with just a little bit of fiddling still to do before the floor boards can be fitted.  As this was happening on a day when we knew I would be needed on task for about 15 minutes in the hour, and as it was forecast to be a dry day, we lit the bonfire at the top of the hill behind us.

Nearly done

For some months, the site had been full of partly burned Rhododendron stumps along with random heaps of gardening detritus, onto which we carried out all the old floor boards we have raised recently along with various wooden materials we had removed which were impregnated with the distinct scent of rodent.  Being a well organised and conscientious worker, obviously I took a picture before I lit the match – it must have got lost somewhere in the processing routine (or perhaps I just forgot…) but I hope you are impressed that the 4 black objects towards the right of the shot are all that remains of this massive pile, and if these stumps continue to smoulder there may be even less tomorrow.  Once it all cools down and I have dug away the worst of the ashes, if all goes to plan, this will be a planted area by the summer.

Bonfire, what bonfire?

Back indoors, Mike had finished cutting and fitting the floorboards to the landing extension so tomorrow we hope to fit the next flight of stairs in place.  Once he had finished this, Mike started plastering the area that I stripped of wallpaper earlier in the week, so that it should be dry when we come to fit the third flight of stairs next week.

Ta da! New landing ‘extension’, on floor 1, now in place, ready to receive the first flight of floor 1 stairs

Tomorrow we will continue with the stairs, unless of course the cafe gets really busy what with the school Easter holidays being imminent, in which case Mike might lose his trainee deputy under-builder every now and then – but I’m sure he can cope.

Going up in the world – any day soon!

Sunday dawned bright and chilly and with a 15cm covering of snow making everything look lovely and clean, but did make driving to church something of a challenge.  The A470 had been gritted, but the 100 metres between our car park, down the steep winding path to the bridge was a rather hairier matter but nonetheless managed safely.

Sunday and our sprinkling of snow

Sunday was a relatively quiet day in the cafe with only brave walkers from Dolwyddelan or Betws y Coed keeping us busy.  Monday, during which the thaw began, was really quite busy but better even than that, we received the go ahead from Building Control for our plan for installing the next floors-worth of stairs which meant Mike nipped off during a quieter period to purchase necessary bits from the Builders Merchants.

Finally we get to move these ‘decorative’ stairs, almost into position, after a month or two, or three, or….

This morning, therefore, we were ready for a swift start.  We began by moving two flights of stairs up to floor 1, so that we could check, double check and triple check the various dimensions.

We then made any number of calculations and measurements in an attempt to ensure we get these in right, first time.  I am not sure if you will be able to see it but, on the wall, we pencilled in the height and extent of the platform landings; the position for each run of stairs; the 2 metre headroom necessary above the flight of stairs below the floor; and the thickness of the floor boards.  We worked out which elements must be exactly in certain positions, and those bits for which there is some flexibility on final positions, and ensured these showed in the plans.

The higher maths just reminded us that we are still not quite firing on all cylinders

Then Mike just decided to go for it.  You see him below fitting the first of the trimmers to the wall using joist hangers – of which there will be many in the final construction.

Mike on his knees before the great god of builders

He then fitted a second trimmer to the wall; then completed the box structure (cunningly supported on a prop at this stage) with stiffeners and screwed flat-plates and metal angle brackets and, if I know Mike, there is sure to be some skew-screwing to follow before this beast is finished.  In case it is not obvious to the casual observer, the idea is that the first 5 stairs will be propped against the trimmer just in front of Mike.  A platform landing will be laid over the top of this support structure.  The second set of stairs will be supported by the left hand of the support structure, so next time you see a picture of this support you should only be able to see the merest traces of it, as most of it will be hidden by the stairs.

Mike creating his mystery frame

As the construction required lots of measuring and check measuring, sucking through teeth and cautious progress, I rapidly got fed up with standing around waiting.  After a brief consultation  we decided I would strip wallpaper from the walls just out of sight in the photo of Mike’s back, so that when he is ready to do the next run of plastering, we can skim the bricked-up window recess amongst other things to make this stairwell the beautiful thing it is destined to be.

…whilst I stripped more wallpaper.

It does feel great to be back on track with the stairs again.  You know, one of these days, we may even be in danger of progressing to the second floor and even (whisper it quietly) finishing the stairwell?!?  That will be some red letter day, I can tell you.  So, until then, onward and – yes – upwards.

Floor 3 continues its make-over

Mike and I have now worked a full week since crawling out of bed following a dose of the flu, but we confess that we have been working short days this week.  We have found that after starting work at 9am, by 3.30pm we were pretty pooped.  More alarming was the discovery that our tools and equipment all appear to have become heavier whilst we were ill, and have also become more challenging to use.

You can never have too much insulation

So on Tuesday, following on from the issue with the water on Monday, we decided to find a steadier job with less potential to go wrong.  We elected to put the second layer of insulation on the exterior walls of floor 3.  This involved boarding up the sloping ceilings between Velux windows, which was relatively straightforward, and also lining the roof behind the struts you can see in the shot below.  This involved quite a lot of contorting into small and unusual spaces…

Deputy chief builder cutting pieces to size

…but in time should mean that these rooms are far more snug when completed.

The en-suites getting the insulation treatment


Long walls now covered

Once Mike has skimmed the walls with plaster (which will add the final touch to the integrity of the insulation) we will return to plaster-board over the purlin and studs, to create a smooth vaguely vertical wall.  Of course, we also have to put in the electrics and plumbing, but for floor 3, once the stairwell is completed we think it will not be so very long before we can add a quick lick of paint ready to receive guests….

Making some fine adjustments

Mike took this picture, I suspect, to show what an unorthodox approach I take occasionally to using the workhorse.  Its a brilliant device with all its clamps and gadgets for holding things, but which is not much use when it is two floors below and I’m feeling a tad weary…

On balance, we are pleased that we have managed to make significant progress this week.  In addition, Mike has written to Building Control and – if the runes fall our way – we hope that his proposed solution may be approved, and we could then re-start work on the stairwell next week.

What’s that I hear you say – something pink flying past your windows, by any chance?  I know what you mean, but bear with me please, I am trying to remain positive here….

One baby step forward, and an unfortunate outcome to deal with…

Greetings all.  I hope that this finds you feeling better than we are.  I can report that both Mike and I are definitely on the road to recovery, but also have to report that we both think this is the ill-est we have been in the last ten years, at least, so please bear with me if what follows is not as upbeat as normal.

After a week on the sick, lame and lazy list, we both enjoyed Saturday and Sunday in the cafe. On mature reflection, perhaps we should have started off a little more gently as we returned to the re-building work today.  We had been discussing how difficult we had found it to keep warm whilst we were poorly, so decided to have a tiffle with the radiators.  We had disconnected some of the radiators whilst we were moving walls around on floors 1 and 2.  Sadly, it wasn’t until we had reconnected the water supply and when Jane shouted through that water was cascading through the cafe ceiling that it became clear at least one critical part of the pipework had not been reconnected properly ….

We didn’t photograph that (as we were too busy trying to stem the flow) but you may be able to guess from the shot below how one of the doorways on floor 1 became rather damp as water did its normal thing and followed the path of least resistance all over the floor!

A slightly damp start…

So we mopped up the water using old towels and so forth in the ‘dirty’ part where a considerable volume of water was sitting just beyond our reach under the floorboards, and mopped up with old newspaper and towelling in the ‘clean’ cafe part.


It was only a little deluge, which you can see ran along joints and edges.

Mike assures me that, once fully dried, we should just need to use a stain blocker before a quick repaint in a few weeks.  On the minus side, we could have done without this.  On the plus side, we do need to remove a tiny sliver of ceiling above the entrance door to the cafe in a couple of weeks, after which we had planned to repaint – so all’s well that ends well, I hear you say.

Two hot water pipes, now lagged

I was determined after all this to make some positive progress today that could be featured on the blog, so I then spent an hour or two lagging the two hot water pipes above.  It’s always reassuring to know your work is worth doing.  In the case of these pipes, they started off pleasantly warm to the touch but the more I lagged, the hotter the pipes became until it was difficult to continue to work without thermal gloves to protect my poor little pinkies.

But at least we have broken back into the work of work, and hope to have more progress to report in a day or so.

Greetings from Plas sick bay…

Ok, so, for those of you who haven’t had this recent ‘flu bug, feel free to count yourselves really, really, lucky.  Now I stop to think about it, Mike and I have been fortunate to enjoy broadly pretty rude good health since we arrived in Wales two years ago, but that has now stopped.  I first felt lousy last Tuesday and we are now on Sunday and I still barely have energy to get out of bed, and the pressure in my head is still unrelenting.  I bet that is just want you all wanted to read!

During last week, Mike, Yvonne and Julie carried on bravely without me.  You can see below that they pared down the existing first floor landing, cutting away old stairs now surplus to requirements…

Preparing to lay the first floor landing

…and then built a supporting structure onto the landing, ready to take the weight of the next flight of stairs.

Support for the next first stair…

Here is the same area seen from a different angle, which may be clearer.  You can kind of see now that the stairs arrive up to the right of the newel post, and the landing will then take people along the back wall, and they will then walk up to the next floor when stairs are attached to the structure to the left of the hole in the floor.

Nearly ready….

Here you can see that the landing has been floored.  In case it isn’t obvious, by the way, the floor to the bottom of the photos is being left in place so that Mike can plaster the walls as we progress upwards – that flooring will be stripped out as soon as the stairs from floor 1 to floor 2 have been completely installed.

Ta da! Landing in place

Glad that’s clear.

Anyway, sadly I now have to break it to you that this was the situation on Friday, by which time Mike was looking a little pasty and Yvonne had an impressive cough.  By Friday Mike was signed off from doing anything tricky. and by yesterday I think only one of us was still up to thinking at all.

Please bear with us as we try to get over these infections and, just to ring the changes, wait to hear back from the architect as we have a little niggle of a query that needs resolving before we can progress further….

Here’s hoping you all manage to stay healthy!