Thursday, May 24, 2007

If it ain't broke

I can tell the eager reader is all agog wanting to know the dampness rating here at Alf Towers. Is the place a mass of accidentally-pierced pipes? Are the volumes of The Woodworker annual (1925-1963 not-at-all-inclusive) so much papier-mâché? Take a seat; I'll tell all...

Trevor, the electrician with the mobile 'phone number-giving mother, arrives first. He starts rushing from boiler (hot water and central heating, Wiley) to controller in the kitchen to junction box in the spare room like a man possessed (did I mention the floorboards have been up all this time?). The nice thing with Trevor is he's a member of the male voice choir that is based over the road, so not only does he know us but you get pleasant music hummed while he works. Anyway, the consensus is he's on his professional mettle, wishing to show these plumbing types he has the whole deal sussed and no extra wiring is required. He's right too, because no extra wires are needed and he's been and gone by lunchtime or thereabouts.

Meanwhile Vic has turned up avec stop cock, metric/imperial conversion fittings and, saints be praised, the correct bits for the flue. Yee-hah, wagons roll, etc. Everything is going swimmingly; the pipes from the old boiler are cut, joined up to the ones from the new one, water flows, happy faces all round. It's at this point I should mention that the existing boiler is in the kitchen while the new one is housed outside in a tiny lean-to against the outside wall of the kitchen. It was built as a privvy (restroom? bathroom? lavatory?) when the whole back wall of the house had to be replaced when the original one fell down one day (before our time) and has been referred to as "The Bothy" by TPTB and "The Privvy" by me ever since we've been here. Henceforth it's "The Boilerhouse". To me this conjures up pictures of raging furnaces, toiling stokers and so forth; the reality is a sterile white metal box which is frankly a bit of a let down. But where was I...?

Oh yes. Of course the old boiler has to be taken out as part of the deal. Only one tiny problem. The pipes from it to the hot water tank and heating system are behind a run of kitchen units. That's the run of units with the gas hob built in. They'll have to be moved. Just to complicate things a trifle the Old Man wants to move them permanently to take up the space where the boiler won't be. This is a job for a pro - where's the 'phone number of Mark the guy who put the new kitchen worktops in last year...?

Eventually we find it. Oh, he doesn't do kitchen fitting any more. Fine. Great. Vic! No worries, Vic has a chap he knows, but as with all kitchen fitters he can't be had at short notice. That old boiler isn't going anywhere until mid-June at the earliest.

Okay, never mind, it's not a problem, just get the new one going. Water's flowing right? All's well then? Er, no, not actually... Seems the one thing Vic had reckoned to be easy - cut oil pipe, join up new run of oil pipe to new boiler - erm, isn't working. So we have water, but no means to heat it. The problem could be an airlock - the tank being high enough but the terrain requiring the pipe to drop three feet and rise again before joining the boiler. Vic goes off to find a vacuum pump.

Abut this time I dropped out of the loop a bit and went to go and sit in a corner and stare at a wall until the urge to scream lessened a little. However I gather Vic failed to locate such a pump. I know this because I next saw him sucking on the end of the oil line as a human vacuum pump... When I returned with the Polo mints to help ease the oil taste he'd decided the line was okay and was blowing at the valve instead. I don't like to judge but I seem to be the only one to see him push an insignificant-looking button and suddenly find the valve was clear and it was all systems go. Oh well, by then it had been a long day and it was probably easy to overlook...

So the boiler was going and it was about twenty to five in the evening. No sign of Ben fresh from the lady from Slough btw. So Vic turns to the replacing of the mains water stop cock. Digging out the soft filler from round the pipe went smoothly (Stanley "Fat Max" chisel btw - no wonder they don't consider the requirements of woodworkers when they make them), even turning the water off at the meter in the road seemed to go okay. It was the 20 minute wait with the bucket while the water drained from the pipe that took the time. The mains run the whole length of the house with no means of draining the system, so there was that much to trickle out of the hacksaw kerf before more progress could be made. Eventually it stopped, at which point we discovered how much thicker the walls of old pipe are as Vic laboriously hacksawed his way through with as much as a whole 1/2" of stroke to play with. Nice. A minor moment of terror at 5.20pm when he suddenly said the metric/imperial conversion fitting was "stepped" which would "make it tricky" so he hared off to the van to see if he had a non-stepped one. No idea if he found one or just coped with "tricky" - I was too busy looking at a big gap where clean water should come in and thinking after closing time was not a good time to be in that situation. But hey, at least it wasn't a Friday. But all credit to him, he persevered and got it done. Having arrived before 9am he was finally on his way again at 6.20 in the evening.

And us? We have a working boiler and mains pipe, which is good. But then we also have a spare boiler, a lot of unfilled holes and more disruption to look forward to. Call it a one-all draw. Mind you we have Ben coming to drain the system next Tuesday, so anything could happen...

The irony of the thing is that the old boiler does actually still work, but the Old Man has always favoured the stitch-in-time approach. On this evidence I think I'm going to stick with my preferred ethos - if it ain't broke...


  1. Alf

    This really is a story of black clouds and silver linings! I have felt for you as I read of your tribulations. But at least you weren't having to speak in a foreign language,like I did when my sister was doing up her house in Italy!!!

    Thinks - maybe the international workers have united in being equally good at putting sharp implements through pipes and wires and at always having someone else to blame!!

    Anyway - it sound like the end is in sight and this will just be another past tense experience that you can laugh about.

    Best of luck


  2. High fives all round, Alf!! And ten low. Redemption for Vic and crew. I really like that galootish oil-sucking thing! Then there was the heroic assist by Trevor's Mum. Sorta poignant that the last of the Queen's Imperial plumbing had to be converted to metric. Oh well, there's still the GBP. Sleep well and enjoy the hot water.


  3. Great to hear that things are almost back to normal.


    Paul Chapman

  4. I'm just glad all the volumes of "The Woodworker" annual came through the ordeal unscathed.


  5. Ian, you're a man with his priorities dead right :)


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