A room of one’s own: bad smells, dodgy MDF and crumbling plaster (part 1)

Thursday, April 9, 2015 1 , , , , Permalink 0

Oops, this blog post is long overdue! For the past month I’ve been working non-stop decorating the second bedroom so it’s been hard finding time to blog.

The room is quite small (3 metres by 2 metres) but for me it’ll be one of the most important places in the house – my study and a home for my books.

Here’s what the room looked like at the start.

Second bedroom

Second bedroom

Convention dictates I should start with the first thing I did…

Step 1: getting rid of cat urine smells

I decided to rip up the carpet fairly quickly after moving in because of the pungent cat smell but it didn’t make much difference. The floorboards had obviously soaked up some of the cat urine from the previous furry occupants. To get rid of it, I made up a solution of warm water, bleach and floor cleaner and went over it with a mop. Then I let this dry and went over it again with a solution of warm water and white wine vinegar. Once this was dry I just used warm water and floor cleaner. Eventually the smell faded which meant we didn’t have to take up the Victorian floorboards.

As well as the carpet, something else which found its way into the skip that day was a modern pine fire surround. It was propped up against the wall but for some reason it fell over and landed bang on my ankle. I was so annoyed I just wanted rid of it as soon as possible!

Step 2: adding a new electrical socket

There was already one double socket in the room but it was nowhere near where I wanted my desk so I decided to install another one. It was a pretty easy job since I’d already taken off the skirting and the walls were just plasterboard which was easy to cut away. I added the new socket in the corner of the room in a more convenient location.

Wall with a new double socket and wire exposed.

Installing a new wall socket

Continue reading…

Varnishing and fitting fire doors in a Victorian house (part 2)

Tuesday, February 17, 2015 0 , , Permalink 1

In my last blog post I talked about choosing some lovely oak veneer fire doors and antique brass door furniture. I was a bit nervous about them being delivered because of their weight and the care that needed to be taken to stop them from warping.

They needed to be laid flat and the room couldn’t be too hot, too damp or too dry otherwise the moisture content of the doors would become unbalanced and they’d warp out of shape.

Wet plaster anywhere near untreated doors is an absolute no no. But I had to get some damp proofing done in the living room and have a ceiling in one of the bedrooms replastered at the same time – not ideal! I ended up clearing a space in the dining room where I could lay the three doors flat on the floor. I kept the central heating turned off, used a dehumidifier upstairs to reduce air moisture and kept the door to the living room closed.

Untreated doors need to be sealed as soon as possible after delivery. I had a couple of weeks to varnish them before they were fitted so I set up a space to work in the dining room.

My makeshift workshop

My makeshift workshop

I used Sikkens Cetol TSI Satin Plus in light oak to seal the doors. The manufacturer advised to not use water-based stains and varnishes, Danish oil products or wax because they might penetrate the glue and lift the veneer (de-lamination). I only had space to varnish one side at a time so the next night, once it was dry, my boyfriend helped me flip the door over so I could do the other side.

Light oak coloured varnish

Light oak coloured varnish

Sadly one of the original door frames had to be replaced because it was fitted out of alignment by the Victorian builders. Usually a door can be trimmed to suit the frame but when fitting fire doors there’s a limit to the amount that can taken off each edge. In this case the frame was so wonky that it wasn’t possible to accommodate the fire door. A local joiner did all this then fitted the doors.

Door frame being removed

Door frame being removed

Door edge with channel for intumescent strip

Door edge with channel routed for intumescent strip


The new study door

The doors still need another two coats of varnish, and of course the rest of the house needs decorating around them, but overall I’m really pleased!

How to choose fire doors for a Victorian house (part 1)

Sunday, January 25, 2015 0 , , , Permalink 2

When I bought my house the survey highlighted that fire doors weren’t installed. This was strange because the loft had previously been converted and a building regulations certificate had been issued. Fire doors are normally required to create a protected means of escape from a converted loft to the nearest exit so that if a fire starts in one of the adjoining rooms a person in the loft can get out.

The existing white panel doors looked tatty and had to be replaced anyway. In the end I decided to install fire doors now to avoid problems later when getting further alterations in the loft reassessed by the council.

Get advice about fire door regulations

Fire safety regulations were not something I’d ever considered in great detail before so I spent a lot of time reading up on technical guidance and emailing Newcastle City Council’s planning department for advice. I’ll not bore you with that detail here! If you want to find out more you should read Approved Document B on fire safety, BWF Certifire advice or start with general fire regulation guidance.

Upgrade original doors instead

None of my doors are original, but if you have genuine Victorian doors you might be able to upgrade them to fire doors using special intumescent paint and strips. When a closed door gets hot the intumescent coating expands to help seal in the fire and slow down its progress. Check with a specialist joiner or your local council’s planning department for more information.

Take inspiration from existing original features

Match up new fire doors to existing doors or get ideas from period features elsewhere in your house. The panels on the bay windows in my living room and front bedroom have simple flat panels with non-raised mouldings.

Bedroom bay window panel

Bedroom bay window panel

I chose an oak veneer 4-panel door (the Islington by Door Deals) because the flat panels and mouldings are a close match to my existing bay window panels and I loved the pattern of the grain.

4-panel fire door ready for varnishing

4-panel fire door ready for varnishing

Choose fire-rated door furniture

I couldn’t get the traditional porcelain door knobs I’d had my eye on because they weren’t fire resistant. It took me ages to decide on another style of knob (and I mean weeks!) but in the end I went for antique brass door knobs (Goodrich by Carlisle Brass) with a reeded design that mirrors the reeded moulding on my window recess. I don’t think anyone apart from me would ever notice this…

Window recess reeded moulding

Reeded moulding on window recess

Goodrich brass door knob

Goodrich brass door knob

If you have door knobs rather than handles you’ll need to buy a longer latch so that there’s room to turn the handle without catching your knuckles on the frame. After some trial and error I went for the 127mm Altro Heavy Duty Tubular Latch in Florentine bronze.

Hinges also need to be fire resistant and you’ll need three 4-inch hinges for each fire door. I chose Florentine bronze hinges by Carlisle Brass.

Brass hinge - CE approved

Brass hinge – CE approved

Keep original frames if possible

Fire doors are normally installed in a new door frame which has a grove all the way round to hold a plastic (intumescant) strip which expands when hot to create a fire resistant seal. If you’ve got original door frames it might be possible to keep them and instead router a channel into the edges of the door to hold the intumescent strip.

I’ll explain more about fitting and varnishing the doors in part two – coming soon!

Quick intro post before full-on DIY geekiness begins

Monday, January 19, 2015 0 , Permalink 1

I had always wanted to live in a Victorian house so last Summer, when I moved into a 3-bed end-terrace built in 1884, it was like a dream come true. The house needs some TLC – it has very few original features, it suffers from damp and there’s poor quality building work (both modern and Victorian).

Over the new few months I’ll be decorating each room, repairing the fabric of the building and researching its history. Above are a few photos taken soon after moving in – there’ll be plenty more to follow as I decorate.

I’ve completed a couple of DIY projects already so there’ll be posts coming up about fire doors, plaster cornicing and damp proofing.

I’ve already discovered something worrying about the history of the house! The local man who came to fit my satellite dish told me a story about the students that rented the house several years ago. After they had moved out he was called in by his friend (the landlord) to help tidy up in preparation for the new tenants. What they discovered when they walked in was a humid, dark house complete with an abandoned cannabis farm. There were plants strung up downstairs and on the very top floor in the converted loft space. The floorboards had even been taken up in the living room to accommodate more soil.

It’s sad to think people would treat a house in this way so I’m looking forward to putting things right.