A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…

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It’s bad news…(Oct 1)

The man from the council has just been round and despite all the conversations we’ve had  – the plans, the to-scale maps, the photographs, the drawings, the photoshops and the endless specs ( “do you really want the 8 page spec for a 2 and a half inch bit of pipe that isn’t even going through the wall?”)  he now thinks it’s unlikely he’s going to give us planning permission for the new wood pellet boiler.

The problem is the flue – a big metal tube that will act like a chimney and run up the outside of the old boiler house.

Our intention has always been to try and use the existing brick chimney – but as it’s not been possible to know whether this will work till we try it, we were advised by the council to apply for permission to put the flue on the outside of the building just in case.    This is what set us back so many months given all the extra paperwork.

I tried to persuade someone from the council to come to the house in April (the office is just 10 minutes away) so we could at least get a view on which way this was likely to go – but they were having none of it.   Instead we’ve wasted loads of money and loads of time just to be told something that they could have decided in 5 minutes 7 months ago.    What can you do….

So the pressure is on.   The only way we will ever get this boiler in – and the only way we will ever have a warm house is to get a flue liner (another big metal tube) down the current chimney come what may.   Only then will the council grant us permission.   If the builders can’t get it in I don’t know what we’re going to do.  Several men and a load of scaff’ are arriving on Monday…

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Preparing for winter update (Sep 26)

The radiators arrived today.   9 out of 11 survived the pressure testing.   We went for gun metal grey and they look great.


The roof insulation is all in.   We have 7 different roof spaces but as half of them had no access  new holes had to be created to get the insulation in and then filled back up.  We now have a thick blanket of wool above our heads which has surely got to make a difference…

However the plans for the biomass installation  (See Preparing for next winter – Apr 7) have been seriously delayed.  The council planners said to estimate 3 months so I doubled it and crossed my fingers that it would be in before Christmas.  It’s tight.   The man from the council is coming next week and it’s a 5 week lead on the boiler….

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Adding up radiators (Jul 16)

We have a mishmash of radiators here and as part of our heating overhaul we’ve worked out that some of them (all the ones from the 50’s) have either no impact because they’re not big enough or they’re rusty and leaking.  We need to replace just over a dozen.

However the handful of Victorian cast iron ‘column’ radiators we have, work well and look lovely.  So our plan is to get more – as cheaply as possible.

Working out what sizes we need has involved a mind-blowing set of sums;    I’ve had to work out the heat output (in kilowatts) we need in each room based on the room’s dimensions.   I’ve then had to deduct the heat supplied by any existing radiators to establish what’s missing.   All my kilowatt figures then have to be converted to old fashioned BTU’s – as this how the heat output is measured in old cast iron radiators.  Once I know what heat output I need I then have to find the right size of radiator with the right dimensions so that it will fit into the space (often under a window). At this point my eyes are squinting as there’s a number of options depending on how the columns in each radiator are arranged  –  from tall and thin to short and fat…Much like the 2 different plumbers who reneged on doing the calculations for me.

It’s all going to be worth it though as I’ve worked out that reconditioned salvage is going to cost us at least half the price of new (a whole other set of calculations) – and hunting around for them is obviously much more fun.

So I’ve been scouring ebay, gumtree and the local flea markets and I even found a farmer nearby who sells stuff that’s been thrown out of old farmhouses.  I’ve found 4 on our list this way.  But the most obvious place is salvage yards and as there are two near here we headed over today with my copious notes in hand.


Several hours later and I’d ticked off another 8.   So we’re nearly there.  They will all need to be sent off to be pressure tested, sandblasted and painted (colour still to choose) and given that this is a 6 week turn around (with a round trip to Edinburgh) they should arrive in time to coincide with the installation of the new boiler…

Surely this can’t all go to plan….

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Preparing for next winter…(Apr 7)

We knew before we bought the house that we’d like to be as green and energy efficient as possible here, despite the fact that the house is so big.

The oil boiler’s been first on our list to try and replace. It’s taken a few weeks of research but I’m now an expert on renewable energy – and could bore you to death with my knowledge of biomass and geo-therm, hydropower and heat pumps.  We’d imagined wind turbines, solar panels and ground source might all be options – but the thing that’s going to save us here is wood. Or more specifically wood pellets.

It’s a massive job – the installation is big and complicated – and includes a 2 storey high metal box or hopper (to store the pellets) as well as a boiler and 3 accumulator tanks (thermal heat stores) that will take up all the space in both of our out-houses. There’s a whole load of consents to get – listed building, planning and a building warrant – and we need to-scale drawings, diagrams, photographs and specs.  We also need a shed-load of cash; the home improvement loan that we had earmarked for just some of the refurb’ is now all going to have to go on the heating.

The good news is that the government is providing incentives – and once the new system is in we can apply to recoup some of the money in installments across 20 years.

The even better news is that as wood is much cheaper than oil the new system should allow us to have the heating on whenever we need it throughout the winter months which is going to be a life saver.

Now I just need to make it happen before the cold weather returns.