Friday 31 May 2019

Not recycling

This year I've noticed that guests staying in the cottage have not been putting rubbish bags and recycling material bins out for collection by the Council. I've had to resort to visiting the cottage early in the morning of the day of collection to ensure the refuse is put out in the right place. In some cases I've had to empty the bin during the "turn-round" between guest stays.  I found this puzzling, because on previous years the guests have been diligent at putting out the rubbish at the right time.  We have a copy of the council schedule for collections added into the Cottage Manual and we renew it every year.

I finally twigged to the cause of this apparent lack of helpfulness during a discussion with one of our cottage neighbours this week. It turns out that one of the guests has lost this year's copy of the schedule for collections, leaving just last year's in place in the Cottage Manual. I'd left both there at the turn of the year, but not spotted one had gone missing. So there was no way people could have working through the collection schedule, which takes place on alternate weeks and different bins on different days.

It was easy to print another copy of the schedule, modified for Trade Waste collection, and place it back in the cottage manual. It solved the mystery.

Wednesday 29 May 2019

Rotten window repair

The kitchen window at the rear of the cottage is a single pane below a top opening casement window. The glass pane is held in place by a nailed wooden bead rather than putty glazing compound. The problem with this installation is that it is not water resistant. Over the past few years, rain has penetrated behind the wooden bead and has caused wet rot at the foot of the window. It needs the window replacing or the rot removed and repaired.
I've tried to interest local window companies in quoting for replacement wood frame window, but none seem interested in this relatively small job.  I could build a new window in my workshop and install it. However, I've never done this type of work before and as a "new window" it would need certification under building regulations because I'm not a registered FENSA installer. As the cottage is located in a Conservation Area, we don't want to have to tangle local planners by trying to install modern windows.

So I've decided to undertake a repair. I'll dig out the rotten wood, treat the remainder with wood treatment, then use Toupret wood hardener resin to provide a firm base. I'll then apply filler material to restore the shape and strength of the frame. I'll mix my own filler compound from epoxy resin, glass microbead filler powder and various fibres to use to fill the hole. Epoxy resin based filler has some flexibility similar to the original wood. It is also low odour, so it will not inconvenience our guests as it cures. Stainless steel wood screws in the interior of the hole will act as a key to help retain the filler in the hole. Once the filler is smooth and hard, I'll sand it down, and replace the wooden bead around the glazing with proper linseed oil putty. Then it will be time to repaint the whole window frame,

I've just ordered some fresh Gurit SP106 epoxy resin, which is now in transit to me. It's not cheap, but it will give a long lasting repair. I've used this technique on boats before to good effect.

Edit: 16th July 2019

I've finally had the time and weather to work on this project. I've dug out the dead wood from the window frame.

The damage was less extensive than I'd feared. I sprayed the bare wood with copper sulfate solution to kill off rot fungi and once that had dried I treated the soft wood with the Toupret Wood Hardener. This particular hardener is water based and serves to strengthen the wood fibre and also lock in the copper sulfate.  If the copper solution is not bonded to the wood it fairly quickly leaches away if the wood get wet. It leaves a greenish tinge to the wood.

Friday 24 May 2019

Mold Alert

We've run the Warmbrook Cottage as a holiday home for the past six years. It's open 365 days a year. Never before have we had people complain about damp and mold. We've not noticed it when we're cleaning the place between rentals, and my wife who had a career as a District Nurse has a nose like a bloodhound. She hadn't spotted any problem.  
So we were surprised when we received an evening call from the rental agency telling us our guests were complaining about severe damp and mold in the kitchen cabinet beneath the sink. They'd decided to leave before even staying the first night and wanted their money refunding. Not wishing to cause people to stay against their will in the cottage, we agreed the holiday company could release the booking. 

It must be that some people are hypersensitive to mold, when the majority of the public wouldn't notice it. I've seen one report that this might affect 5% of people.

Here's an extract from a research website

Mold allergy causes the same signs and symptoms that occur in other types of upper respiratory allergies. Signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis caused by mold allergy can include:
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough and postnasal drip
  • Itchy eyes, nose and throat
  • Watery eyes
... Generally, however, mold doesn't cause systemic infections except for people with impaired immune systems, such as those who have HIV/AIDS or who are taking immunosuppressant medication.

When we visited the cottage to check on the same evening, we found no damp in the cupboard, the wall was dry. There were some dark stains on the wall (inside the cupboard), which might have been historical mold occuring before we took on the cottage. We couldn't smell any mustiness, which had also been complained about. We even invited neighbours in to see if they could detect any out of place smells, but they spotted nothing anyway unusual.  Our cottage is "Non-smoking" and we know the husband at least was a smoker, perhaps the cottage kitchen smelt different from a smoker's house. We don't know if the wife actually suffered any allergic reaction, or was just concerned.

We are at a loss to establish what triggered the reaction by the wife. Unfortunately they didn't raise the issue with us directly so it is difficult to know. If they had perhaps there was something we could have done to mitigate the issue. Consequently, this couple have ruined their week's holiday and we're left short of a Bank Holiday week rental, with no redress.

We're going to have the kitchen wall tested for dampness, though it feels dry and warm to touch. We'll also undertake some precautionary antifungal treatment on the old marks on the wall even though there's no evidence of recent activity.

Edit 25/05/19:
We had a tech visit the cottage to test the area in the kitchen which had been reported as damp. He took a series of reading on the way under the kitchen sink. The wall had an average humidity reading of 5.5% with a peak of 6.7%. That is quite a dry wall, and active mold is unlikely. He reported some construction dust on the wall where the back of the cabinet had been removed for plumbing operations. He gave the surface of the area a precautionary wash down with antifungal solution, but did not think we had a problem.

Bright Orange door

It was good to be greeted by the newly painted front door at the cottage. A cheerful bright orange in the sunlight, not exactly fluorescent orange but quite bright. I'd intended something closer to post office red (RAL 3028), but I chose the colour of the paint at night guided by the display on my PC. A happy accident you might say.

We were there for a typical end of week/new guest 10:00 am turnround cleaning session. The usual problems:
  • Rubbish bins had not been put out for collection and were full;
  • Stains on the furniture covers, and not advised to us;
  • Kitchen utensils grubby
  • Broken kitchen glassware, not advised to us;
  • Builder's rubble on our garden from the adjoining property;
  • Gate latch broken by the builder.

All dealt with, and the usual smile on our faces, before the next guests arrive at 2:00 pm.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Would they do this in their own home?

Today we performed a turnaround session to ready the holiday home for our next set of guests. As usual all the linen and towels were changed, windows cleaned, the whole house vacuumed and dusted clean, and the kitchen/bathroom cleaned. My wife noticed the shower drain was running slowly. Unfortunately I didn't have the appropriate equipment with me to clean the drain. So it required a second 16 mile round trip to the cottage with the right tools; some caustic soda and a bath drain plunger.
I've become used to the routine clearance process. Trip some caustic soda down the drain and top up with half a cup of water. It heats the drain trap water to boiling and also dissolves and grease or soap. I then leave it for half an hour to work its magic. After giving the chemical time to work, I then attack the drain with the bath plunger and some running water. After a few pumps of the plunger handle the blockage is usually cleared and flushes away. In this case I noticed a strange black substance emerging from the drain hole. Reaching down I discovered it was a large clog of wiry black dog hair. I pulled the clog free and the drain rapidly began to clear itself.

The dog hair blob

One of the recent guests must have showered their dog in the bathroom shower cubicle. Uggh! They must have known the dog hair had clogged the drain because it had been obviously draining really slowly. However, they didn't have the courtesy to let us know the drain was blocked. It is a good job that we try to check everything on a turnaround. This is sometimes difficult if new guests are arriving the same day as the previous ones left and time is short.

Decoration in progress

We've had a few days of good dry weather and a gap in bookings at the same time, so I was able to start some exterior paint works. The first job I've tackled is repainting the front door. I'd notices that the paint on the door glazing bars was beginning to flake, exposing the underlying wood to the elements. This could lead to wood rot and also didn't look too good. The previous paint was just two years old, but didn't seem able to resist the harsh conditions in the street. I decided to up my game and invest in some genuine yacht paints. 

After a lot of Internet research, I chose Rawlins Teamac Marine Gloss (Colour RAL2002) and Teamac Marine Undercoat (White). This is an oil based paint, rather than the more modern water based paint. After the usual hours of work to sand down the door, removing damaged paint on the glazing bars, I was pleased to find the undercoat paint applied like a dream. It was smooth, with a run free surface. Being oil based it needs at least 12 hours between coats. The top coat was equally good and dried with a nice gloss, requiring just one coat to provide coverage. I'd run out of time between holiday bookings so I'll apply a couple more top coats during the next gap, but the door is now weather proof.

One of the reasons why the paint had cracked on the front door was a failure of the filler material used to fill cracks in the woodwork. When selecting paints (for the door frame) I came across some specialist wood filler (TouPret). It seems to work really well, with a 20 minute pot life and can be painted over after just three hours:

I also decided to tackle the awful red tile paint which had been applied to the roadside brickwork by a previous owner. It is flaking badly and needs stripping off. After some experimentation and a lot of research I'd chosen an eco-friendly paint stripper which wouldn't damage the underlying brickwork and mortar. The stripper is designed to remove graffiti from walls. This stripping is going to be a long time process of several weeks, with many visits, as the paint stripper is quite slow in its actions. At least it doesn't cause the paint to sink into the brickwork.
When I tried a few sample areas, I discovered the mortar filling the gap between the front door frame and the brickwork was crumbly and rotten. It was right next to the front door I was in the process of repainting. By the time I'd hacked out the failed mortar there was a deep finger-width gap the height of the door frame. This had to be fixed and reinstated before the new guests arrive at the end of the week. 
So it was time to jump in the car and head off to Screwfix for a mortar gun and a pail of mortar mix. Yet more expenditure!  In the evening, more Internet research at home, as I learned how to make the mortar suitable for injecting from a mortar gun. It was not sufficient to just mix it in a bucket, I had to add plasticiser and then use a paint "whisk" to aerate the mortar before loading it in the gun. The following day, it took some experimentation to get the mix the right consistency; fluid enough to flow from the gun, but sufficiently solid to stay in the vertical gap in the brickwork. I was please to have a set of specialist brickwork trowels left over from the winter's plastering session. These implements made life a lot easier.
Sorting out the mortar around the doorframe, stole 48 hours from this week's decorating schedule, but in the process I spotted some other high level gaps in the mortar of the wall brickwork which will need some attention before the autumn rains.

I then had to paint the door frame to cover the paint gaps wood work arising from the new mortar. As I was running short of time, I chose Zinsser All Coat Exterior white paint which is water based, covers well, has a tough finish, and is touch dry in 30 minutes and allows a second coat in one hour. The manufacturers claim up to 15 years lifetime for the paint.

Monday 13 May 2019

Lock replacement

I've finally got around to the task of replacing the door locks at the holiday cottage. Our guests have occasionally complained the door locks were awkward to use, culminating in me having to do a rush visit to the cottage on Easter Sunday to rescue a guest who couldn't lock the doors and wanted to go out.
I've invested in good quality english made security  lever locks for both the front and back doors. I specified "keyed alike" locks so the same key will open both the front and back door.  These locks were purchased from, who gave a good service level.

As I was replacing relatively modern security locks of the same size and style, you'd think it would be a relatively straightforward swap out. No, of course not, there were some variations which meant I ended up doing three return trips from Belper to the cottage to fetch extra tools. Years of maintenance on the cheap in prior years had its pay-back in terms of complexity in the tasks of removing the old locks and getting the new locks to fit in the right place.

Now all is sweet  and the new locks operate well. All the keys have been replaced and labelled. The guests will find the new keys much more simple to use.