Recently, Roger and I find we awake in the morning with a greater number of aches and pains. Feeling this way, one would hope for a slower start to the day, a chance to lounge in bed with a cup of coffee, read the news, and spend an extra hour contemplating the day ahead. Alas, not here at Crockern where everything is a small-demand requiring our attention.
Lets begin with Millie. She starts her puppy day with joy and excitement, and no end of energy. Boundless. Bouncing. Filled with fun. Everything is a curiosity and a possible game. She was recently described as “high drive” by a woman who trains dogs for agility. At first, this seemed like a good thing, but what I’ve come to discover is that it may perhaps be code for disobedient. She’s smart and can see the end point, so elects to skip all the middle bits. She’s like the smart kid in geometry class who knows “one does not equal zero” so why bother with all those steps in the geometric proof to demonstrate that fact?
Meanwhile, Sam, her patient elder, is struggling with the hard wood floors and getting his balance. His mornings involve some sliding about as I fly out of bed to lend a hand and help him to his feet and out the door. Shortly thereafter, we three head down the track. What once took 15 minutes is an easy 30 minutes as Sam stops to take the scent of an animal which passed that spot in the night. As he inhales deeply, Millie charges off the hill, out of the gorse, with her toy proudly dangling from her mouth before knocking into Sam to see why he isn’t chasing the same toy. “Why Sam? Why?”
At this time of the year, the sky is dark as we set out for this first walk of the day. Still, the birds begin to awaken and there are a few songs to be heard across the moors. After our walk, the dogs and I fill the bird feeders, let out the chickens, and bring in some firewood. As we enter the kitchen, Roger is there with his coffee and catching up on the news. I love the days when I get to be home all day without a work appointment, chore, or social engagement. We all lounge in front of the wood burner, reading and contemplating our next walk.
Our house projects have been somewhat stalled of late. No particular reason other than we had a need to take some time off from them. Of course, just as we were settling into that idea, our water tank developed a huge bulge. If it is not obvious, this is not a good thing. A bulge, like any blister on a toe, will eventually burst. And in the house — specifically under the stairs — that would leave us with a nice little mess.
And so, despite our desire to take some time off, we were facing a problem. They say, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” What they don’t say is “every hot water tank has …” No, they don’t say that and that is because it would be stupid. Our hot water tank is made of copper, which corrodes over time, especially where the water is more acidic as it is here on Dartmoor.
When Crockern was first built, there was no internal plumbing. The river likely played a vital role for all the water needs of residents some time ago. As modern conveniences changed the way people lived, so too the water system at Crockern evolved. Over time, the system here came to resemble something designed by Heath Robinson, one of those ridiculously complicated machines constructed to accomplish something terribly simple. Here’s how it worked: Our water would come from the spring about 100 metres north of the house and enter a tank outside. Water from this tank would be pumped into the house and up into the loft into an overflow tank. This tank permitted gravity to then send water, under pressure, to the taps, showers, and toilets. That same bit of gravity, fed water to the hot water tank which was heated with redirected heat from the Aga. Of course, when we put in the new boiler a few years ago, which had the ability to heat water, but we elected to delay connecting it to the entire house.
Nearly a year ago, in one of our exploratory whims, we removed a false wall in the kitchen to reveal all manner of pipes. We lived with these, thinking “one day, we’ll clear all that up and change up the water system.” That day arrived when the hot water tank developed a noticeable rounded swelling on what should have been a smooth surface.
We called the plumber and got an estimate. We called another plumber, received a nicer estimate and scheduled him to come out and begin the work. What should have taken one day, unfortunately took two days, but he managed to disconnect the hot water tank and remove it. Next, he hooked up our water system to the boiler which heats the water when we require it, rather than all the time. After he left, Roger removed the redundant overflow tank while balancing on a ladder over the stairs. He also removed all the silly pipes which were hiding behind the false wall and were now no longer needed. The thrilling part is that the pump works less frequently and our water pressure is better. A few weeks later, we back-filled the AGA and as a result are burning less fuel.
So why didn’t we do this earlier? We are free of extra pipes and an inefficient way to heat water. We’ve gained closet space. We have greater water pressure. The truth is, there are a lot of projects and this one could wait. The copper water tank was working. And as the Laws of Renovation declare: Each project results in an equal and opposite amount of additional projects which are always unanticipated despite enormous preparation and planning.
In short, we’ve learned with this old house, there is never a project which can begin and end all in the same month. Now that we’ve changed up the water system, awaiting us in the new year are the following:
- Repoint the wall that was previously hidden.
- Build shelves in the closet under the stairs which previously housed the hot water tank.
- Remember to install a light INSIDE the closet so we can see what is on those new shelves.
- Purchase a new whizzy pump (the current one sometimes — usually around 11 p.m. at night — stops working and requires one of us (okay, Roger) to head outside and give it a good whack! — and put it under the stairs, along with a ph regulator for the water.
Four steps! Four manageable and easy steps. Really? What project can end in four more steps?
None. Nadda. Zilch. That wall in the kitchen, which needs to be repointed, is one part of a wall in the kitchen. We still have paint to remove from another wall, and repair blown plaster on two other walls. The beams need to be sanded and shelves under the counter tops to be built. These are a few projects for the kitchen, but not all. With our newly modernized water system, we can permit ourselves to renovate the small bathroom, which still has carpeting on the wall as a nod toward insulation and no insulation in the roof. In the office, there is a radiator I’d like to move, floors to sand, some walls to paint, and another wall to repair. We can’t do any of this until we address the flashing on the chimneys outside. Oh yes, the list goes on and on.
Four more steps? In our dreams.