Thursday, 20 December 2012

Christmas 2012

After last the last two years of (enormous) real trees I was actually really happy to return to my fibre optic favourite. It may not make the house smell like fresh pine but hey, it didn't cost over £50 to get delivered, or have to be re-ordered due to arriving broken and because I've used it for 8+ Christmases it makes for an ecological choice.

It also makes for a lazy person's dream - just plug it in and viola, the lights change colour. The usual decorating effort requires four pairs of hands on deck and several hours.

I actually submitted this photo to the Camp Bestival Christmas tree competition where 95% of the entries are of proper trees (I'm sure not all could be from this year as some were submitted weeks ago). I was delighted when someone left a comment on mine saying 'That's the best by far :)' - not sure if he was being sarcastic or not, the bucket kind of spoils the shot. As does the messy pile of crap on top of the Sky box.

The bucket is there btw to catch those pesky intermittent drips, yeah it's STILL leaking but thankfully nowhere near as much as before...

Thanks to being burgled while we slept just before Christmas two years ago, we now double lock the doors when we're inside. Next year we'll replace the front door with a high security spec model. All our neighbours now have ADT security alarms installed too.

I hope our burglar is having a thoroughly unproductive time this year as people get more savvy about security. But I wish a very happy Christmas to everyone else!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hello winter

SO. Sunfold came back last week with the engineer and spent over an hour lifting out the windows (vents) from their frames, cleaning out quite a bit of gunge and resealing with what looked like Polyfilla. Then it didn't rain for more than 15 minutes for an entire week. I waited and waited. We had a bit of snow apparently (didn't see it, must've melted by the time I got up). I've never wanted it to rain so much before. Finally, it rained. Last night it rained solidly for hours. And guess what? IT STILL LEAKS.

The good news is, it definitely doesn't leak as much. As far as I can tell the six leaks are now down to one though this might be a case of speaking too soon. The vents tend to fill up with water and drip hours after the rain's stopped, so it's possible they're still filling up.

The one leak is a nice bold drip which falls intermittently. The bucket has a very small pool of liquid at the bottom which is a nice improvement on the three inches of water it was accumulating in 24 hours.

The next step in our mission to not have leaks is to replace the windows/vents. And if that doesn't work we need to adjust the pitch of the roof to force the water to run off better. I'm not convinced by the pitch argument as surely the roof should be water tight? If water can't run off, shouldn't it puddle instead of coming inside? Or maybe that's just me being old fashioned.

To add to the seasonal change, the leaves have dropped so the light in the extension is a watery winter harshness. Instead of looking at lushness we can see the neighbour's house again. (Pictured at top)

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Giant bean bag

Last year I meant to get a bean bag: I thought it would be useful for the overflow if we had loads of people on the sofa, or as extra outdoor seating on our lawn. I never got around to it, and the X Factor final came and went with ten of us squashed on the sofa or on cushions on the floor.

This year I got proactive and ordered one after a friend sent me a link to The colours I wanted were out of stock so I settled for chocolate brown and a week later it duly showed up. Despite articles written about's (lack of) customer service in the press and various complaints on Twitter I'm happy to say that my experience with them was absolutely trouble free.

The only problem was the size - Rob said if he knew just how big the bean bag was going to be he would've vetoed it. As it happens it takes up a LOT of floor space but at least the kids can both lie on it without annoying each other.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Plenty more leaks

I should have updated immediately after the last post. I just couldn't bear it. The next morning we got up to find not only did we have the dreaded leaks back, but they were worse than ever before.

A bucket we put down had three inches of water within a few days. The previous polite and intermittent drips now almost rained down (no pun intended) - not necessarily when it was raining, but hours later. And it leaked in several places. Again. This is not what we had in mind by 'bringing the outdoors in'.

Sunfold agreed to come back a week later with an engineer from the steel manufacturers. The engineer duly showed up but unfortunately the Sunfold guy couldn't make it due to having a kid off school. The engineer refused to come inside and take a look without the Sunfold rep there. I pleaded but no, he said his gov'nor wouldn't allow it. So that was that. Three weeks since the 'fix-it' job and two weeks since the engineer couldn't come in, and still no sign of a rescheduled appointment.

I'm convinced that the steels are at fault as the rubber seals have been redone so many times. Probably from having the vents drilled in after they were manufactured, instead of at the same time.

Pictured is a nice view of east London taken from the London Eye last week. No rain.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

No more leaks?

PROGRESS: Sunfold Systems decided to send a team of fitters to sort out these leaks properly. The idea being to lift out each pane of (enormous) glass and re-fit them, re-seal them and thus stop the leaks.

Rob and I spent an hour last night clearing every bit of furniture and associated debris from downstairs underneath the glass (ie most of the dining room). I did 20+ trips up and down the stairs while Rob dealt with the fiddly stuff. We then stacked the heavier bits and watched the drips land on our artfully arranged selection of pots and trays.

I managed to damage our Arco lamp when I thought I was unscrewing the bulb but was in fact shearing off the fitting including the wires. (Fortunately Rob knows how to resurrect this from his distant past as a scientist with a qualification in electricity or similar).

Sunfold's crack team arrived this morning ON TIME at 8.30am and were done by lunchtime. After so many visits which ranged from no show to late to not resolving the issue, I was beyond happy.

Apparently our problem was caused because the frames the vents (windows) sit on leaked at the joints - which is a manufacturer fault as they come pre-fabricated. It's Sunfold's responsibility to remedy even though the frames are manufactured in Germany. I am waiting for a rain storm so I can confirm that everything is water tight. Everything is crossed.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

TV & wires

Our last two TVs have been Sony Bravias. Mainly because of that excellent ad with the animated plasticine animals. The most recent TV was purchased in November 2008 (RRP £1,000) and a few months ago it started to act odd. Half the screen would remain blacked out until it warmed up - which took between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on the room temperature.

A look at various TV forums revealed that this was a common fault but despite this there was no product recall. Sony suggested we take the TV to their approved repairer, pay for an assessment and if indeed it was the faulty panel, they'd replace it otherwise we'd have to foot the bill for a repair.

Long story short: we couldn't be bothered taking it to the repairer, whose opening hours weren't exactly helpful and they were five miles away. Rob decided he wanted an internet ready TV and a highly recommended Toshiba fit the bill for a lot less than we paid for the Sony. The Toshiba has a ridiculous 46" screen, which is only one centimetre deep.

Pictured at top is the Toshiba on our Ikea cabinet. The Sky box, Wii and DVD player are now inside the cabinet and powered by a Marmitek Infrared extender.

We bought this thing four years ago with the aim of getting rid of the mass of wires under the cabinet. It's taken this long for Rob to get motivated to set it up. Hopefully it works OK as it came with a 2 year warranty which is obviously void now!

Here's the mess of wires inside the cabinet... so much better than being under it...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Tap is sorted

This domestic lark is getting beyond boring. The new (3rd) kitchen tap is in. This one cost £150 and is made of better stuff than the previous two. The builders couldn't fit it, so I endured a session of Rob's colourful pronouncements as he attempted to get it to join up with the pipes. Anyway, it's in and it works fine and I actually prefer the spray action on this one than its predecessor. There's a lesson in there somewhere: a cheap tap that doesn't fit is a waste of £50.

No sign of the replacement part for the hot water heater, and no update from Sunfold Systems about coming back to sort out the leaky roof. Fortunately it hasn't rained for more than half an hour for weeks. Does anyone out there actually have a 100% finished house where nothing goes wrong? Give me something to look forward to, please...

Photo of the tap would've been too dull for words, so here's my set-up from Saturday night: we were eating locally but my record box is too heavy to lug, so I used the trolley I bought for moving gear around at festivals. The gig was in West London (£25 taxi each way, ouch, could've bought another tap) and the soundsystem was awful - one of the turntables constantly skipped despite realignment, and the output from the desk was substandard. Disappointing as I actually played a good set, shame it was difficult to hear...


Here is a photo of our tap. Butler of London is the brand BTW.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Tap, leaks & cartridges

I've just ordered a home delivery meal as plans to make dinner were scuppered when our lovely Polish builders popped round. Initially they were going to sort the leaking hot water heater under our stairs. A plastic nut had cracked, so water was leaking for about 2 weeks before we noticed it. There's bound to be water damage but I'm not motivated to empty the cardboard boxes that are stored under there just yet.

The builders then tried to install our replacement kitchen tap. Which unfortunately turned into a massive breakage. The concrete counter has a hole drilled through it, but there's nowhere for the vice to attach to, to hold the tap still. The part that should hold it in place has sheered off from the jiggling. Now we have no tap installed and the contents from under the kitchen sink cupboard are spread out all over counter top.

It's not the builder's fault, it's just one (or two) of those things. Hopefully replacement parts can be procured tomorrow. Otherwise we're in trouble as it means no tap until the builders get back from their next job.

On a positive note, I finally got proper cartridges for my decks and learned how to adjust the tone arms. Immediately my vinyl sounded 100X better. They're Numark CC1's if you're interested (pictured). They're not the top of the range by any stretch but for around £80 a pair they're a lot more affordable than other options. Really wish I'd done it sooner.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Sunfold Systems still suck

After a very exasperated phone call explaining that the Olympics actually meant light traffic, we got a new (!) slot for the service team to come round. We were assured by both the booking person and the head of installation that we'd be the first call out this morning. Guess what? No-one had showed up by 11am. Or midday. In fact, they didn't show up until the middle of the afternoon, saying that there was nothing on the call sheet about us being the first call out. (What is wrong with this company?!)

Rob had worked from home so he'd be there to explain the problems himself. Apparently the service chap was perfectly lovely and agreed that Mastick, debris, unusual shrinkage etc were not acceptable reasons for the number of leaks we were enduring. He's going to order up replacement vents and metres of rubber and replace as much as possible. This will be a full day's job. (The last time Sunfold Systems were meant to do a 'full days work' it lasted for several days, so I won't hold my breath).

Fortunately we have a 10 year warrantee. I hope these leaks are sorted before the 10 years is up!

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Sunfold Systems suck

Guess what happened? After several emails sorting out the Sunfold installers to come back for the 6th or 7th time to sort out the ever worsening leaks, we finally had a date in the diary. It was several weeks away owing to high demand (!). We even had a generic email telling us there might be delays in reaching us due to the Olympics.

I emailed back asking if there was a cancellation earlier in the month to please let us know but alas, 31st July was the earliest we could get. Of course, the leaks continued right through June & July and the floor has been covered with towels and pans for so long that I've adapted my cooking to use fewer pans.

Yesterday on the drive back from Camp Bestival Rob rang Sunfold Systems to remind them that we had requested the first call out of the day. He wanted to speak to the installers directly to explain the problems and show them the new leaks. He left a message explaining this and his number so that they could confirm, but alas didn't hear back.

This morning he waited for a while and at 9am rang again, and was surprised that the same person who's been dealing with us all this time was clueless about the call out. At 11am he emailed me with the news that all London jobs had been cancelled but they'd forgotten to tell us. Apparently the Olympics would make it too difficult for them to come by van.

What a company: firstly, I drove across London in rush hour last night and the traffic was no worse than usual. If anything it was a little quiet. This morning I cycled to work and again, the traffic was lighter than usual. Lastly - WHY DIDN'T THEY COMMUNICATE THAT TO US?!

As Rob is a contractor he will only get paid for half a day today (he has a 90 minute commute). I am tempted to invoice Sunfold Systems for the lost income/wasting his time (does anyone know the legal viewpoint on this?).

I have never dealt with such a baffling company - their product isn't fit for purpose, and their customer service and after-sales service is laughable.

How appropriate that we bought a bottle of delicious Holy F*ck hot sauce at the weekend. I've been muttering that phrase all morning.

As the Olympics 'traffic' is going to affect London til September I guess this means we'll continue with the leaks for another 6+ weeks, at least...

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Tap me up

My beloved tap has finally given up. The centre bit that pulls out like an excited donkey is really stuck, and has become stretched from being yanked. The arm that controls water flow and temperature is getting stiffer by the day. It won't be too long before something explodes and I'll be standing in a fountain of Thames Water's finest.

Fortunately these taps are pretty common now. And for something virtually identical to what we have now you can get away with spending around £50 on sale (taps always seem to be 'on sale'. So do bathrooms). The replacement tap is guaranteed for 15 years. Our current tap limped towards 5 years and we paid £90 for it (down from £160, apparently). I'm sure it's guaranteed for longer but due to various adjustments it had to endure to get fitted I'm pretty sure all guarantees are void.

Not sure if Rob is going to be OK installing it or if we need to get in the professionals. Will report back. In roof leak news, Sunfold are coming back (again) in two weeks time. The rain is rumoured to be letting up next week so at least we can remove the towels and saucepans from the floor. I can't believe it's the middle of July and we've had so few days hanging outside due to the persistent rain! If I hadn't had a week in Croatia recently I'm sure I'd be suffering from seasonal affective disorder.

Friday, 29 June 2012

Six months on a leaky boat

Over two weeks ago I emailed Sunfold Systems about these persistent leaks but have yet to get a reply. I guess they're exasperated with us - the annoying client who always has leaks despite 5+ site visits. We're pretty exasperated too - it's not ideal paying over £20k for a brand new roof to live with pots, pans and towels on the floor. The leaks have gotten so much worse since the last visit that we're wondering if having the serviceman up there has somehow damaged the steel supports. Will write a firmly worded letter and update in due course.

In other news, LOVE having that second shower. Especially when the weather's been humid and the kids come home filthy. The shower space is easily big enough for both girls - it feels roomier than other showers we've used actually, and despite various warnings about soap scum the black tiles look fine.

PS title refers to a Split Enz song: Rubbish quality video but it's from 1982, pre HD:

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Drip drip drip

Bad news - despite replacing the rubber seals around the vents/windows, the roof still leaks. Now it seems to leak in four places, when it used to be three. Actually I've spotted rogue drips landing on random places on our floor and can't even figure out where they're coming in.

The Sunfold System repairmen suggested we poke at the drainage holes in the rubber with a stick to clear any debris regularly, but as the drips started a few days after their last visit this is clearly absurd. Even if the drainage holes were blocked with roof moss or dirt or whatever, the overflowing rain should surely drain off the exterior glass towards the guttering rather than drip INSIDE the house.

Funnier still, once the rain stopped, the drips continued for another two days - as the water is obviously building up somewhere beneath the seals. How can we be the only customers to have this problem?! If you've heard of any similar problems with a newly installed glass roofing system please leave the details in the comment box below.

Is now a good time to mention that the customer care person I'm dealing with is called Sue Lake? There's an irony in there somewhere.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Shower doors


I can report that having a second (working) shower has been really useful. Having it's own water heating system means that both can run simultaneously without any problems. The one thing that made it a little tedious was having to squeegee down the floor after each shower and waiting for it to dry before using the loo or sink in there.

We had always planned to get doors in this room but as the size wasn't off the rack we'd need to get them custom made at a cost of around £700. For the sake of £700 my view was to endure a few months of sgueegee-ing. The builders said they might be able to find a cheaper supplier, somewhere around £500 but this didn't eventuate - and £500 + fitting was still going to be a bit of a whack on top of the already depleted bathroom fund.

Then Rob found a 90cm centre-opening bathroom door system on eBay - brand new for £90 including delivery. They arrived the next day. As the bathroom is 92.5cm wide it would mean having a 2.5cm panel or plinth on a wall to make up the shortfall, or putting in really wide rubber in the central join. Then Rob somehow had a genius brainwave and bought another bathroom door system the next available width up - 95cm. The builders fixed one half of the 90cm panels to the wall and one of the 95cm ones and lo and behold, it fits perfectly. You can't even tell that one of the panels is slightly wider as the sink & cupboard are in the way.


£180 worth of doors and £50 to install them means a £700+ job is done for £230! If you have a 92-93cm wide shower room and you need some doors we have a set here - get in touch.


These photos show the doors fitted and in action... The kids and I have had showers there this evening and there were no leaks or splashes even after three of us tried to make lots of mess. Happy days.


Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Laundry room


I can't believe how much time I spend in the new laundry room. And what a pleasure it is that the floor is level with the hall - for years I've been stepping down to put on a wash. It's the little things actually that make a difference. Also, putting the clothes dryer on top of the washing machine was a revelation. As it's a condenser I can now pull out the water compartment easily and tip out the contents. When the dryer was on the floor I'd just about do myself an injury trying to extract the water vessel. (NB if you're going to put your dryer on top of your washing machine, ensure they are fixed together otherwise the dryer will wobble off at some point).

We haven't made it to Ikea to sort out a wall-mounted drying rack - or shelves to store the cleaning equipment - yet. But I did find a shoe rack which means no piles of little shoes to climb over every night. With all the rain the laundry room being close to the front door has been brilliant - we're able to strip down and chuck everything into the wash or hang it to dry instead of dripping through the house.


Friday, 4 May 2012

Leaks in the roof


The rain in the UK has caused flooding, so you can imagine that quite a lot of water has fallen the last month or two. With it comes an ongoing problem that we have from our otherwise superb glass extension: The three vents (aka windows) all leak. Not from the frame, but from the rubber seals in non-consistent places on all three.

Sometimes one does it, sometimes two, but never so far all three. We've had Sunfold Systems (who installed it) out four times to remedy the problem over the last couple of years. This usually results in some rubber getting cut to improve drainage, then a fella coming back to seal up the hole which is too large. Then a fella coming back to cut a hole in the seal when the vents start holding water, a bit like an overhead glass-bottomed boat feature.

This time though they decided to pull up the external rubber and replace it with a wider version which should channel any water (rain, condensation, overflow from washing the windows etc) into the holes. From here it trickles over the glass and down into a gutter. That's the theory anyway. And yes, apparently we're STILL the only people to have this problem.

The top photo shows the dining area sporting roasting trays on the floor to catch the drips.


Two of the leaks have come back, so Sunfold are coming back next week to have another look...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Downstairs bathroom is finished!


And here it is!

002 005 003 006 009 011 013

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Tiles are nearly done


The black tiles are virtually done. Wall to wall, top to bottom, and yup, it looks dramatic. Next step is to do the tricky edging and then fill in the gaps with grey grout. Annoyingly the kids are so petite that they'll probably need their little Ikea plastic step to reach the tap on the sink for the next few years. That ubiquitious bit of blue plastic will spoil the boutique wetroom effect somewhat but hey ho.


Here's my little alcove for housing shower gel and shampoo: it's narrower than I would've liked so the jumbo Aesop bottles won't fit. Sorry house guests, you'll be slumming it with supermarket brands who offer products in tall & thin bottles. The builders had to smash the alcove into concrete so it took ages, but it's worth it...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Wetroom progress


The black floor tiles have been laid and the wall tiles are on their way. The pipework has been installed, including a nifty thing that allows us to heat the back of the cabinet mirror - leading to a fog-free experience. The silver thing on the floor is the base of the shower drainer, and shows the line where the doors will open to. Did I mention this was a teeny tiny room?


I was having trouble with the idea of a regular shelf in the shower to hold shampoo and shower gel, but the builders are going to create an alcove in the wall instead. The power shower unit will sit next to the alcove, but can't be boxed in or it invalidates the warranty, boo. The sink arrived really quickly but must've been dropped as the entire corner was smashed. A replacement duly arrived the next day, but on closer inspection was designed to sit on a pedestal rather than being wall mounted. All sorted now, though I have to somehow get the wrong sink back to the Post Office.


Today the loo has been plumbed in and the heated towel rail has arrived. At this rate the whole job might be finished before Easter!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Laundry room taking shape


This will post will feel as dull as dishwater, unless you're about to make a laundry room (aka utility room) too? If not, then I'd have to agree. Probably the least exciting room your home will ever have. If like me you're from New Zealand this will seem like a totally normal thing to have in your home. London flat dwellers don't usually have the space to put in a laundry room and the British are fond of sticking the washing machine in the kitchen (why not the bathroom?! Who gets undressed in the kitchen?)

These photos show the former end of the garage, well, middle really as the end was used to make our kitchen. The space was gutted, a wall put up and behold - insulated. Amazingly the wall between the garage and kitchen was never insulated, which goes a long way to explaining the glacial blast which came out of our cupboards in winter. On the upside, our cupboard items remained fresh for ages. At least with an insulated wall our gas bill should be less of a fright next winter.


The room now has it's own (eco) light bulb and a separate switch to run an extractor fan. This means we can shut the door and leave the dryer on and the humidity won't get too crazy in there. Guests will be pleased they no longer have to climb over an airing rack in order to sleep in the spare bedroom.


A trip to Ikea is on the cards so we can buy one of their wall-mounted drying racks. The selection of such items online is pretty bad, and the so-called specialist websites that deal with such things are overwhelmingly awful. Definitely a gap in the market for anyone who can be bothered. The flooring is en route and then we need to think about how to house the mountain of stuff that used to be in the garage into this little space.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Cloakroom: before photos


For FOUR YEARS I have endured our 2.5 ghastly bathrooms after writing this naive post back in February 2008. If I'd known I'd be putting up with the status quo for so long I wouldn't have believed it. Turns out you can smile through aesthetic compromises when your circumstances are wobbled (refer redundancy, recession, unemployment then eventually catching up on many, many holidays...) Anyway. Here we are. And this is the first of the three bathroom spaces to get an overhaul. (The other two will be knocked through into one space at a later date, probably another four years at this rate).

I mentioned the space was quite tiny in my last post, but here you can see it with your own eyes. And yes, I am still keen on black tiles.


Here is the garage, with the washing maching and dryer hidden under an avalanche of goodness knows what. Probably the best news about having the builders in is the skip, which means we can have a proper chuck out of misc items. Especially the items left by the previous owners.


This is the view with the door to the cloakroom on the left and the door to the garage on the right.


This is the same view once the builders got stuck in.


And here is our old cloakroom space - one day of demolition means there's no going back now!


Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Phase 2 has lift off!


Right now there are two builders moving stuff from our garage into our dining room, prepping the spaces and organising the delivery of a skip. I can only compare the excitement to the feeling of anticipation one gets when pregnant: the unknown but ultimately thrilling possibility of something amazing is around the corner. But before then, will come a lot of mess, pain and money.

Last night I took some 'before' photos of the current spaces which I'll post here soon. It was difficult to get a good angle as the cloakroom is so small. Like, really really small. When we were imagining putting a shower in there we were originally going to steal back some space from either the outside storage cupboard, or from the under stairs storage. Neither of these options is happening now due to the cost.

The shower door will have to be made bespoke for the space so that it can fully open, that way when you're on the loo your knees won't be knocking against it.

At the weekend Rob and I went to Topps Tiles and chose the tiles which will end up on the walls and floor. I chose a 20cm square satin black tile for the wall and Rob chose the same tile in white for the floor. Me black, him white, it's kind of fitting. On reflection though, worrying about making the room look small when it IS small seemed silly - so we've ditched the white in favour of a dark grey. I'm guessing the size and colour will end up similar to the photo at top (via

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Phase 2 is imminent


Stardate: March 2012 - and I finally have some actual renovation to write about! This is in relation to the downstairs bathroom update and the implementation of a utility room. The builders came back with a quote, which was quite high, so we revised the plans to make it as simple as possible.

The quote was still too high but after some to-ing and fro-ing it looks like the building work, building materials and a separate water heating unit will cost £6,500 + VAT. We have to buy all the sanitary ware, tiles and extras (heated towel rail, laundry shelving etc) but it looks like the builders can start work next week.


I'm quite liking black tiles - not sure how they'll feel in a small wetroom, but after years of looking at white tiles I feel like a change.

In other news: there was a weird sound coming from our Samsung side-by-side fridge freezer. Turns out it was the fan hitting ice. It took less than 24 hours for the fan to grind to a halt and start overheating. Luckily (?) this happened while we were hosting a lunch at ours rather than say, the middle of the night or while we were away for the weekend. Rob quickly defrosted the fridge with our handheld steamer, and viola, the fridge is working fine again. The fridge is less than four years old and I had no idea it got icy - and we know a few people with the same fridge. Let this be a warning to ensure you defrost yours from time to time...