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A week of odds and ends

Southern coast
The southern coast

This week: Central Heating; New Year flowers; Painting walls; Odd Jobs;

We have had a mild but rather damp week this week. Occasional burst of warm spring sunshine have been interspersed with cloudy days, leaden skies and some rain, but as the continued prevailing wind has been coming from the south east, it has been warm(ish), or more correctly in meteorological terms, “mild for the time of year”.

Central heating

The wood stove has been burning away in the corner most evenings, heating the water for the central heating but now with the fallback of a UPS, so when the power goes out – as it has several times this week – the pump keeps working and the heating is safe.

A roaring log fire
A roaring log fire

As the central heating has been on, and is working well, I have discovered yet another anomaly with the original installation, since I replaced copper pipe with plastic. Hot water was being pumped up into the expansion tank in the loft most of the time. (Seen here before it was fully insulated)

Central heating expansion tank
Central heating expansion tank

This has necessitated some in depth reading about the principles of open or vented heating systems. They are supposed to be the simplest of all heating solutions, but then simple does not always mean straightforward.

There are many plumbing discussion forums where the uninitiated can ask questions of the experts, but a review of the questions suggests that said “experts” will often offer contradictory and sometimes conflicting advice.

The whole idea of the expansion tank is that it accepts overflow hot water from the system, but allows it to return to the system through gravity as well. When water is heated, especially to the sort of temperatures a wood stove creates, the water volume expands up to a maximum of 4%. If the expanded water has nowhere to go, then you will have a serious problem, so an expansion pipe runs up, above the height of all the radiators, into the top of the tank in my loft.

The problem is that the pump is sending hot water up into the tank instead of the radiators. I only found out by chance, because after recommissioning the system following the replacement of the burst copper pipes, I went up into the loft, where there had been two bursts, to make sure that I had no further leaks and I could hear the water running into the tank.

This is not just a waste of hot water, but it is not how the system is supposed to work. However, knowing it is not right and understanding why it is not working according to the books, are two very different things.

Starting with the basics, I dug out the manual for the water pump, which is underneath the wood stove, in the workshop.

Central heating pump
Central heating pump

It has three speeds and on the slowest circulates 35 litres of water per minute, to a height above the pump – the head of water – of two meters. That sent me off down another track, to work out exactly how much water I have in both sides of the system – hot and cold and the height of the highest point. After measuring all the pipework, which comes to 58 meters, then the volume of water the pipes, radiators and boiler contain I had a figure of 32 litres, of which 23 are on the “hot” side.

Then there was the height from pump to expansion tank, four meters, so in theory the pump should not have the power to create a head of water four meters tall – but it was. Then another box from Screwfix.eu arrived, which had the system corrosion inhibitor included – something else not available here, even at Bauhaus.

As I took the cap off the bathroom towel rail, to input the inhibitor, I was met with a fountain of water.

The finished bathroom
The finished bathroom

So clearly there was quite a lot of water in the overhead expansion tank. I drained the system down, until no more water came out of the radiator when I opened the bleed valve, then tested the pump. No more water flowing into the expansion tank.

It is not written anywhere (that I can find) but it would seem that the path of least resistance for the central heating water was up the expansion pipe, because the pipe was full to the top. Lower the level in the pipe and the pump no longer has the ability to pump up to the tank.

So I now know to keep the water level only to just above the top of the highest radiator. It’s probably one of those trade secrets which gets taught in plumbing school….


New Year Flowers

As I took the wood ash out on New Year’s Morning, I was surprised and pleased to see that I have a Narcissus Tazetta Paper White in flower in the bed close to the kitchen window.

Paper White flowers
Paper White flowers

A nice New Year surprise and a good omen for the year I think.

I planted a number of bulbs in the bed, together with my Canna lilly’s, there are crocus, narcissus, crown imperials that I can immediately think of, but they have been somewhat overwhelmed by the Canna, especially as the tiny little bit of frost we have had, has nipped the leaves of the Canna and made them droop.

Canna lilly flower
Canna lilly flower

Canna are tropical plants and will not withstand frost. Although their bulbous rhizome roots survived the 2017 freezing event we had, it has taken them a year to recover. This drooping has protected the bulbs underneath.

A priority this week has been to start on this bit of the garden, removing the detritus so I can see the spring bulbs as they come into flower. The lack of any significant cold this winter has meant that all the weeds have just kept growing.

I also needed to dig up and move some Common Lilac bushes, Syringa vulgaris. Winter is the time to move shrubs, when they are dormant, although when I was digging these three shrubs up, I noticed that the buds are already swelling quite noticeably. It wasn’t until I was looking up the Latin taxonomy for the Lilac, that I discovered that the shrub/tree is one of the original natives here in the Balkans.

It was spread to Northern Europe by way of the gardens of the Ottoman Empire, and Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq, a keen gardener, plant collector, writer and Ambassador to the Holy Roman See. I am surprised that a shrub/tree I know well from my days in England is actually a native here. It does explain why you only see the purple variety and none of the modern hybrid colours.

I have a lot of work to do in the gardens and orchards whilst the trees and plants are in their winter state, but already I feel I am behind the curve somewhat and need to work harder.


Painting walls

While it has been wet outside, it has been the perfect opportunity to undercoat all the walls in the guest room, then get the Magnolia top coat on as well. The walls were in especially poor condition, with diagonal cracks from floor to ceiling and corner to corner through the plaster and chips of plaster missing.

Old damaged walls
Old damaged walls

After ​filling the widest cracks, sanding the walls and then papering over everything with 1400 GSM lining paper, I am happy that few of the underlying marks are still visible.

Lined and painted
Lined and painted

I cut beams to level the floor and fitted them round the central heating pipes I installed before Christmas.

New floor beams
New floor beams

My little ‘home made’ profiling measure again came in very useful as I marked the different contours of the floor on each beam, then cut them on the table saw outside, so all the sawdust would blow away.

Home made tools - a wood scribe
Home made tools – a wood scribe

The eight beams each have a different profile, so required individual measuring and cutting to make sure the hardwood floor on the top will be level when cut and screwed down to the existing floor.

Level when finished
Level when finished


Odd jobs

With several rainy days forecast from Sunday, I wanted to get all the outside jobs done, that I could, knowing I then have lots of things to finish inside, when outdoors work is not going to be possible.

The double glazing man called just before Christmas and measured for a new window, which should be here at the end of the month, and I want to try and have everything ready for then. I have all the materials I need in stock, I just need a bit of time, and when it comes to varnishing the new hardwood floor boards, a few days of sunny weather, to speed the outdoor drying process.

Lastly, thanks to everyone who passed comments about the year end photos. I’m going to be going to the vets this week with Snagglepuss. He came in this morning for lunch and I could see something sticking out of his mouth.

As I took a close look I realised it is the end of his upper canine, which is still hanging on by a thread.

Snagglepuss with his broken tooth
Snagglepuss with his broken tooth

It hasn’t stopped him eating, but he is not willing to let me take a really close look.

Feline dental fractures are apparently quite common, although this is my first experience of one. I will speak to the vet when the surgery opens on Monday.

As he has a) never been in a cat basket and b) never been to the vets before, I am not certain how he will react, but I also know that if nothing is done, it can easily lead to a major infection.

Oh the joys of having pets! NCR

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