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It Could Never be Easy!

by Pamela

This entry would be much shorter if I just included what had gone right in recent weeks! As mentioned in various diary entries, we've been planning some work on the house. If you want the Readers Digest Condensed Version, we now have a new roof, new gas fire and new gas hot water. We have been through two gas fitters, a plumber, a fleet of electricians, 3 gas free-standing fireplaces, two hot water heaters and have the store where we bought it all on speed dial on our telephone. I have learned way more about venting gas appliances than I ever thought I might need to know, and our house is now fully up to code - we hope!

Of course, I think it will be interesting to read through the unabridged version of all our trials and tribulations. You can laugh, since you aren't living our Nightmare on Mount Street!

Before we bought the house, we did get a home inspection. A couple of issues came up through that process. One was that heaps of work had been performed on the house without resource consent. Most of it was done about 20 years ago. Before folks we bought the house from bought the house, it was inspected and all that previous work was certified. We have a copy of that inspection, which details some of the work, like an 800 mm extension of the back of the house, new decking and pergolas, new bathroom, and garage conversion (into a bedroom and workshop). Our inspector pointed out a few minor things like the deck needing some additional bracing, and some amount of redecorating in the garage conversion. He said the roof would likely need to be replaced in 5 to 10 years, and suggested we have the gas line checked for leaks on our hot water tank. It all seemed benign enough and we went forward with the purchase.

One thing the inspector neglected to mention was the 8 buckets placed throughout the attic to catch leaks in the roof. Shortly after we moved in, we had a major leak come through the dining room ceiling, and well as lots of smaller drips show up as water stains on the ceiling. John did his best to stop the big leak, cleaning out the gutters and sealing up obvious leaky spots in the roof. The roof was made of concrete tiles, and was original, so more than 50 years old. Over time, many of these tiles had cracked. And as the inspector walked around on the roof, he cracked more. At some point, part of the roof had been painted (cement tiles need this to seal out water, since they are quite porous otherwise). John had hoped to paint the entire roof to fully seal it, but as he gingerly moved around, he also cracked tiles, so it became pretty hopeless. We further discovered that a large reason for the major leak was this 800 mm extension. (For the metric impaired that's less than a yard!) Don't ask me why someone would move a wall, windows and foundation out 800 mm, but they did. Of course, after all that effort they didn't bother redoing the roof - they simply extended it horizontally and covered this with metal flashing nailed to the rafters. This flashing went over the gutters, so as the gutters fill, water gets under the flashing and into the house. It also seemed that when the wind blew rain from the north, water came under the tiles, and this is what poured into the dining room, right by my chair. So we decided we should get a new roof before the rainy season! We went several months without rain in the summer, but when it does rain, it doesn't mess around - it does so with a vengeance. We got numerous estimates on the roof. One fellow was so determined not to get the job that after he broke a tile, he came back and did the worst repair job imaginable - showing off the quality of his work.

Roofs here are very different from in the states. Most are steel. Some are designed to look like tiles, but are in fact strips of metal nailed to the roofing timbers. John was initially unimpressed by the idea of steel, but one of the brochures went a long way toward changing his attitude. We decided on a Gerard Roof and just had to wait a while to get booked in. Nelson is in a building boom, and trying to get anyone to do anything before Christmas can be difficult. One of the hold-ups was the flat section where the flashing was to be replaced with butynol. Co-ordinating with the folks doing the butynol apparently took a while. And of course we also needed a stretch of good weather. We couldn't plan this during the warm dry summer, of course!

And there was the issue of heat. The house had no permanent source of heat. I kid you not. After all the issues we had selling our house in Massachusetts with its unconventional but very real heating, this one didn't have any. The former owners had used portable electric space heaters, as well as warm wooly sweaters and duvets. The sun here in NZ is very intense, and if your property is oriented properly, you can get away with very little in the way of heat. This house does get great sun from mid morning throughout the rest of the day, but the pergolas on the deck keep a lot of that sun from getting into the house and warming it up. This is good in that one can actually sit on the deck during the day without getting fried, but does leave the house cool - which in the hottest part of the summer isn't so bad, but even in the summer, it can be quite chilly at breakfast time.

It does seem we (and many other foreign folk - English, Canadian, etc.) prefer our home warmer than most kiwis, but I am truly amazed by the lack of heat here. Our house is not unique in this regard!

I should add that lots of folks here use woodstoves and open fireplaces. This is a great source of pollution here in the winter. The haze from wood fires on what should be clear starry nights is amazing. The smell is pretty intense too. The powers that be are trying to encourage use of low-emission type heating, but they don't offer any incentives like tax breaks, or such, so most folks just throw another wet log on the fire.

So while we were shopping for roofs, we also began looking at heat, and we came to the same conclusion we had in Massachusetts. A free-standing gas fire would be the most economical, energy efficient, clean source of heat and satisfy Pamela's need for a warm cosy looking fire. We even found a Jotul free-standing gas stove just like the one we had in the kitchen in Chelmsford. We had a plumber come out to give us an estimate for installing it, and then tried to buy the stove. Despite telling us before that they had one in stock, it turned out this store didn’t and couldn't get one anytime this year. We happened to walk past Four Seasons, another place that also carried this brand of stove. We asked if they had it in stock – and they said yes. They had one of the showroom floor. But after looking at it and noticing that it did not have a fan, we asked about getting a fan and thermostat, and we were told it came with a fan and we could get a thermostat. So we had their gas fitter, Brian, come around and give an estimate. We had in mind putting it in a corner, but wondered about venting through the wall, since the deck just outside was covered. Brian suggested venting through the roof. He would use an offset so we could go around the ridge of the roof. Since we were having the roof redone, he'd co-ordinate with the roofers, and get the vent in while they had the old roof off. So we went back in and paid for the stove. Then we tried to get the roofers to commit to a date, so we could book the gas fitter. The roofers said they'd start between 8 and 10 May, weather dependent. On Monday the 6th, they called to say it would be Friday the 10th. So we booked the gas fitter for that Friday, and prayed for good weather.

It was starting to get chilly overnight, and while my new down duvet kept me warm at night, I found myself needing gloves to work on the computer!

So Friday came and Brian, the gas fitter came to install the stove. The Butynol guys showed up to do the flat part, but the main roofer was delayed on another job. We got a call that he'd be around later in the day. The Butynol folks took the flashing up and put the new stuff down. The gas fitter plumbed into our existing gas line, and cut a hole in the ceiling for the vent, but needed to wait to finish the job until after the roofers got the vent through the roof. In the process of working on the gas, he looked at our hot water (which was gas) and deemed it unsafe and against code, and wrote things to that affect all over the tank. He said he’d have to report this and we’d need to change our hot water. I was off on a bike ride at the time. So when I got home John had a bit of bad news to report.

I admired our new but not yet functioning gas fire and noticed that it did not have a fan! So we called Four Seasons, where we'd bought it and talked to Bruce, our salesman. At first he denied telling us it had a fan, but finally conceded that he had, and would try to find out how to solve the problem. I used my best assertiveness techniques on him. A short while later Bob B, the store manager came up to the house, and we had a talk about all this. The manual he brought said a fan was optional. He had phoned the importer who said they didn't import the fans into New Zealand. He thought it was likely due to different power supplies. But the stove is built in Norway, so it should be the same. Emails and such were exchanged with the manufacturer and the short story is that fans are only made for the US market, and so are 110V, so they won't work here (without a transformer). Bottom line - no fan for this stove.

So at this point, we need to consider a different stove. We had 4 of these units back in the states, and a fair amount of experience using them. A fan is pretty critical both to moving warm air into the room, as well as away from the stove. Without the fan, the stove gets too hot and can smell - even after lots of use. Occasionally back in Chelmsford, if we had a power outage, we would experience this. So I was quite adamant that our new stove come with a fan.

They had a Rinnai in the store that was New Zealand made, and came complete with a fan and thermostat already installed. While it was a much more modern styling than our original choice and not as attractive to our eyes, we wanted the fan, so opted for it. This all took several days (over the weekend) to sort out. Since it was getting pretty chilly at night, Bob B offered to loan us a nice Dimplex portable electric heater (that looks like a wood stove) to use until we got everything straightened out.

In the meantime, Brian the gas fitter phoned Sunday night to see when the roofers would be available to get the vent in.

Oh yes, back to the roofers. They didn't finish up in time Friday to get to us, and were missing a critical section on Saturday, so they couldn't start until Monday. I told Brian that they'd hopefully be around Monday, and also told him what we'd learned about our stove, and that we'd likely need to change to a different model. But at that stage, we did not know for sure. I asked him a few questions about the hot water and what we'd need to do to get safe and legal, and just as an aside, asked about the capacity of our current gas pipe. When we got the first estimate, we were told we'd need a larger pipe to handle the hot water, fire, and the cooker we plan to put in next month, and I thought Brian had said the same, but when I asked about it, he said that what we had would be fine. But apparently I offended him by asking because Monday morning, after I left to go for a bike ride, Brian came around with his knickers in a twist and cut out the gas installation for the stove, and left, wanting nothing more to do with us.

John was quite distressed by this. I phoned every gas fitter in town trying to find someone who was available before next Christmas! I finally found Bob A, who had just moved to town and wasn't yet booked up. He came out to look things over. The first thing he looked at was the gas bottle station. I should mention that we don't have gas mains here, but instead use LP Gas bottles. We have two 50 litre bottles hooked up to a regulator which automatically switches from an empty bottle to a full one. A little red flag lets us know that we need to have a new bottle delivered. He agreed that we'd need a larger pipe and likely a new regulator. He looked at the hole in the ceiling and said there was no way a vent would fit in the tiny space in the corner of the roof. So we'd either have to put the stove in a different place or get a direct vent stove and go through the wall. Now at this point, I was very confused, since I knew the Jotul we had in Chelmsford was DV - you could not have anything else in Massachusetts. So first I asked if we could go through the wall with the pergola there and Bob said yes - and then showed us the code that said the area had to be open on two sides - and we were open on three. So the pergola didn't really matter. Then I asked about the direct vent stove comment. Apparently the second stove we were considering was not actually direct vent - so it could only vent through the roof. I was a bit surprised because with all the talk of how modern and complete it was I had just assumed it was also DV. At this stage you may be wondering what DV is. With Direct Vent, the gas fire is totally closed to the inside. No air from inside the house is used to fuel the flame, so none of your warm air gets sucked out through a flue. The vent is coaxial and outside air fuels the fire coming through the outer part of the vent, while the exhaust goes out through the inner. But the further critical part is the fire can be vented out a wall, rather than going up through the roof. All four of our fires in Chelmsford were DV and went out through walls. It is a very clean arrangement and makes installation easy - not having to worry about resealing a hole in the roof and such. The final selling point is that with a DV, other appliances in the house and changes in internal air pressure won't affect the stove.

I should add that as we were talking about all this Bob B the manager from Four Seasons, showed up with the flue kit for stove number 2, and heard that their gas fitter had cut a hole in our ceiling that wouldn't work, and was using a pipe that was undersized for the job, and finally that we couldn't use stove number 2. I began to wonder about getting the fan from the states for the Jotul and using a transformer. Bob A looked at the Jotul and said it wasn't DV either, and didn't have a NZ approved sticker, so no gas fitter could legally install it! Now the manual said it was DV, but apparently it was missing some required seals, as well as the NZ sticker. So at this point he could recommend a particular model of a Masport stove that was DV - venting it through the wall, or the Rinnai, located in a different spot vented through the ceiling. We briefly considered other locations, but there really wasn't anywhere else, and I really felt Massachusetts had a good point insisting on direct vent! So we checked the Masport website, and agreed to go with that stove.

Of course Bob B didn't carry these, but said he would get us one!

By the way, the roofers were here, and were busy pulling cement tiles off the back side of the house.

So then I asked Bob A about the hot water. The hot water cylinder was located in a closet inside our bathroom, and this was indeed against code. Every gas fitter I had phoned told me this. How our home inspector, and the fellow who certified the work in 2000 and whoever initially installed it missed this requirement, I cannot explain. But bottom line is that it simply cannot be in the bathroom. The house is pretty compact and there was no other place. Luckily there are small instantaneous units that can be mounted outside, and we could get one of those right away. We'd just need to find a plumber, since Bob A did gas, but not water. Well, another good bit of luck... We'd recently met a plumber. We'd actually come upon a family out on a mountain bike ride. Simon, Cara and Aria (at 2 years and 10 months) were having lunch at the corner of Duck Pond and Central Road in the Hira Forest a few weeks ago when we first attempted to do the Maungatapu. The next week, when we tried again, we found them in the same spot. Simon had mentioned he was a plumber, although he was working full time taking care of Aria and doing home renovations, while Cara was teaching at a local college. I had actually called Simon initially. He isn't certified to do gas, but said could do the water part if we got a gas fitter. So we had someone to do water and someone to do gas and could quickly have safe and legal hot water again. Things are starting to look up.

We just needed to get the stove and venting delivered.

The roofers were installing the new roof on the back of the house.

The stove arrived the next day, but the 45 degree angle necessary for putting the stove in the corner didn't come in until Friday. Simon came around on Thursday and got the water part of the hot water hooked up, and Bob A came on Friday to hook up the gas for the hot water. Unfortunately the vent didn't arrive in time, so he couldn't hook up our heat until the following Tuesday.

There were three roofers working on Monday, but two got called away to other jobs, so Giles got to complete the job all by himself. Poor lad had to remove all the cement tiles, the old battens, put down roofing paper and new battens as well as the new steel tiles. It took all week, but it is lovely and has now been tested twice in heavy rain with no leaks!

Tuesday Bob A got the venting and gas hooked up, and we had fire! But no fan! At first we thought the fan was missing entirely. Bob B and Dave came up from Four Seasons and found the fan, but it still wouldn't work. Later as I was doing something in the dining room, I noticed the power seemed to be out. I checked the circuit and it was tripped. When I flipped it back, it tripped again. We unplugged the stove and flipped it back. It was fine. We tried an extension cord and plugged the stove into a different circuit and tripped it to. Something was wonky with the wiring of the fan! So Wednesday the electrician, Brad, Dave from the shop and Bob A, the gas fitter all helped rewire the fan, and now we have fire and fan.

Wednesday the electricians came around and installed the thermostat. Now the weather needs to turn chilly again, so we can truly enjoy it all!

We are still doing a fair amount of work on the house ourselves. We have been stripping the paint from the window in the kitchen, and have removed linoleum and tile to find a beautiful rimu floor in the kitchen as well. The rest of the kitchen work, we will leave to the professionals and this should happen in July. I have great confidence that this will be a much smoother operation!

We have also been busy removing the wall between the small bedroom and the storage area. There was also a closet and desk area, and there must have been 30 studs for all this. We discovered that the interior walls - those between the other two bedrooms and this area are quite well insulated, but the exterior walls are not. The wallboard in these two rooms is pretty low quality, so we will be replacing it all - and will move the insulation when we do.

We will be finishing off the skylights. The roofers put the skylights in the roof, but we need to cut the holes in the ceiling, and build the tunnels. So even though we don't have paying jobs yet, we are working very hard and even suffering some stress!

 

Another Perfect Day