Over the last several weeks we have been completely redecorating our living room. I’ll post more about that later. The centre piece of this refurbished room is a nice new wood burning stove.
The room previously had a large, ugly, fireplace with a gas fire.
The house has central heating so it is probably more a question of aesthetic value to have a fire at all, and I’ve had my eye on a wood burner for some time. I’ve had a chimenea in the garden for a few years and really like what that adds to a summer evening enjoying the garden. So this is the obvious extension, a nice wood burning stove for the chilly winter evenings.
At this point everything is finished, and I’m happy with the stove, and the room in general. But it has been quite the journey to get this far, so I wanted to blog about the experience.
Our first step was to identify a company to install our stove. Normally I try to do everything I can myself. However with a stove you need it to be installed by a Hetas registered installer so that you can get the appropriate certificate for the purposes of building regulations etc. On more than one occasion I found myself wondering whether it would have been easier if I just got myself hetas certified to do the work…
We spoke to a couple of different local suppliers, the one we ultimately chose was grange farm stoves. They are based not too far from us and I had spotted their sign on our way to Duxford one day. We popped in to the showroom and spoke to Michael who runs the business.
Things did not start well as my wife and I both noticed that whenever she asked a question, he addressed his answer to me. I’m normally not that attuned to such things, but it was so apparent that he was really talking to me, not to us. However we wrote this off as unrelated to the companies ability to install stoves.
A warning sign for the complexities to come was that he provided the name and details for ‘his installer’ but insisted that we make arrangements by calling him at grange farm, who would in turn make arrangements for Rhys the installer to come round and survey the scene.
It later became clear that Rhys runs his own stove installation business, Moda stoves, which we could have contacted independently.
In any case, Rhys came along and surveyed what we wanted doing, and talked a little about chimney liners. Our existing chimney has a clay liner, the house itself is only about 30 years old so the chimney is a relatively modern construction. However the recommendation for ‘efficiency’ is to have a chimney liner installed. What I found throughout was that no one could really put any figures to ‘efficiency’ in terms of a new liner compared to an existing clay liner. The cost difference is not insubstantial and as a more decorative feature than a serious part of heating the house I was interested by just how inefficient it would be without. Ultimately it didn’t matter as removing the existing fireplace revealed the existing liner didn’t start for 5/6 feet from the ground and so a liner is what we got. I still wonder a little about whether this is legitimate or merely snake oil. It is hard to know as a consumer what is real and what is just a line to sell you more stuff.
We did get quotes from more than one place, but Rhys seemed to know what he was talking about and so we proceeded. Another slight oddity was grange farm insistence on being paid half up front then in full 3 days before final installation day. Typically with building works I’ve always been invoiced after the job is done. I brought this up as unusual, and was essentially told I could take my business elsewhere if I didn’t like it.
I asked a couple of questions in an email, including some regarding timescales for installation etc along with this query and I felt the response I got was about the least professional email I’d ever received from a business. Had I not been worried about the timescale of the project getting done before Christmas I probably would have walked away then. But instead I let it pass, and smoothed things over. Ultimately Graham phoned me to assure me of his fine upstanding nature and trustworthiness etc etc and why I would be fine paying in advance. He neglected to realise that the implication was that he wouldn’t trust *me* to pay up, but I needed to trust him to do the job. Ultimately we agreed on a deposit and set things in motion. I guess in some ways I perpetuate the problem by not walking away. He’ll never learn how to actually handle customers in a professional way.
That was pretty much the last dealing I had directly with Grange farm, despite their protestations that things go via them, from this point on I was talking with Rhys about dates for the various phases of work.
The first phase was the rip out of the existing fireplace, and capping off the gas. I was quoted about 90 pounds for a gas engineer to come with them and cap off the supply. However, after several days they were unable to confirm a gas engineer. None of their usual people were even returning their calls. This was explained as gas engineers busy doing higher value work such as boiler installation. Ultimately in frustration I said I would make arrangements. I brief search led me to Matt Pope, a local registered Gas engineer. He was able to confirm his availability and came along, on time, and capped the supply for 35 pounds. He did everything I expect of a contractor. He arrived when he said he would, he did the job he was asked to do in a timely, no fuss manor and he invoiced me when the job was done. I recommend him to anyone local to Royson.
With the gas tapped off, the removal of the fireplace proceeded a pace and we soon had a bare wall and hole where the old fire had been.
At this point it is worth pointing out that this phase was not completed by Rhys. It was completed by Lee, someone who was also independent, he gave me his card and was not shy about revealing that I could have come to him directly and he would have been able to provide all the same stuff and the same guarantees at a lower price, since he doesn’t operate with the showroom overhead of grange farm. This was refreshingly honest, but really not what I wanted to hear at the start of a job I was committed to with Grange farm.
The first phase was always about determining whether there would be sufficient space to open up the chimney to set a stove in side. There was not and this informed the next part of the design, to brick up the old hole with a flue running through into the chimney such that the stove would sit in the room against a flat wall.
So phase 2 saw Lee and his sidekick return to attached a ‘T-Piece’ in the chimney, open up a soot door from the outside to allow a sweep to work from there. And to brick up the hole with the flue sticking through.
This was a point where communication confusion was an issue. Rhys had suggested running 2×45 degree bends from the back of the stove up into the chimney as it would make it easier to sweep. Which sounded reasonable. However Lee proposed the idea of the T-Piece with an external soot door. Meaning that a sweep would not even need to come into the house to do the job. As someone that is out at work a lot, the idea of not even needing to be home was appealing. So we went with that. Later when Rhys came to inspect the work he commented that it was a little tight and that sweeps would almost certainly complain (but apparently they always do). In any case I feel that the external soot door was the preferable option. We shall see whether it causes any sweeps a problem.
Phase 3 was another separate contractor, a plasterer, come to skim the whole wall, covering the newly bricked up space and ensuring there was no join. He came and did the job which was ok. The result was nice an flat, but a little messy around the plugs and the wiring for the wall lights. Not bad, but could have been better. The plaster required 2 days to dry, and we were running out of time before Christmas and before our carpet was due to be fitted.
This meant that I painted the wall before and after work every day for a few days. Up at 6am, coat of paint on the wall, go to to work all day, home by about 7.30, paint the wall again before dinner. So that the wall was all finished ready for the ‘final install’
For this Rhys himself came. Unloaded the granite hearth, and the stove. Took some measurements… and declared that the flue was 25mm too high as it came through the wall…
Option 1 was: break out the wall, reset the flue, re-plaster. This was never a serious option. But he stated it none the less.
Option 2 was: take the hearth back to the stone cutters and set some feet on it and some strips of granite to form a box on the bottom to raise it by 25 mm.
Rhys left with intent on option 2, and later confirmed he would be back the following morning hot from the stone cutters to finish the job.
And so I had to work from home again for the work to finish.
But Rhys did not come, Lee came, and the hearth had not been adjusted. Lee took measurements and said that of course it was that high, since the plan was always to set the hearth on a bed of concrete that would both level it and raise it to the right place. So lack of communication between the two parties cost a day for no real reason.
30 minutes later Lee was proudly cleaning up from setting the hearth on concrete, just prior to setting the stove in place. At this point I looked at it and clearly saw the hearth was not centred on the flue. And so I asked ‘Is that hearth centred?’ (See above) This caused Lee to get out his tape measure, and check the distance from each side of the hearth to a mark on the wall. He made a show of nudging things over a few mm and declared that yes, it was centred…
I then pointed out that I had no idea what the mark on the wall was for, but it was most certainly not centred on the flue. For the first time Lee took a step back and realised that the hearth was quite clearly about 3 inches too far to one side (which you can see in the photo below). And so they started again.
To be fair it didn’t take long to correct the mistake. However this was definitely one of those times that i felt maybe it would have been easier for me to just get myself registered to do the job.
So finally. I had a stove installed. However… there was supposed to be a decorative ‘collar’ around the flue where it entered the wall, which they didn’t have. And there was supposed to be a ‘multi-fuel grate’ for the stove, which they also did not have. They did ask if I’d ordered the multi-fuel option, and I confirmed that yes, that is what was on my quote and apparently after checking they found that I was supposed to have one.
Out of time, with carpets due on the Monday, I made arrangements with Rhys for him to come Monday morning with the last parts.
Monday afternoon, after carpets were installed, I emailed to find out what was going on, the response was ‘I didn’t realise it was Monday’ It’s not clear whether he didn’t realise the day was Monday or didn’t realise he has said he would be around on Monday. But in any case he suggested 8.30am Tuesday. Accepted this and he acknowledged ok.
9.30 Tuesday I phoned Rhys to find out what was going on, he said “I didn’t see a response from you with a time” to which I pointed out he had proposed 8.30 and I had accepted it. So he said ‘I’ll be with you in about 45 minutes’
2 hours later… I finally get a call from someone else that worked for Rhys, who was lost trying to find the house. He turned up 5 minutes later and finally finished the job. Grate installed, decorative collar stuck to wall.
And so it was done. and like I said at the start, I’m happy with the result and very happy with the room overall. However I don’t think I would recommend any of the parties involved to a friend. Perhaps it is just that I so rarely use tradesmen that I’m just not used to the associated problems. However I feel I have fairly low bar. Tell me when you’ll do something and do it at that time. Don’t make mistakes that it takes me to point out. Bring all the things required to do the job. etc etc. I’m very happy that the job is now done, and I can go for a while without relying on other people. However I know that when it comes to new windows/doors I will once again be at the mercy of others to hopefully do things when they say they will.