Tag Archives: Heating

How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 3, the reveal!

Stubborn AND scary

Stubborn AND scary

Parts 1 and 2 of this tale may have had you crying – why didn’t you just get it blasted?

Well, we did consider it. But actually, the metal isn’t in the best of shapes in places – My Love has dimples – so, blasting it ran the risk of these worsening. There was also the cost to consider.

There’s also the fact that I am exceedingly stubborn. If I start something, I finish it.

And finish it I did. The (perfect) timing of finishing getting all the paint off meant we could get a fire installed before the plasterer turned up.

Choosing an actual fire was a pretty dull process which I won’t bore you with. But after many hours of research and show-room wanderings we went with a Gazco and a vented flue (cheaper and more effective than sorting the chimney out. And, no, we didn’t consider a wood burner, we’re way too lazy……)

So, when the gas man turned up with his pneumatic drill, here’s the moment the bricks came tumbling out:


There was a lot of dust…..

We later returned from work to find the fire in place. Hurrah!

With the fire installed the plastering could start. The filthy dirty messy plasterer. Now, he was actually (shock horror!) pretty good at covering the fireplace as we nagged him constantly. But we then neglected to put the dehumidifier in that room whilst the plaster dried. So days later when we took off the covers:

Rust on a cast iron period fireplace

Rust central

Yep, that baby can RUST. Unprotected, it can rust up in just a couple of days like a good’un. I won’t lie, this reduced me to tears. Actual real big ploppy tears.

But I pulled myself together and began mournfully scrubbing My Love with my wire brush and wire wool. Scrubbing and scrubbing and scrubbing. To little avail:

Rust on a cast iron period fireplace

Oh! My Love!

(True facts:

  • Constant rust dust in the air tastes just like blood.
  • Your bogeys will go an interesting maroon colour.)

And then one day on a chance visit to Screw Fix my glorious hubbie came home with these:

wire brush drill bits

This is quite possibly the best thing he has EVER bought me (and he’s bought me Tiffanys diamonds…..)

You pop one of these little darlings on a drill and away you go! You gotta be careful not to overdo it or press too hard so’s not to damage the metal but gradually you can not only get rid of the rust and any pesky paint chips but also bring up a beautiful sheen to the metal.

It still took HOURS, so don’t be fooled, but it was exceedingly satisfying.

And then finally, we were ready for the last stage. And, strangely, the quickest.

All you do is smear on grate polish (which costs just a couple of quid) and then buff it off:

cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Dot it on….

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Rub it in….

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish


At the bottom of the fireplace I hadn’t bothered to remove all the rust, knowing this would be covered up by the carpet. But I thought I’d give the grate polish a go and see how it fared. Result: pretty good!

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

Hiding the rust

Period cast iron fireplace black grate polish

The end.

And, that was it. Done. My long-running affair finally over.

Thanks for sticking with these blog posts but I hope they’ve been interesting and – importantly – may one day be of use to someone else.

Oh, you want to see the finished thing in all its glory? I thought you’d never ask! Go on then, take a peek!



Filed under Fireplace

How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 2

So, we left off with the beginning of elbow grease on the central part of the fireplace. This got me to this stage:

cast iron paint chips

So nearly there

Do you see the tiny chips of paint? To the right of the pic and in amongst the detail? These were the bane of my life! From a distance it was looking great but get up close to My Love and these remained, needing careful chipping off bit by bit. I knew if I didn’t do it meticulously then at the final stage the grate polish wouldn’t cover them.

So, slowly, I continued. I was determined to get the middle bit perfect, to spur me on as I faced the rest of the challenge. And finally after copious buffing, I got this:

cast iron fireplace detail

What a beauty!

Now, if that wouldn’t spur me on, nothing would!!

After all this detailing I thought I’d treat myself to a nice flat surface and thus turned attention to the top of the mantle.

On went the gunk:

Paint stripping on cast iron with peelaway

Smoothing on the PeelAway with the spatuala

It was covered with the special paper, air bubbles ironed out and then left for 48hours. Here it is being peeled away:

Peelaway on cast iron fireplace

In action!

D’ya see all the liquid? That’s what made this such a messy job. I have no idea how someone would manage if the rest of the room didn’t need renovating cos me and my trusty scrubbing brush got it EVERYWHERE.

You see, by the time you get the gunk off you then need to get rid of the liquid and, supposedly, neutralise it – though I never did as I figured I has yet more buffing to do which would get rid of any residue.

It turned out that the paint came off the top super easy:

Just one application!

Just one application!

I realised there were only a couple of layers of paint here (no gharish mutli-colours) and that’s why the PeelAway was so incredibly effective here.

I think someone had in the past decided to strip the paint – hence the thin layers. There’s also (sad) evidence of some rough chiseling on the edge of the mantelpiece. I guess they realised what a mammoth job it was and couldn’t face all the detailing so they just repainted the top and then another couple of coats on the rest of it to make my RSI so much worse….

I carried on down the fireplace and realised that the longer you left the gunk on for, the better the results. So, I tackled a new bit of detailing and left it for 72hours:

You can really see how it worked on the paint layers and, whilst a lot of mess remained, it was worth leaving it on for the extra time. Patience is a virtue and all that.

You can also see the eventual mess it was leaving behind:


It was clear there was going to be a mega wire scrubbing job ahead and little point doing it as I went along so I concentrated on getting all the paint off first.

There was something strangely compelling about watching the changes over the 72hours of leaving the gunk on:

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Peelaway stripper cast iron period fireplace paint

Now, there is something worth mentioning. PeelAway is pretty friendly stuff. It doesn’t actually have a smell at all and seems fairly innocuous. But then remember what it is capable of. If I got a bit on my skin then within 15 minutes I’d soon begin to feel the prickly burn – but a quick wash off and it was fine.

So, be warned!

You do not want to be this

You do not want people making assumptions

And, do not, whatever you do, decide to wear vinyl gloves when your index fingernail could do with trimming. Because said nail will split the glove, but you’re too busy scrubbing away for an hour before you even notice.

And it’s that smell you’ll notice first. You know, the wretched smell of burning hair? Or burning nail as it turns out. So, you curiously scrape your nail and layers come off like butter, until you panic and plunge it into icey water to stop the burning process. And then you have a repellent yellow nail for WEEKS that you cannot paint over with nail varnish for fear of making the whole thing fall off. So instead your skanky nail suggests you smoke 40+ woodbines a day. Yeah, that. Don’t do that people.

Still, inch by inch I was making my way across the fire place. Across My Love.

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by inch

Cast iron period fireplace get paint off

Inch by inch by inch

Will we make it? Will we get to the end, buff it up, install a working fire, smear it in grate polish and happily rejoice? There’s only one way to find out……tune in next time for the final installment!

(You’re on the edge of your seat. Go on, admit it.)

Read on to part 3


Filed under Fireplace

How to restore a cast iron fireplace – part 1

It’s probably about time I blogged about our fireplace. There’s a fair bit to say before the reveal, so I’ll split this into parts.

When we bought this house we had no idea we had a stunning original period feature just waiting to be restored.

Original estate agent picture

Original estate agent picture

In fact, it was several months in that we finally clocked that the fireplace that we thought was wooden was cold to the touch, and therefore metal.

Dumb, huh? But seriously – would you have expected that this was an original Edwardian cast iron beauty?


Mmmmmmm, sexy.

Ok, ok, you’d have realised sooner, smartypants. In our defence, when we first moved in we spent very little time in this room (the old dining room destined to be our sitting room). And besides, we were totally distracted by the ugly old fire and green tile hearth – circa 1980 public toilets.

However, within 5 minutes of clocking it was indeed metal we excitedly found the Nitromors and several coats, an hour and a room full of toxic stink we managed this:

Cast iron fireplace nitromors

What the Nitromors revealed

Cast iron, with beautiful detailing lost under layers of paint. And there began my absolute obsession with restoring this poor darling to its original splendour. And boy, was that some challenge.

It was clear that Nitromors wasn’t going to cut it – not when you look at the size of the fireplace (it’s 1.5m wide by x 1.2m high if you’re wondering) and not when we considered the vast amount of detail on My Love.

Yes, I am calling it My Love, for it was. For 4 months a day would not pass without me spending quality time with My Love. Even when – ironically – we had no heating in the depths of winter, I wrapped up in scarf and hat and My Love got attention. We spent hours and hours together, quietly and methodically strengthening our bond. He gave me a terrible repetitive sprain injury (insert your own mucky undertones here) that sent me to my workplace physio. And yet I continued, hour upon hour on my knees in front of him (yep, go on again). Anyway……

peelaway1Google is a wonderful thing and after much research it seemed that the wonder product I needed was: PeelAway1. (I have since discovered this wonderful post on the process which I so wish I had seen before I had started on ours!) PeelAway is used by the National Trust, so if it’s good enough for them…..

Armed with the instructions on my reassuringly large tub of PeelAway, some rubber gloves and a massive amount of enthusiasm – in I went, concentrating on the central bit of the fire surround.

I assumed that the more of this stuff I used, the better – right? So I happily squidged on huge amounts, smoothed it with the supplied spatula, put the paper on top (endearingly, the manufacturers call this a “blanket”) and waited. No toxic stink whatsoever – a good start.

I waited 24hours, and tugged at the paper expecting it all to come away in one go. To, erm, “peel away” in fact.

Nope, there was a lot of gungy mess and unexpected liquid. So after cleaning, scraping and moaning I had this:

Peel Away 1 on cast iron

Not quite peeled away

Peelaway1 first use on period cast iron fireplace

Let’s take a closer look

What this had revealed was just how many layers of paint there were to get through and – oh! – check out those colours! There was a particularly striking blue, a green and a burgundy. Apparently, the fashion for painting your fireplace in hideous colours was particularly prevalent in the 1960s, so we were looking at at least 50 odd years of paint.

And what paint it was – God only knows what they put in paint back then (oh yeah, lead) – but it was strong stuff made to last. Oh My Love, what had they done to you?

So, next time I used a little less of the PeelAway gunk, tucked in My Love with a new blanket and, this time, waited 48hours. A little improvement, but not much – though all the green paint had gone. (I neglected to take a photo at this stage – sorry) So I went ahead, more gunk, more tucking in and another 48hours.

After more messy cleaning, I got this:

Cast iron fire detail painted

Oh, hello there fine detail!

I tried Nitromors again on these stubborn bits, but nope, it wasn’t shifting it and was instead just doing terrible things to my asthma.

So there was just one thing for it: wire wool, wire brushes, tiny chisels, elbow grease and stubborn perseverance. And you wonder why I got an RSI.

To be continued….

Read on to part 2


Filed under Fireplace

Hello. We’re idiots!

“The ultimate inspiration is the deadline”

Our day jobs both involve loads of deadlines – it’s got to go to print by X, the CEO wants it by X, the media need it before X. You get the general idea.

So, it’s fair to say a deadline doesn’t really phase us. So why then are our self-imposed house deadlines such a killer? For once, we actually have some control over our deadlines but have continued to make them virtually impossible.

Answer? We’re idiots basically. Total raving, exhausted idiots.

Idiots who think it’s ok to dress as fairytale creatures.

We’re currently fighting to get all our walls painted before the 18th. It was originally the 5th but we realised we had no chance of making it so moved it back. This deadline is the day our heating engineer returns to refit all the radiators and flush and balance the system  – now we are finally rid of all the microbore piping.

So, on the 18th Oct we will have central heating. Woohoo! But it means we’ve decided all the painting had to be done, on the walls at least. Hence the deadline. Makes sense, no?

We’ve also finally got a carpet fit date of the 4th November – so that means we want absolutely all the painting done; every last bit of wood, coving and ceiling rose. We ain’t spending THAT much on carpet to get paint on it – and trust me, I would get paint on it. Oh, and the floors need levelling/mending before the carpeting. There’s another bastard deadline.

Curtain and blind hardware can’t be fitted until the walls are painted; curtains themselves not fitted until the carpets are down (need to get the perfect hang length apparently).

And of course we can’t get furniture delivered until we have carpet and we’re really tired of having no bedroom furniture (“Oly, where are my socks being kept?” “In a bag in the bath, next to the holdall with my pants in it.”) So, yep, we’ve gone and created another deadline.

And all this has been leading towards the biggest deadline that’s been crashing towards us since we started our renovations a few months ago – “WE’LL BE DONE BY CHRISTMAS”.

I repeat: idiots.

Idiots who take it back to the 80s.

We have no spare annual leave so are out to work for 10-12 hours, coming home and picking up our brushes every night as well as putting in 12 hour days on a weekend. We’re on our knees…..quite literally much of the time.

Are we regretting our madness? Nope. Wouldn’t we like to take our time? Nope.

We want our lives back, we want a house we can really live in. I want to know my mum would have been proud. We want to host a family Christmas. We want our friends to come and visit. I want a goddamn manicure.

It does explain why our blog posts have been lacking  – and, oh, I have so much to catch you up on and show you – but needs must, sorry. (I’m only writing this now because we’re waiting for a takeaway….)

So, deadlines? Bring ’em on, because nothing ever feels quite as good as when you smash them.


Filed under Prep

The story so far

We’re a little late to this blog – so this post serves as a whistle-stop catch-up. The story so far, if you like……

We finally moved in (after lots of legal wranglings) in December. The household bear (BooBoo) featured in the day’s pictures texted to family. He refused to go in the removal van and was the first to explore.

The bears weren’t the only ones perturbed by the move:


Surveying the scene

However we managed to unpack and get straight enough to host family Christmas. Not quite sure how we managed Christmas Dinner with the rubbish oven – but we did and it was a triumph (She says modestly).

Next came our Mexican Fiesta house warming party which, is fair to say, was pretty legendary.



We dressed the house in true Fiesta style, complete with inflatable cactus and a comprehensive cocktail list.

This list was responsible for many a sore head

Chaos ensued but it was a perfect party and even included a graffiti wall – read about on the Disco Loo page.

And then reality kicked in. The boiler had broken before Christmas so we got it serviced and repaired at the same time – at this stage we were offered commiseration by several plumbers as it was an Ideal boiler. Not actually ideal at all.

The heating was, to put it mildly, pretty ineffective which surprised us given the boiler was just 3 years old. In fact, when buying the house we were fairly smug about the fact it wouldn’t need sorting as it was only 3 years old. That’ll teach us.

To cut a very long, tedious story short – it was knackered and apparently far too small to do the job needed for the size of the house; it wasn’t even pushing the hot water upstairs with enough pressure for us to be able to have showers! The radiators were all on 1970s microbore and all needed replacing as well as new radiators adding in.

So, after 4 hideous weeks of no heating (but, thankfully, an immersion so we had hot water) we had a full central heating system put in along with new radiators – the house is also now zoned so we can control upstairs and downstairs separately. Ooooo, fancy! However, this came to the pretty total of £5.5k which was not in The Budget but it’s simply not something we could ignore. Plus, if we’re stripping back and starting again, now was the time to do it.

We also took the opportunity to move the boiler from the current utility room into the current kitchen – as these rooms will be trading places. The poor bugger doing the job discovered we not only had only about 12inches of floor space but also that much of our ground floor is concrete. He said our house actually kept him awake at night because it was so tricky to do. Ooops.

Damp came next – we knew about this as it had been flagged in the survey that the 30 year old damp proof course had failed.

Cue lots of different tradesman, conflicting advice, sucking through teeth, extortionate estimates and a lot of googling. We finally were recommended a trustworthy builder who gave sound advice and did a great, and fairly reasonably priced, job that is now guaranteed for the next 30 years.


Damp course replaced and rotten skirting removed

However, the stench when we came home one night was unbearable – like sulphur – so we called him to ask what it was. “That’s your damp coming out the walls” was the reply. Nice. Turned out our skirting was also rotten and full of weevils.

And finally in the ‘big list’ was getting the roofing/chimney/guttering sorted. Usefully, our builder’s brother-in-law is a roofer. Amazing how quickly you can build up a network of tradesmen!

We’ve been a bit grumpy about all this work as you don’t really see the benefits – if anything you just make the house look even worse. But hey, they’re all (expensive) essentials. The only thing that could seriously catch us out now is the electrics so we have a full electrical inspection booked.

Whilst all this work was ongoing we  poured over paint charts….keeping the dream alive whilst the vision was hazy.

Ah, Farrow and Ball we love you so

Ah, Farrow and Ball we love you so


Filed under Prep