Renovating the Backup Generator Room

Over the course of 12 months, we stripped the old backup generator room, steam cleaned the walls, re-poured the floor and rewired it.

While Hawklaw was operational, the back-up generator room housed a large diesel generator powerful enough to run the entire station in the event of mains power failing.

Little of the original equipment remained in this room when we bought Hawklaw in 2012 and the room was damp, dirty and a haven for pigeons, mice and even rats.

Step 1 – stripping the room

Although the actual generator was long gone, much of the ancillary fixtures to run it were still evident, including the giant air intake and exhaust. Both of them required a winch to safely lower them down from the roof.

The next issue to tackle was how to remove the raised plinth. This was 12 inch deep, reinforced concrete pad laid on sand and connected to 12 reinforced concrete piles. The reason for such a heavily engineered plinth was to prevent vibrations from the diesel generator vibrating the entire engineer’s garage.

We removed it by first sawing the pad into sections with a stihl saw, then using a Hilti TE1000 heavy duty breaker to remove the sections. This was very dusty and back breaking work.

Removing and rerouting the electrics

Vintage Light Switch
1940’s Crabtree cast
iron light switch

One of the things I love about Hawklaw is figuring out how everything worked and wherever possible, we like to renovate and reuse old things we find for example, this original Crabtree cast iron light switch that we reconditioned and is now in use in our Robin Hood Room.

The key objective was to install modern, ducted electrics in the room, but firstly, I wanted to preserve as many artefacts as I could, and temporarily reroute electrics while some of the other works continued in the room.

We discovered 2 Sangamo timers, connected to lighting circuits which were presumably used to control the exterior lighting on the site. These controls were relatively modern and able to adjust for varying hours of darkness as the seasons changed.

To be continued…

Repairing the Old Windows in the Engineers Garage

We sourced a modern putty substitute designed for steel casement windows to renovate the windows in the engineer’s garage

One of the four window blocks cleaned and glazed but awaiting painting.

We’ve paused plaster removal works in the main build whilst we await the delivery of 100 more rubble sacks. Although Fife Council are opening their recycling centres from Monday we’re unclear as to when we’ll be permitted to dispose of our plaster and rubble.

There’s always plenty to be busy with here though and it’s given us the opportunity to tackle a job that’s been on our to-do list for years.

Late last night we finally finished removing the old blast film and fixing broken panes in the Engineer’s garage 😀 A sizeable number of windows on the west elevation were broken when we bought the site, many as a result of a ? pellet gun.

Putty Replacement

We had good intentions years ago when we ordered the replacement panes from Leuchars Glazing. After some fairly disastrous attempts to replace the glass using traditional putty we sourced a modern hybrid polymer-based cartridge applied Heritage putty from Hodgson Sealants that is compatible with steel framed windows. It’s fairly expensive, with one tube used for every two panes replaced, but George has found it easy to apply and work.

The blast film removal wasn’t a particularly pleasant task .The film appears to have been applied with vinegar. Removing the film, with razors, released the most horrible stale vinegary stench 🤢. The sticky residue left behind was removed with Zep Sticky Stuff Remover, razors and a fair bit of kitchen roll.

We’ve been keen to retain our original metal framed Crittal windows. It’s a personal view, but I feel too many metal windows have been lost to make way for rather unsympathetic plastic ones. Whilst I understand the real problem of condensation encountered with metal framed windows in our unheated garage space that won’t be a problem.

The Scottish Crittal supplier in Helensburgh has dated our galvanised Crittal windows, in the Engineer’s garage, to the 1960’s. They are in great condition for their age unlike some of the non galvanised ones in the main build which are rusted and no longer close effectively.

The main build replacement Crittal windows will be double glazed units which comply with required U values. The double glazing will remove some of the condensation concerns although the frames aren’t thermally broken and so sensible ventilation will still be required. The modern replacements have dummy projecting hinges which retain the characteristic original look and feel of the originals but with the security of multipoint locking.

Next job will be priming the galvanised frames then painting Anthracite Grey (RAL 7016) to match the new Crittal specified for the main build.

Super Heated Steam Cleaning Hawklaw

Over the past weeks we’ve been using super heated steam to gently cleanse the brickwork at Hawklaw

We’ve spent in excess of 50 hours, these past few weeks, cleaning the west and south elevation brickwork of our garage with a DOFF machine.

We stumbled upon the DOFF when we had contractors blast clean some of the main build internal brickwork last year. With large areas of render and brickwork to clean, and costly quotes to undertake the work, we took the plunge and purchased a machine for ourselves.

Stonehealth, who manufacture the DOFF, ordinarily sell to specialist stone cleaning contractors and stately homes. Despite being a rather unusual customer they gamely helped train all four of us in its safe, effective use. Eg discharging the steam lance down your brother’s rigger boots is a definite no-no!

The machine runs on kerosene, using around 20l per day. It can clean at varying temperatures, up to 150 degrees C , and pressures. The garage brickwork we’ve tackled at 140 degrees as it’s heavily covered in algae. The high temperature kills the algae, moss and any spores ensuring the brickwork stays clean for longer. Low pressure ensures no saturation or damage to the brickwork.

We estimate another 30 hours should finish the remaining accessible garage brickwork – our caravan is blocking a good part of the east wall!

We have two further jobs lined up for our DOFF in the next few weeks.

  1. remove plaster residue from the internal brickwork.
  2. remove flaking paint from the main build render ready for repairs and repainting.

Can’t say I’m looking forward to that job, the south elevation alone is 65m long!

Renovating the Robin Hood Room

During the winter of 2018-19 we converted the boiler room in the Engineer’s Garage into a secure storage room.


We believe the engineer’s garage was built in the early 1960’s as a place to store and maintain the vehicles that were used by the engineers responsible for the upkeep of the aerial network above Cupar. The building also housed a diesel back up generator and an 11KW electricity sub station. There were 4 giant roller doors for vehicle access. The building was eventually converted into a heated store room with 3 out of the 4 roller door openings being bricked up.

The boiler room housed a Robin Hood General boiler that had been converted to run on kerosene. There is no evidence that the boiler ever ran on coal.

The room itself was in a dire state when we bought the site in 2012. The north wall was covered in green moss, paint was flaking off the walls and the place smelled heavily of kerosene. The door into the room was broken and had been boarded up by the previous owners.

Stripping Out

Our asbestos survey had picked up that the boiler contained asbestos rope, asbestos cement and possible asbestos insulation. For those reasons, the Robin Hood boiler itself was removed and disposed of by our specialist asbestos contractors. I’d have dearly loved to keep it but I have no idea what I would have done with it.

Removal of the kerosene retainer wall.

The kerosene tank was removed by another set of specialist contractors who were able to provide safe disposal certificates so we could achieve our site decontamination certificate. The rest of the pipework, electrical fittings and metal were stripped out by me over a couple of weekends.

The brick wall acting as a bund for the kerosene tank was removed by my eldest son who is most happy when swinging a 10lb sledgehammer!

We also removed the lighting, wiring, plumbing and residual pipe and metalwork from the room.

Lifting the boiler’s plinth

The firebrick plinth that the boiler was sitting on came up relatively easily using a demolition hammer with a broad chisel head, leaving a completely bare room ready for rewiring, filing and painting.


Since we bought Hawklaw in 2012 we have steadily replaced and upgraded the wiring over the entire site. The new garage lighting circuit was waiting just to be brought into the room and the existing external corner lights just needed to be put into conduit and routed around the top of the room.

The new light in the room is a low wattage LED light that responds to both light levels and movement. Technically, the Crabtree toggle switch is redundant, but it’s nice to have something original still in the room.


Before we could decorate, the room needed the holes in the block work filled (eg, where the heating and oil pipes entered and exited the room). I brushed the room, including the ceiling with a stiff brush to remove loose paint then hosed the entire room with water. The entire floor slopes gently to a drain so washing the room caused no water issues.

In all, the room took 4 coats of Dulux Weathershield exterior masonry paint. Exterior metal fittings were painted first with red oxide paint before we painted them over with our trademark ‘Hawklaw Grey’ colour. The concrete floor was filled where required with Blackfriar’s concrete repair mortar and lastly, I painted the floor with two coats of Leyland heavy duty floor paint.

The last thing to do was to find a new door for the room.

Selecting a New Door

As we’ll eventually be living on the East side of the site and this room is the furthest away building we have to the West of the site we wanted to select a secure door for this room. This building also gets the brunt of the Westerly winds so a good quality door with multi point locking and excellent seals was essential. After much searching, we selected a Hormann KSi steel security door

The Hormann KSi steel security door fitted and functioning.

Initially, we thought we wanted an outward opening door as we thought it made sense to have the West wind blow the door against its seal, rather than away from it. We got excellent advice from our door supplier (Oliphant Garage Doors, Cupar, Fife) who assured us that this door would not have any issues with leaking and so far, we’ve been more than happy with it.

The room was without an effective door for nearly eight years so we were very happy to have this fitted and have a functional room once again.

Finishing and Furnishing

We finished the renovation in late January 2019, but didn’t actually get the door fitted until August 2019. It wasn’t long before we’d fully furnished the room with the neatly catalogued contents of our attic.

In all, the renovations cost in the region of £2,500 (including the door) and took me most of my 2018/19 Christmas holidays and a few additional weekends to complete.