The Great Flood of 2016

The muppet who installed the cold water tank in the loft neglected to include a pipe from the overflow to outside.   Unfortunately I was in Sweden when the ball cock failed and had to travel home early.

In the loft I have removed the wet insulation to allow the ceiling to dry.   It was only installed last year.


The water flowed into Kae’s bedroom soaking everything. The carpet and bed have gone to the tip.  I don’t know how the floor stayed so dry – the carpet was soaking.


From there it poured into the snug, mostly avoiding the kitchen that was stored there, but soaking most of Kae’s things.    It did a good job of removing the wood chip wallpaper from the ceiling.


Rocko came over to help remove the carpets and clear out water damaged things.


The one good thing is this is an old house and the breathable construction hasn’t suffered much damage and should dry out OK.   Wouldn’t have fancied having a flood like this in a modern house.

I have purchased an overflow pipe for the water tank.   It cost £15 and will take about half an hour to fit.

Bond Timbers

I’ve seen bits of wood embedded in the inside of walls before and assumed they were intended as something to nail things to.   It turns out they are called bond timbers and were commonly embedded in walls up until at least 1850 as a reinforcement that might stabilise the building a bit should you have forgotten to build foundations.  One of my bond timbers had rotten so I’m replacing it with bricks.  The rest aren’t too bad.


The Edwardians built the half brick internal wall to the right and they also put some bond timbers in, but they missed the point and put them where they wouldn’t tie to the timbers in the external wall.  The external wall doesn’t seem to have moved much recently as there were no cracks in the modern plaster, but it is worth making things a little more sound while the wall is exposed.    I put in a few new bricks in to the corner and re-jointed other bricks to tie the walls together all the way up.


I have taken on some more work, partly based abroad, so progress will likely slow even more.

I have ordered some new sash windows for the rear of the house to replace the nasty 1996 efforts, and I have come up with an elegant custom secondary glazing system for the front of the house which will give me something to do in the winter evenings.

Back After a Break

I’ve been a bit quiet recently.   The weather hasn’t been very inspiring so I’ve been busy earning money this year to pay for work on the house instead of actually working on the house.   Also I didn’t have any matching bricks to tidy up some of the holes in the kitchen wall – this hole was from the industrial extractor fan outlet.


I found bricks at Solopark in Cambridge which I think will match reasonably well.  They are still wet in the photo but should lighten as they dry out and end up quite close.


The hole made a lot of difference to light in the kitchen.  I have planning permission for a ground floor window beside the hole but a full height window doesn’t work with the ground levels and a domestic sized oven extractor would become difficult.   I’ll try to borrow light from the snug and shed instead.

I’ll be quiet again for a while – there are a few similar holes to brick up that I won’t bore you with, but check back after that for the the exciting kitchen window.

Gable Unveiled

The new lime render on the gable has been protected from frost over the winter with hessian sheeting.  This is the first time I have been able to see it without the scaffolding.

The build phases of the house are clear from the gable.   The timber framed part was built first, then the chimney was added*, then the house was extended backwards in brick by Georgians and upwards by Edwardians, the lower part of the timber frame was replaced by brick in modern times, then finally I replaced the rest of the timber frame.


It is quite bright and will take a little getting used to but I think it is an improvement on how it looked before.   It was a very ugly gable.


It matches the front reasonably well but it seems a little out of place to have part of a very old building set in to a much more modern building.


*Positioning of unused mortices in the original gable timber frame indicate the chimney was added after the gable was built.  The chimney is constructed in English bond with a brick size of 225mm * 60mm and about 73mm course height indicating a late 17th century build date, but the building was operating as a pub in the early 17th century..  There is some evidence in floor joists of a wooden chimney (smoke hood) which would not have been common after the 16th century.

I have saved some wood for tree ring dating to hopefully establish a build date, though it is somewhat academic as the brick plinth under the gable is the only original material visible on the exterior of the house.


Drains have been a problem since we moved in but I need to fix the damp wall in the kitchen before I go much further with that.  The drains tended to become blocked in much the same place in the yard, but much less often since the willow was trimmed.

It turns out the kitchen drain had a botched concrete joint and no rodding access.  Later on a land drain was installed by knocking through the pipe and concreting in the new connection. Tree roots had found their way under the concrete and filled the drains with roots.


Replacing the defective joints with an inspection chamber was fairly straightforward, but lowering the hopper is taking a lot more thought.  Ideally it would be at the bottom of the trench as that would hide the pipes and keep the kitchen wall dry, but I don’t want any overflow to end up in the trench.


I ended up building a retaining wall with a 2 inch gap to the kitchen wall with the side open to the trench that runs around the house. It is just enough gap to clean out with a stick and I’ll put a cover on top to keep leaves out.  The gully and hopper are set to ground level and will have an edging behind so any overflow will flow into the yard drain and not the trench.  All the drain pipes still need to be realigned.


Finally the land drain has been brought closer to the inspection chamber to allow ground levels beyond to be raised a little, and I’ve added a new hopper for a gutter on the shed and a pipe to extend to the barn gutter later on.


The building inspector was happy so I could move tonnes of earth back into the hole.  You can save money on pea shingle by using wooden shuttering close to the pipe and filling the pipe side with pea shingle and the other side with earth.


I’ve filled to about 3 inches below finished level.  I’m planning to surface using granite setts, but might decide to lay them later on once the outside wall of the kitchen is finished.


Stripping the Kitchen

The original kitchen is in a poor state.  The causes of damp included a badly leaking gutter, missing flashing, high external ground levels, a rotten window frame, leaky pipes, trouble with an external drain, and waterproof coatings inside and out.  I’ve fixed some of those things and the rest are on the to do list.

The modern short term thinking way to fix all of this damp is strip the plaster and replace with tanking plaster rather than fix the thing that caused the problem in the first place.  That is what had been done here and it was a pain to remove.


Digging a trench to lower the ground levels outside worked a treat.  Unfortunately I didn’t go all the way to the end of the wall because there was a drain in the way.  I’ll need to lower the drain before doing much with the kitchen as the wall is still wet at the base around there.


Fixing the damp patch won’t be straightforward.   The drains have been botched and will need to be done properly with an inspection chamber.  As usual I’ve started off by digging a hole for myself.


The internal wall of the kitchen is the external wall of the original building probably dating from the 17th century.  It is still there and remarkably well preserved with the wattle and daub and even a convenient door opening that someone, probably a Georgian judging by the decoration, hacked through.

Temporary Kitchen

I have a deadline at the start of next year to complete the building regs for change of use so had better make a start on them.   Doing the kitchen first will free up the snug for use as a living room later on.

The kitchen and snug will probably take a few months so it made sense to put some time into building a temporary kitchen.  I’ve partitioned off the barn with the iffy roof.


It might be temporary but I think it is an improvement over the current kitchen – it has a radiator, plenty of lights and an extractor fan. The OSB board was surprisingly inexpensive and I might use it to partition other areas of the house as work goes on.  The temporary kitchen might make a good temporary office later on so will probably stay in place until I get around to fixing the barn roof.


The temporary sink is in a corridor where there is a water supply and drainage.  I used copper pipe because I wanted to learn how to solder, but the pipe will be very temporary as it passes through a door opening where I would like to install a door in the future.


Domed Lath Ceiling

I’ve been insulating again, this time in the crawl space in front of the attic.   I haven’t been enjoying it so it has taken a very long time while I have found lots of ways to avoid doing it.

The attic is supported by 8 inch joists below which hangs a domed ceiling with lath nailed on to wooden supports with a curve cut into them. It’s not often you see a domed ceiling from above so here is a photo..


The attic and domed ceiling were constructed in 1910.  The room that was there before is still there in parts with a wide bricked up doorway and Victorian looking wall paper. I’m not sure what the layout was before 1910, but the extent of wallpaper suggests this area might once have been a corridor.


The ceiling underneath has been vandalised by plumbers and electricians over the years but is remarkably intact with it’s original wood mouldings.   A false ceiling was added below, probably in the 1950s or early 1960s.


I had been wondering why the false ceiling was added.  It would have been a pain to redecorate without a scaffold tower, but it turns out the thermal design was terrible with a huge area of lath and plaster forming the only thermal barrier between inside and outside.  It must have been a bit chilly in there.

I have a scaffold tower and have added insulation up to 1m thick in places which should hopefully sort out the thermal issues.  I think a domed double height ceiling would be nice.


It’s taken a week to insulate the attic and the main loft space (and sort out water tank mountings).  I’ve used 300mm Earthwool which almost meets the 0.1 U-value required for a passive house.   There should be a good payback time insulating to that standard in the loft, and the insulation is unlikely to cause condensation problems as the loft is ventilated.

The first layer was laid at 100mm thickness between the joists and the second 200mm above the joists.


The walls of the attic are only 100mm so not quite to passive house standard.  The crawl space above the attic was horrible to insulate.   Insulation is horrible generally, and even with a good dust mask a lot of it must get into your lungs.   If I had the money I would have used sheeps wool (which is 4 times the price).


The ceiling beside the loft hatch was built by Georgians from quartered bits of small tree and is not very strong.  I’ve added a new independent structure above the loft hatch and added a section of loft flooring to make it safe to climb into the loft.  The loft hatch only has 100mm of insulation but that makes it heavy enough.


There is plenty more insulation to do around the house, but just a last section of eaves and the final attic wall remain in the roof space.

A proper passive house should have a heating energy usage of under 15kwh/m2 per year (measured). Before any insulation at all (apart from 100mm in part of the loft) this place was running at 110kwh/m2 (measured) and I should hopefully halve that.

Scaffolding Removed

The scaffolding was removed today.   It’s odd being able to see the whole thing (apart from the new bright white oak frame in the gable which will remain covered for the winter to protect the lime).  The ground floor isn’t finished as the scaffolding was in the way.


I definitely need to do something about that flat roof extension.  It doesn’t look quite so bad with the magnolia paint removed from the gable.   Maybe I could clobber the render off and pretend it is a garden wall.


Though a bit more mock tudor wouldn’t go amiss.  (Photoshoping pictures is much easier than actually doing stuff.)  It would need good overhangs to work, and the gable would need to be angled in the middle as the wall below isn’t straight.


Finished! (Almost)

I can only claim to have finished the exterior of the upper storeys of the main house and it only took 4 months longer than planned.  I’ve not really started on the building regs change of use stuff that I’m supposed to be doing.   A final coat of limewash on the north gable and some cleaning up are the only things left to do before the scaffolding comes down next Thursday.

I’m planning to keep the gable covered with hessian over winter to reduce the chance of frost damage to the new render, so this is a sneak preview of how it might look when it is revealed next spring.


The oak will darken over time and the frame will become black and white.

You can’t see a lot through the plastic sheeting, but from the road the timber frame in the gable looks like another part of the half timbering on the facade.  I think it will look interesting when it is finally uncovered.



The rear gutter wasn’t mounted well – some screws miss both the gutter brace and the the facia board and just manages to engage in the tip of the rafter. There is a long row of these.  I think I’ll have the gutter and facia board off and do it properly as it’s not a job that can be done later from a scaffold tower.


With the ends of the slates supported by the facia board there was a fair risk that we would break some.  We were lucky.  The new facia board is 2 inches taller than the old one.  The plastic eaves protector came out with the old facia board and needed to be nailed to the new one before fitting.


The north corner of the house is slightly lower than the south so there isn’t as much fall as there looks in the photo.   We placed a hosepipe at the end and adjusted the gutter height so there weren’t any puddles.  It was quite a fiddle to set accurately.


This is probably the first time that water doesn’t puddle in the gutter – it had always followed the line of the roof which isn’t straight. The eaves protector has been trimmed at the gutter mounting points to avoid forcing the gutter down.


A few cracks had appeared in the verge caused by the cement being pushed past the battens.  Also the undercloak has separated from the cement.  I’m planning to seal the gaps with lime.


I made up a 1:1 lime to soft sand mix with some black cement colour powder and worked it into the cracks.   Hopefully that will make it fail less quickly in the future.


The rest of the roof is OK – it doesn’t leak any more, there are no condensation problems inside, and nothing has fallen off.

Rendering the New Timber Frame

It is late October and it is madness to be considering lime rendering at this time of year.   Normally you would get your exterior lime work out of the way by the end of September.   The trouble is the lime will take a month to dry in cold weather and will be damaged by any frost before it is dry.  I’m gambling against a frost in November else I might have to do it all again next year.

The render will be applied onto woodwool boards which are fixed onto roofing battens screwed to the oak frame.


Both oak and lime require stainless screws.   The tannins in oak corrode normal screws and electroplating doesn’t like lime.  The holes need to be pre-drilled and a steel screw driven in and then removed to reduce the chance of the stainless screw breaking as it goes in.  There is no chance of removing the stainless screw from oak.

The bricks immediately above the oak frame were not supported and had come loose so needed to be removed and replaced again.   I have fitted a slate undercloak between the bricks and the frame.


Hessian is my plan to reduce the chance of frost damage.  It should prevent dew forming on the surface of the lime and freezing, and will hopefully insulate a little to retain heat from the wall.  It is supported on eye bolts drilled into the brickwork with a rope threaded through.   I’m hoping to come up with a plan which will allow the rope to be withdrawn from ground level after the scaffolding has come down.


More than half of the first coat went on in a day.  My current recipe for render is a bucket of rendering sharp sand, a bucket of soft sand, and a bucket of lime (NHL 3.5 to help avoid frost damage).  1:2 lime to sand is quite a strong mix, but tests with less lime proved crumbly.  The surface will be roughed and scratched when it becomes firmer tomorrow.   I had planned to whitewash the infill to match the front of the house, but the earthy colour of render looks nice.  I might try adding some pigment to the limewash.


Late October turned out to be warm and the render is drying well.   It is still drying slower than it did in the summer but that is handy as it allows me to use lime late in the afternoon and finish it the next day.  It should be possible to apply the final coat around 5 days after the scratch coat (which has been scratched).   I brushed the remaining smooth bits after the photo to help the next coat stick.


The final coat of render seems to be taking about twice the time of the first coat.   I troweled on the lime trying to make it smooth and level, then after a few hours used a polyurethane float to flatten it, filling in low spots with more lime.   Next day I went over it with the polyurethane float again, then lightly wiped it with a damp sponge to fill in the imperfections.  This left a flat sandy finish which I will claim is traditional.

The finished render is recessed about 5mm behind the frame which will make it easier to lime wash.


It’s about time the scaffolding came down.  The lime work is finished.  I used a mix of brick and tile to infill between the new and old frames and have fitted some steel to hold them together.


New Timber Frame

The new timber frame started going in on Saturday (the original was rotten).  My cousin John made it from air dried English oak.   It was nerve wracking removing the old frame – the inside of the house is full of acro props, the chimney extended to support a purlin, and various braces added to support the brickwork.  In the end it turned out the original frame had stopped being structural a long time ago.


The original wall plates are better than they look.  The ends were damaged by waterproof paint but the rest was able to dry into the bedroom wall so hasn’t been too badly damaged by beetles.  The wall plates stuck out from the wall to allow material to accommodate a fish tail joint in the tie beam.   Some lead hats were fitted before the frame was pegged together.


The current roofline is shallower than the original, and the oak timber ends behind the facia board before it meets the chimney and does nothing useful structurally.   We kept that feature because I wanted to indicate the original roof line, but annoyingly the new wood is curved and probably could have been extended all the way to the chimney.  I might stud and resin fix some new oak in place to complete the rafter.   The tie beam is extended past the wall plate (it was originally cut diagonally) so it can support the facade.


The studding is taking a long time because all the wood is a funny shape and each joint has compound angles.   The pattern of stud work matches the original apart from some slight modifications to avoid gaps of more 600mm between studs which is the width of the woodwool board infill.


The frame is starting to look nearly finished with most of the second floor studding in place.  I’ve still to finish off the barge board on the front of the roof which is tapered.  I tapered the wrong face and need to buy another bit of wood but the frame took a week and it is Saturday again today.  I’ll get on with the infill.


Gable Undercloak

The front gable has an 8 inch overhang.  Originally the roofing battens were exposed but now the roof has been felted. I wanted to add some sort of cover under the felt and hit upon the idea of ply secured by strips of wood about the same size as the original battens.


I think it turned out quite nicely.


The plan was originally to sort out the timber frame in the other gable before completing the paint.  The new plan is to finish the paint, install the remaining leading, repair the paint, then ruin it all with dust when the timber frame goes in.

The leading was out of schedule partly because I didn’t notice a tiny crack in the original leading until I was just about ready to start painting.  It’s on now and just needs rendering in place and the paint touching up.


Black and White

The first coat of linseed paint has been going on over the weekend.   I quite liked the natural wood but it will last a lot longer with UV protection and some oils.

Linseed paint doesn’t crack or peel (unlike the modern gloss paint that ruined the timber), and is breathable so the wood should remain well protected.   It should only need nourishing with boiled linseed oil every 15 years.


The window frame used to be white but I’ve gone for black for more of a Tudor effect.   I still haven’t finished the first coat – The edges take a long time so it will probably end up taking 2 full days per coat.  It’s starting to look nearly finished now.


Rotten Timber in Chimney

It turns out the new gable timber frame is due to arrive at the start of October (the old one was rotten) but before the frame arrives there is a lot of work to do.   There are two beams that pass right through the chimney, but beetle infested wood isn’t great structurally so needs to go.  Some unusual use of acro props with a strongboy at each end (I’m working higher than the longest acro so can’t use the ground for support) will hopefully dissuade the chimney from falling over while the beams are cut out.


It seems the timber frame is earlier than the chimney, and was much modified when the chimney was added.  The brick size and English bond pattern used in the chimney are characteristic of the 17th century.  The first records of a pub on the site are from 1646, but I don’t know whether the building had a previous use, or whether they decided shortly after building it that a brick chimney might be nice.  If I can find any wood that has survived the beetles I’ll hang on to it so I can have it dated at some stage.


When the chimney was built 2 inch thick brick tiles were added to either side of the timber beam in order to support the chimney brickwork.  The tiles on the inside were still supporting the chimney so I left them in place and replaced the timber with bricks before putting the external tiles back in place. The mortar will look tidier and match the rest of the chimney after brushing.


Further up the chimney a 2 inch thick beam was removed and replaced with tiles so I could retain the tiles on the outside.   This section is near the top of the 9 inch part of the chimney so had a course of bricks behind.


Limewashing the Facade

I am using Pozilime from Ingilby which is limewash with a few additives that allow it to stick to masonry paint, and will use normal limewash on the new lime render.  Limewash is weird stuff – it is transparent when applied thinly and then goes white a few hours later as it dries.


It looks magnificent even after just the first coat. Later after 4 coats it looks much the same but has finally covered the old paint.

It is so nice to rid the front of the magnolia paint.


Preparing the Facade for Paint

I’ve spent a week on the front of the house getting it ready for paint.  So far I’ve finished stripping the modern gloss paint from the wood and mostly sanded it, applied the final coat of render to the oriel window, and made a small repair to the timber frame just above the middle of the window.  The old timber was chiselled out at an angle so water doesn’t run into the joint.


Gaps in the timber have been filled with linseed putty. The frame is far from perfect, but is generally sound. The wood will be finished in Linseed oil paint which doesn’t crack in the sun and is breathable unlike the modern gloss on the downstairs windows which needs stripping and repainting after only 2 years.


After 4 months boarded up the windows are just about back in place in the oriel window.  I used linseed putty which turns out to be easier than modern stuff when you get the hang of it, but time consuming to apply.  The glass looks very much older than 105 years, but I suppose that was the original intention.


There used to be a big hole in the sole plate of the timber frame.  I think the pegs rot out, water gets into the peg hole, then after further years of neglect the frame rots.  For that reason I’ve replaced all of the broken pegs.   A piece of Edwardian softwood recovered from the attic made a perfect repair.  Angling the bottom and knocking it into place should provide good support for the post.

The silicone sealant between the frame and the plinth didn’t do the frame any good.   I’ve scraped out the damp loose stuff and filled the gap with lime mortar which should allow it to dry out.


All of the various gaps have been filled with lime on the infill panels and linseed putty on the frame.  The strategy is to use breathable materials to keep the frame dry, and use them to seal gaps to keep water out in the first place.  The first coat of limewash will go on soon.

Rendering the Oriel Window

I had the idea of rendering the exterior and plastering the interior of the oriel window at the same time because I was using the same lime mix for both.  This was a bad idea – making the exterior watertight before messing with the interior would have been more sensible.

The oak window sill (needed to go in before plastering) was made by Cardington Joinery and is marvellous.


The timber above the oriel window was originally in-filled with brick then roughcast rendered (in a very early use of portland cement – yuk).  I wanted to reduce the weight of the window because the lintel over the window below has a pronounced bend.  Woodwool board would have been an ideal infill but it isn’t widely available and delivery would have cost £100 for the £6 sheet I needed, so I went for lath.

In hindsight the span is slightly too long for lath and it bent when the wet lime render was applied.  Then it sprung back as it dried so I might end up with a feature bulge.


It didn’t go well.  The lime failed to set and after a week was soft and crumbly.  I suspect I let it dry too quickly, or it is possible the mix or some component was wrong.  Whichever It needs to come off and be done again and I’ll experiment first to make sure I have sorted the problem,

Plan B is back to the original plan using wood wool board.  I only needed small sections and used offcuts pulled from Anna’s skip.  Thanks Anna.


The lime failure turned out to be my fault.  The plastering sand is washed so is poorly graded and needed about 1:1.25 lime to sand compared to the 1:2.5 ratio I tend to use for mortar.

The new render was much stickier than the old, and the wood wool board turned out to be very much easier to render than lath to the point where I hardly dropped any plaster when doing the ceiling.   The first coat went on nice and flat and will dry (and be wetted) for a week before the finishing coat.


Next job will be fitting the windows.  But I can’t do that yet as I need access to tend the lime plaster inside.   Next job might be getting ready for the limewash and paint on the front as that needs to be done in the summer but it is already Autumn.