Author Archives: malcolm

Plastering the Snug

I’m sweating away in the heatwave doing plaster repair in the snug.   There is not much to see in the photo – a lot of the snug was back to brickwork behind the 1960s ish wood paneling and the leak from the bay window took a bit more off.   I’ve patched that all back to level, but the Georgian plaster on the other walls is in poor condition having been messed with and will likely need a skim.

The ceiling is remarkable.   It has an inch of plaster with straw reinforcement.   It is probably the oldest and most bendy bit of plaster left exposed in the building so I’ll not mess with it apart from filling in some of the larger gaps and then lots of lining paper.

snug-plaster-started

I ran out of lime plaster and took a break to paint the upstairs bedroom.  After the new plaster arrived I skimmed 2 walls and have a nice flat and smooth finish.  I used Ecomortar R50 ultra fine plaster – it is lime based with some additives to help it stick to different backgrounds and something to make it set in a couple of hours to avoid shrinkage cracking, but it still seems reasonably breathable.  Turns out to be a lot quicker to skim than to patch.

snug-walls

Working around the room the fireplace is next.   The original plaster was quite thick so the scratch coat will take a few days to dry before I can skim over the whole fireplace.  Next is figuring out how to plasterboard the stud wall with the electrics.

fireplace-scratch-coat

New Snug Bay Window Roof

The problem with the Snug roof was it used to fall towards the house.   Water would puddle until it was deep enough to overflow to the front.   I think the roof was built with no fall, then started falling towards the house as the facade settled.   This photo was taken April 2015.

puddle-on-bay

Setting up to make the roof fall away from the house turned out to be unreasonably complicated.  If I made the rear of the roof straight it would end up 40mm too high at each end so I set up from the front of the curved bay.   Wedges cut to fit on top of the existing joists are set to about a 1 in 50 fall which means the roof has ended up higher in the middle than at the ends. Fortunately It looks OK from across the road.

I’ve gone for a small ventilation gap under the front of the roof and added 100mm of insulation with an air space above before the roof went on.

snug-roof-wedges

The roof is made from redwood tongue in grove planks (which were cupped making them a real hassle to work with).   John suggested using a circular saw to cut the curve and it worked a treat.

I’ve gone for an inch more overhang than before to make sure the roof drips past the stone sill below.

roof-planked

Hopefully it won’t rain too much before I get the leadworkers in.

Snug Bay Lintel Repair

I had been putting off the snug bay window.   The roof falls towards the house and has leaked for a long time.   A temporary roof covering went on over a year ago after we knocked off some failed plaster and found wet structural wood behind.

snug-bay-roof

The reason I had put off the job was concern about rot in the lintel visible from below.   Thankfully it was nowhere near as bad as I feared.   The bearing surface had rotten causing the lintel to fall by about 10mm,  but the rot was localised and the rest of the beam was still in surprisingly good condition.

beam-end-rot

All the beam needed was a new end.   A steel plate will now act as a bearer for the lintel.   Next job is to fix the hole that has appeared in the bay roof.    I’m planning a new bay roof that falls away from the house.

steel-plate

Snug Fireplace

The bedroom is finished apart from paint and I’ve started on the snug.   I’m planning to fit a wood burner and have removed the late 20th century fireplace to get back to the builders opening.

The brickwork is not presentable and will need to be plastered.  My idea is to leave a brick arch exposed to add some interest.   In the photo the arch former is in position for a trial fit of the arch.  The OSB board is there to provide a surface to line up the face of the arch which will be 10mm proud of the brickwork.

arch-template

The arch uses the same bricks as in the main room.  The colour differences between the bricks should be reduced when they are sealed. Failing that I will have a multi-coloured arch.

It’s a bit mean to future historians to build the arch in 100 year old bricks so I’ve made good use of red bricks left over from the new build next door to fill gaps where fireplace mounting wood was removed, and also a couple of loose bricks above the arch that I have saved to match replacement bricks for the exterior wall.

arch-complete

I think the sides of the fireplace opening will need to be plastered as the corners of the bricks have been knocked off.  Possibly I will be able to only plaster the corners and make a nice curve.   I’ll likely leave the back of the opening in sooty brick.

Plaster Conservation (with Lining Paper)

The Bedroom is one of the older rooms in the house.   The blue colour is distemper on top of haired lime plaster on wattle and daub. The pink (a gypsum skim applied in 1910) covers lime applied by Edwardians who filled in the door opening to the right, raised the ceiling, then chopped a new door opening through the wall plate!

I’ve exposed the beams (I think the wall plates were originally exposed or hidden by the ceiling.  The tie beam was originally above the ceiling).

bedroom-plaster

The original plaster was protected by wallpaper and is still in reasonable condition after several hundred years.   I’m covering it with lining paper.  At some point in the future someone will want to remove the wall covering and the lining paper should allow them to take the room back to plaster without too much damage.

It is my first time wallpapering and lining paper seems forgiving.   On the far wall the outline of the timber frame is quite visible.

lining-paper

It looks a lot better with the lining paper finished.   After a little filler the joints in the paper aren’t noticeable and the surface is nice and flat.

lining-finished

A bit of paint later and the room is closer to being finished.   Ceiling needs another coat and I might yet continue the wall paint past the beams towards the ceiling.   I’ll post a photo when I’ve finished – perhaps furnished with a bed instead of a wallpaper table and ladder.

bedroom-paint

I’m back – with a beam

After getting home it took a while to build up the enthusiasm to start again.  I burned out a bit in Finland and needed a couple of months to get myself back together.

I’m starting on a bedroom.  There were some beams sticking out of the wall left over from the 17th century structure which had been plastered over and then painted gloss black.  I thought they would look nicer exposed, but one of them had been really roughed up to take the plaster.

beam1

The wood was really tough!  I ended up spending a day with a very sharp hand axe to take the surface off.  With some sanding (after the photo was taken) to reduce the axe marks it isn’t looking too bad.   It isn’t the prettiest beam in the world but doesn’t look quite so objectionable.

beam2

More soon.   I’ve been plastering!

It’s winter now! So, err, progress…..

I’ve ignored the house completely since the last update (apart from a 3 month spring clean).   I have been having lots of fun instead. I’ve also been busy earning money and hopefully have enough to finish the work on the house.

I’m off to Finland for 3 months now, but I’m planning to take the summer off again so I can get the house closer to being finished.   Hold your breath – I’ll post again in April or May with news of progress…..

winter

It’s July now. So, erm, progress….

I’m still alive but not much has happened on the house since the last blog entry.   I’ve been busy – I came back from Sweden at the end of May then went to Finland for a few weeks.

Since the last post I have been on a ‘diet’ and have lost 5kg (the remaining 7kg is sticking out in the photo below).  My cunning plan is to burn off more energy than I eat so I’ve taken up cycling.   40 miles of cycling burns a whole day of calories.

I’ve been working on getting a social life too. Someone allegedly once said “it’s summer – go out and have some fun as you’ll be spending half the winter back in Finland.  And don’t worry about the kitchen or the plastering in the snug – they will probably sort themselves out”.  Wise words….

grafham-water

Kitchen Floor Tiles

The kitchen has been moving on over the last month.  The plastering has been completed and the walls painted.   There is a ‘before’ photo of the kitchen here.

I took a couple of days off to give Rocco a hand laying the floor tiles and am exhausted now.  I’m not used to doing work.   The tiles are Elon Mexican Saltillo Teracotta from Terra Firma tiles and still need to be sealed with many coats of linseed oil and waxed.

kitchen-tiles

I spent a lot of time going around tile shops but the current styles seemed drab.  It is amazing that these hand made tiles were available for cheaper than the normal offerings. They are uneven under foot being hand made.   The linseed oil makes the tiles darker:

linseed-floor-tiles

Of course Mexican tiles are made from the most absorbent material known to man.   In the photo the 6th coat of linseed oil is soaking in.   The 7th coat is soaking in more slowly so I must be nearly there..

floor-tiles-drying

Kitchen, Snug and Bedroom – Even More Progress

It’s only been a month since the last post and look at the difference!    The side of the house we are working on has first fix electrics, the door frames are in and the internal stud walls have been plastered.  The external walls have a base coat of lime plaster which is taking a very long time to dry in the cold weather, but hopefully will dry more quickly now the dehumidifier and heater are running.

kitchen-plastered

The snug next to the kitchen is a very old room that has survived largely intact with it’s wattle & daub and it’s inch thick straw plaster.   Some damage was exposed when the wood panelling was removed, and some great chunks of cement fell out of the walls.   The base coat of lime is drying and the walls have been prepared for a skim coat in lime.    I want to paper the ceiling and walls with lining paper so they can be rescued again more easily in the future.

snug-prep-for-plaster

The sole plate in the internal wall of the snug turned out to be underground and therefore rotten.   Normally sole plates are a good 15 inches above ground on brick plinths and therefore dry.  I put this wall down to lazy Jacobean builders!  The wall doesn’t support much any more so we’ll prop the posts up on bricks and remove the sole plate.

buried-sole-plate

Meanwhile upstairs, the bedroom ceiling has been skimmed which neatly hides the artex, the bit that I put my foot through while insulating the loft, and the rotten bit that Rocco replaced with lath and lime.   The floor boards are up near the window because I wasn’t convinced by the Edwardian approach to joist hanging.    It is a good opportunity to finish off the plastering around the window – the scratch coat went on 2 years ago.

bedfoom-mess

Kitchen Progress

I’ve not posted for a while as I’ve been very busy with work, but Rocco is working on the kitchen and is doing a fabulous job.   It has moved on a lot since the last kitchen post.

I had thought to expose the 17th century oak frame in the kitchen, but the oven will now sit against that wall so we decided to protect the original timber frame with plasterboard.   Unblocking the bricked up door to the snug has allowed a lot of light into the dark end of the kitchen.

kitchen-timber-frame

The internal wall insulation is almost complete.   I’ve gone for woodfibre board insulation and lime plaster to keep the external walls breathable.   The causes for most of the water ingress should now be fixed, but there is still no damp course so modern materials are out.

The ceiling has been levelled with some new bits of wood sistering the joists, mostly because correcting the slope allows space for the oven extractor duct.  None of the walls are vertical because the house is squint, but we’ve gone for straight walls which will be handy when we install a work surface.

kitchen-insulation

We are getting towards the fun bit where little features start to appear.   A yorkstone step in the door to the utility room went in this morning.   It looks a bit new at the moment but should look suitably old in a couple of hundred years.

kitchen-stepp

We are ready for the first fix electrical work next week (apart from me figuring out all the socket positions).   I’ve managed to organise a trip to Sweden next week, but will have a day with the electrician before I leave.

Kitchen Window

The original sash window in the kitchen had been replaced by a picture window in the 1980s, but the original crooked brick arch remained in place.  We decided a sash window would look nicer.

kitchen-window2

It was quite a job to remove the concrete lintels from above the picture window,   We removed them in two halves so half the opening remained supported while we bricked up the other half.

kitchen-window-brickwork

The new window was made by John to match the original Edwardian windows elsewhere in the house and looks lovely.   He made another 3 windows for upstairs which we will fit next year when the weather warms up a bit.

new-kitchen-window

Update – Kitchen and Snug

The flood put a couple of rooms out of action and has prompted some ‘re-decoration’ over the winter months.    The kitchen was already out of action, and the plan is to connect the kitchen to the snug to form some sort of kitchen diner.

The modern waterproof coatings, the bar and the wood panelling have largely been stripped from the snug putting it back roughly where it might have been around the year 1900.   My nieces will have great fun with the two doors.

snug

The east wall in the kitchen has been a bother.   Following earlier modifications the east side of the house was supported only by a couple of half bricks sitting at a jaunty angle.   In the photo the door to the utility room is being rebuilt using proper lintels to replace the pretend lintels made of fence post.  Also we’re putting some bricks underneath the lintels this time around.

kitchen-door

Things are moving forward at an exciting speed, but there is so much to do it’ll still take years.  With the high speed of things I should have another more interesting update next week so don’t go away.

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.

wet-loft

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.

wet-bedroom

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.

wet-snug

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

junk

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.

bond-timbers

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.

kitchen-corner

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.

extractor-hole

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.

extractor-hole-bricked

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.

new-gable

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.

old-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.

front-gable-uncovered

*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.

Drainage

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.

concrete-drain-connection

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.

inspection-chamber

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.

kitchen-gully

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.

drains-completed

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.

pea-shingle

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.

filled-in

Sometimes it is difficult to see beyond what was there to start with.   Later I have other ideas for what I might start calling a courtyard, and I’m in the mood to have the finished level a few inches below the original level (which I set out to) so haven’t surfaced.   I think there is room to adjust the height of the drainage.

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.

kitchen-plaster

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.

damp-brick-wall

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.

excavation

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.

temp-kitchen-barn

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.

temporary-kitchen

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.

kitchen-sink