Monthly Archives: March 2014

Lowering Ground Levels

Just over a year ago I posted about rot in the snug.   I think the problem was due to internal floor levels being up to 300mm lower than external ground levels.  I was thinking about putting a proper French drain in.

It turns out there was already a proper French drain in place and the plastic pipe dates it to fairly recent, but it was completely clogged up with dirt.  Another solution was needed.


We dug out the gravel from the French drain and a bit more soil, and put a concrete drain in the bottom with a bit of a slope.  The original French drain emptied into a soakaway which was also blocked so we cleaned it out and replaced the pipe.   Water doesn’t puddle in the trench and it’s 150mm to 200mm below internal floor level which should help the snug dry out.


Next on the job list is to build a short retaining wall to support the car park and fit grating on top to stop willow leaves from falling in.  The trench will be ventilated to keep the walls dry, and should be reasonably easy to clear out when it fills up with muck.

An Edwardian Facade

Colin from hosted a photo evening at the village hall a few weeks ago.   He has collected a huge number of old photos of Blunham, some of which you can see on his past and present page.   There were many photos of the Salutation that I hadn’t seen before and Colin has sent them to me.  Many many thanks!

The Salutation is (or mostly was) a very old building.   The first landlord occupied the place in 1646 according to Bill Exley’s research and the local council records. It appears to have started off as a timber framed building with 2 rooms upstairs and 2 rooms downstairs. It was extensively rebuilt, mostly by Victorians and Edwardians between 1850 and 1910, and now the only structure that might be original is in the left side of the house furthest from the church.  Another original beam might have migrated to the later barn – there is a weird 17th or 18th century beam failing to support the 19th century barn roof.

By “circa 1906” the building had already been much modified.  It had been extended backwards and a single story pitched roof extension added to the end closest to the church. The windows are lower closest to the church because the Victorians (presumably) added an attic room in on that side.


Here is a new (to me) photo that was probably taken shortly after 1910.   The building has been extended upwards and towards the church, the previous extension removed, and the “tudor revival” front added outside the original structure.  The Horseshoes pub has the same curtains in both photos, and other buildings haven’t changed much.


By the ‘1950s’ the shop had been rebuilt and all the houses on the other side of the road demolished.  A flat roof toilet block had been added on the church side of the Salutation.  Here is a similar view in 2014 when a house is being built next door.   I’ve added a date to help future historians.


I had assumed the current façade was built in around 1925 as the council note that “In 1927 the place was valued under the 1925 Rating Valuation Act – the valuer noted that it had a low rent because house was rebuilt when Tenant was in”.  Cross referencing with Colin’s page the tenant was “Wm. Thom. Davey” who was there between 1910 and 1933.

My current guess was the previous tenant moved out prior to the rebuilding work, and the new tenant was invited when the work was close to completion.  That would date the current facade to 1909 or 1910.

But what did the new front like when it was build?  Another photo from 1951 shows the concrete roughcast render that is in place today, but still unpainted in the photo.  Also there is the cricket club in drag and looking brilliant!


It seems the Edwardians invented the concrete render that has caused damage to so many timber framed buildings.  They had a few problems with damp and cracking, but by the time they splattered the Salutation they seem to have figured it out.

Apart from all the paint the Salutation has a remarkably original Edwardian facade that is well worth preserving.   I quite like it so future generations ought still to benefit from a slightly ugly but almost completely original Edwardian frontage.

Edit from later – the facade was added and a major rebuild happened 1920 to 1921.   They used gypsum plaster on lime which was a post WW1 thing, and the electricity meter had meter reading cards behind it starting in 1921.

Paint Stripping From Brick

Quite a few of the walls have been painted in the past.  There are at least 5 layers of paint, and the top 3 are modern plasticy waterproof paints.

Waterproofing a brick wall is probably a fabulous idea so long as the paint finish is perfectly applied and then never damaged.  In the real world you miss a bit, then want to screw a light on the wall and nail a few wiring clips in.  Also it starts failing after a couple of years with weather and sunshine.  Water gets in and can’t get out so the bricks and mortar are damaged by frost. It isn’t sensible to re-point lime mortar on top of waterproof paint.

Worse, in the modern world people dry line the inside of the wall and fit insulation.  Imperfectly waterproofing both sides of the wall would cause all sorts of trouble, yet that’s exactly what building regs want me to do in order to insulate to the latest regs.  I’m going to be bad and make both sides of the wall breathable.  So I need to remove the waterproof paint.  Here is work in progress:


What a pain!  I did some tests last year and decided on Solvistrip from Stippers of Sudbury.   It works well on my masonry paint but is slow work.  The trick is to trowel it on as thickly as possible with a paint brush, then brush the drips flat after about half an hour,  Never let the outside face of stripper dry out – it always needs visible stripper on the outside else you will be trying to get rid of sticky gum.

After an hour or two gently remove it with a jet washer, taking care not to point the jet washer towards anything you don’t want to be splattered with paint.  Point the pressure washer at a slight angle downwards and work down and the paint is pushed off towards the ground.   I don’t think a hot water pressure washer is necessary, though it would probably be much faster and reduce the number of stripper applications.

It comes off without too much effort (too much effort with a jet washer will take the surface off the bricks), but only removes a few coats at a time. I’m getting better at it and removing it in 2 applications.

I’ve been on the job for 4 days now, but only recently found a way of doing it that works for me.  More stripper on order and another 4 days should see the gable done.  Once that is done I can start rebuilding the chimney which has a triffid growing out of it.

Never again for paint stripping – I got someone in to do the rest of the house.

Road Works

It’s been chaos around here for the last couple of days.   The new build next door has been installing their services all at the same time.  Diggers, cutters and drills all day yesterday.   Electricity had to come from across the road, so there were traffic lights outside the house.   Our driveway was out of action while they installed sewerage.

It would have cost them a fortune to connect to the main sewer so we agreed they could connect to our sewer in exchange for some help with lowering the end of our car park for the new dropped kerb.



It turns out that the ugly smoking shelter in the car park was once a fine looking covered area at the rear of the barn.

Here it is in the car park:


And here is the same shelter behind the barn a couple of years earlier courtesy of Google street view.  The mounting holes for the frame were still there, and the original location explains the non symmetrical shape.


We had to move the shelter from the car park so that the new build next door could connect with our sewer.  We’ve put it back where it was originally and it works brilliantly.   In France a covered outdoor area would be called a Tonnelle (not a smoking shelter).

Retail Therapy

I went through a bit of a low point recently.

Building regs treat a change of use much the same way as a new build.  I’m looking at over £40k of insulation, secondary glazing and fire doors and that was half my budget for the whole project.

Secondary glazing and nice fire doors cost money, but it’s at more than the same again for knock ons like removal of failed waterproof paint on the outside and lowering ground levels to make insulation feasible that make it expensive.

But I’m fine now.   I spent £3500 yesterday on shiny things.  The first arrived this morning.  A 9.4m scaffold tower!


I only have it up to 6m at the moment.  If I get braver with heights I’ll go to 8m to sort the blocked off chimney that is splitting due to damp from not being vented.

Just at the moment I’m removing waterproof paint with a paint stripper to allow the walls to dry out before adding insulation.

The first really low point

Kae is in France again this week.   Normally I would take the opportunity to do some devastation, perhaps knock out the kitchen or something, but nothing has happened.  I’m completely out of energy.  Kae normally does the food, but it’s mental energy I am lacking.  I get too stressed after an hour to work on the organisation side of things any more.

I fully support the planners, conservation officers, archaeological officers, tree officers, building regs inspectors and all the other consultants you need for planning.  I don’t support structural engineers as ours was shit for brains.  It’s just when you try to combine them that things go pear shaped.

You get into some crazy situations with a change of use. Despite the building being 400 years old Building Regs treat it as a new build (they say it is a new house as there wasn’t a house there before, it was a pub).   New build insulation and water usage rules apply.

There are some exceptions – you don’t need to insulate if there is more than 30 years payback for example, but insulated plasterboard dry lining is cheap they think so they require that for all internal walls.  You don’t need to insulate if it will destroy the building, but try proving that one.

I have to insulate my kitchen.  I wanted to insulate my kitchen anyway so that’s no trouble.  Although ground levels outside are nearly half a metre higher than inside and I have damp I’ll need to get rid of first.  I can’t lower ground levels because the tree officer would rightly complain about tree roots.

But that’s still fine.  I can pay a man £1000 to dig a trench around the house to locally lower ground levels.  But the trench needs to drain somewhere.  It needs a soakaway (another £1000).  Which is subject to building regs (only £200) so the council need to know about it.  So I need an archaeologist standing beside the hole if I want to dig a suitable soakaway which looks like another £2000.  Goodness knows what that will turn in to if any archaeology is actually found in the hole.

I have solid brick walls in the kitchen and they are painted with waterproof paint outside.  I can’t dry line inside.  I’ll need to remove the waterproof paint which will cost another £1000.  Then I need an insulation system that will keep the walls dry.  Dry lining is out.  That’s another £2000.

I reckon it will cost over £7,000 to insulate my kitchen. And it’s not just the kitchen that causes trouble like this.  I need to do the same to the rest of the house.  How the heck does anyone get anything done these days without hiding it from the council?

Silly thing is the kitchen isn’t actually heated at the moment so adding insulation in there is unlikely to save the environment.  Even if we did heat the kitchen the payback from savings on heating bills would be around 500 years.  How can that be environmentally friendly when the insulation will likely be replaced in 50 years time?

I’ve got a building regs application in for change of use only. I can bodge and do it their way with insulated plasterboard and tick the boxes.   After the paperwork is completed I hopefully won’t actually HAVE to do anything more.  Of course the building has been neglected for a long time and if I don’t do anything more the place will fall down.  A problem for the next fool?

Update 2 years on:  The builders next door dug our trench and happened to find an existing soakaway which just needed clearing out…  The paint did need to come off the exterior walls, but the walls look much nicer for it.  Insulation is a topic in itself but does need to be breathable and I haven’t done it yet.