Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Sorting out the electrical wiring

There's a fairly modern consumer unit in the kitchen of The Cottage, with a set of fairly modern wires leading off in to various hidden voids and inaccessible rat-runs. But save for a couple of circuits (the kitchen ring-main, cooker, garage feed and boiler feed) the wiring is a complete and total mess once you get away from the consumer unit.

Wires of unknown provenance are plastered, caulked and cemented in to walls, around beams and through floors, leaving a distinct possibility of accidental damage and unsightly bulges in some very odd places.

So, I've been spending the day revealing all the wires, tracing their circuits and removing any which are no longer connected, or are live but terminated in a box somewhere, rather than a socket or appliance.

I discovered one neat little circuit under the fascia of the staircase which had a plug (live) connected to a socket that then led to a terminal box. Something long forgotten in the bathroom seemed to have been the original intent for this little back-to-front assembly.

The other socket (left of pic below) was dead.

I also discovered a nest of terminal boxes behind a dot-and-dabbed plasterboard fascia in the kitchen, which explains why there are so many wires leading away from the consumer board.

A couple of hours' investigation on these determined that 3 were redundant and the other four were running ampage of varying types to some wholly unsuitable circuits. There was a 32A double-socket next to the sink.

And a little more digging (literally) revealed some live circuits cemented in to walls here and there, not so much in understandable directions (like up or down from a socket), but at curving paths through external walls and doorways.

This fine example, below, is a 32A circuit in a 13A suitable wire, cemented in to the kitchen-to-annex doorway and then chased horizontally along the rendered external wall. The mind boggles.

I've disconnected everything except the newer circuits in the kitchen, and ripped out all of the old wiring. I'll be running new ring-mains in a more logical fashion and getting a competent-person to sign them off for safety before they're connected.

Paint stripping the brick chimney breasts

Nitromors just wasn't cutting it, so we ordered in some specialist paint stripper to get the millimeters-thick layers of what looks to be gloss-paint off the chimney breasts in the Sitting Room and Bedroom 1. 

We need to strip them to let the underlying bricks get rid of the salts that they've absorbed in to the air, rather than let them leach out through the floors and surrounding rendered walls, damaging carpets and finishes in the process.

We ordered two types of stripper from Strippers Paint Removers (catchy, huh?)

You can see the solvents starting to get to work on the paint here, where it's turning brown.
We'll be leaving it for 24 hours before attempting a scrape, and possibly up to 48 hours if a day isn't enough.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Preparing doorway for bricking-up

On the list of things which have to be done soon, in order that other things can happen this year, is the bricking up of the doorway between kitchen and annex. 

We need this filled so that we can get the kitchen reconfigured and a new Rayburn installed, and so that we can tear down the Sun Room and leave the house weather-proof.

There are multiple considerations here though. The first to tackle was the fact that the cold water main and hot water return pipe had been concreted in to a step under the doorway.

A couple of hours of very careful chipping and nearby (but not direct) application of a lightweight electric breaker to loosen the concrete resulted in the freeing of the pipes, and exposure of the original ground-level course of bricks from the wall.

The ground-level bricks are sopping wet from being trapped under the concrete and unable to breathe.

The second consideration with blocking the doorway is one of damp-management. The doorway is near an outside wall, and between two concrete slabs. It will be a natural place for damp, trapped under that concrete, to want to escape through the brickwork in to the atmosphere. Instead of a modern concrete mortar, we'll be speccing a lime mortar and rendering to help with the moisture management. 

Removing concrete render from brick wall

Today was a day of two halves. The first half was a continuation of the effort to remove the concrete render from the rear of the house, which is trapping moisture in the underlying solid-wall brickwork.

Using a 5kg electric breaker and 15mm chisel bit I'm gradually removing the render. A hand bolster and lump hammer are used for the finer bits, so as to not ruin any bricks which aren't already ruined by previous stripping work. 

The house has clearly been rendered and stripped before, because the underlying brickwork has bad spalling (lost their surface layer) and bits knocked out of it which have been filled with additional render.

Here's how it looked before today, so you get an idea of what slow going it is, even using a breaker.

Revealing a chimney breast and fireplace

While removing the contaminated lime plaster from the chimney breast in Bedroom Three, I revealed the original inglenook fireplace. You can see the brick arch above the current fireplace arrangement.

The plaster in this room, and the underlying brickwork at the top of the chimney breast are particularly damp.
By the looks of it the brickwork has become hygroscopic (attracting moisture from the air) due to the old Rayburn using this chimney flue and years of creosote and tar leaching through the breast.

We also discovered a large metal water tank in close proximity to the top of the chimney breast.

Whilst this in itself is not a problem - and we may be able to resurrect it if we use a new Rayburn to power the central heating in the house - it may have caused some condensation to collect on the tank and drip down the chimney breast.

When the builders have brought this chimney stack down to roof level we will be able to see more clearly from the outside what is going on here.

Chimney stack rebuilding

We have the professionals in this week rebuilding the chimney stacks on the house.  They are the original stacks and have long been in need of very serious repair. 

They have missing mortar,  very worn pointing, loose and missing bricks, cracked and broken pots and temporary flashing which is letting in vast amounts of water.

The above picture shows a flue that, by the looks, of it has not been used for a fire ever before. It links to the bedroom number one, there is a tiny - almost ceremonial - open fire.

The second flue in the same chimney has been well-used by the Sitting Room fire place, and you can see the difference in the state of the bricks. These ones even at the top of the chimney stack are covered in creosote and tar.

Discovering an old good-luck charm

Whilst cleaning out the chimney in Bedroom One I discovered what I had long expected would be hidden somewhere in the house. In many old houses the residents would hide a good luck charm, to make an offering to good spirits. 

Tucked up the chimney in a very small but deliberate recess I found a Victorian clay pipe.

Once the chimney stack is rebuilt and this particular flue is blocked off we will be replacing the pipe to keep those good spirits happy.

Stripping old lime plaster

The lime plaster covering the chimney breasts in all three bedrooms has suffered badly from years of leaky chimneys.  In parts it would be saveable,  if it were just exposure to water,  but the ingress has brought with it contamination from creosote. Creosote is the product of decades of burning wood in the fireplaces.

The acids and tar come through the lime mortar and the bricks themselves of the chimney breast and contaminate the lime plaster. Once contaminated the plaster becomes hygroscopic, which means that it attracts moisture from the air and will never dry out.

The only option I can see is to remove the contaminated plaster and give the underlying bricks and mortar a chance to dry out and release some of their salts before we replaster. 

Today we started removing the plaster from the chimney breasts.

You can see the dark stain which follows the chimney flue up the wall. 

The contamination from creosote can be seen as a shiny tar on the bricks and as a darkening of the lime mortar between them.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Concrete roof verge needs removing

The verges (the sealed ends of the roof, fixing the end tiles in place) have been re-done at some point in the past in concrete. This is now cracked and broken, and is holding water against the delicate old rafters.

We've noticed that the rafters are starting to show signs of rot, so we'll be removing the concrete verging to have a proper look, and replace them with a lime mix.

The other timbers, where they're not touching concrete, so far look OK. Worn in places, but not rotten.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Old masonary paint on gable end

The gable end (East) of the house appears to have been painted green with what we think is an old masonary paint. It's really thick, and if you chip a bit off it crumbles in to sand in your fingers.

I suspect that they painted this end of the house because the brickwork which forms the chimney was very stained from years of real fires. I can't think of any other reason that this end, and not the rest of the house, would be painted.

Here's the painted bricks and pointing on an area of the chimney breast which isn't above the fireplace.

And here's an area which is above the fireplace, where the acids and creosote from the fires have come through the lime mortar and eaten away the paint. It's also fairly damaged through the bricks themselves, but not to the extent of the stuff over the mortar. 

Anyway, we want rid of the paint so that this wall can breathe properly. So I experimented with a scraper and wire-brush this evening (we're taking advantage of the scaffolding so we can get to the top of the wall).
The scraper works OK on the lime render because it removes the render itself, along with the paint, but neither brushing nor scraping is having much effect on the better adhered paint on the brickwork.

We'll try chemical removal next.

Why the chimney stacks leak

We had the first lot of scaffolding put up today. Now that the weather is (mostly) consistently above 5C, we can consider starting some of the external lime pointing and mortar work, and the first point of order is the rebuilding of the chimney stacks, which are all leaking badly. 

For the first time we were able to get up close and personal with the problems that we already knew were the cause of the water ingress in to the house, and grabbed some photos to illustrate how a combination of cowboy builders (possibly DIY), decades of neglect and natural wear of materials can all contribute to problems.

There has been lead and plastic flashing added to the base of the stacks which is, in the words of the surveyor, junk. He wasn't wrong.

The top of the flashing isn't cut in to the brickwork, and in places leaves gaps in the pointing where rain is just flowing straight in, under the flashing and then has nowhere else to go but down the stack inside the roof.

In other places, the bitumen which it is stuck on with has come off.

Apologies for the quality of the below photo, but it shows the extent of the natural wear on the lime pointing and mortar between the bricks. We would expect to see this occurring over decades because lime pointing is, in essence, sacrificial. And coupled with the creosote, acids and gasses from the real fires which this chimney has had to deal with, it's no surprise that the material is crumbled away.

On top of the chimney stack is a layer of concrete which has cracked in places, and especially around the pot, which is letting in more water.

And lastly, quite significant damage has been done by the weather to the structure of the stacks themselves. There are missing bricks, loose bricks, missing mortar and plenty of opportunity for the rain to get in and cause havoc.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Burning tonnes of waste wood

We're very rural here at the cottage, and as a result we have had several tonnes of scrap wood and twigs accumulated at one end of the garden over the years. We wanted rid of it, so we had a big bonfire this weekend.  What started as a small collection of twigs (below) grew in to a towering inferno eventually.

Removing concrete pointing from old stone walls

One of the things which had been flagged in the survey by Pete at Heritage House was the use of concrete pointing on some small areas of the external walls. Unlike the original Lime pointing/mortar, concrete doesn't breathe, and is trapping damp in the walls.

Now that the weather is turning a little warmer and some sun is hitting the house, it seemed like a good time to start removing some of the concrete and kick-start the drying process.

Here's a section of the South-facing wall with concrete removed. The underlying Lime is very loose and crumbly, but I don't want to dig too much out and destabilise the wall.

It's easier to see the concrete in this photo, as the browny fill around the top of the stone. The Lime pointing is the dark-grey nobbly stuff at the bottom, and the powdery substance at the bottom left is the lime mortar which was beneath the concrete.

Here's a before-and-after shot showing the extent of the concrete removed. The black stone below is surrounded by a mix of red concrete and grey Lime, so it was just a matter of using a bolster chisel and lump hammer to chip out the concrete.

And here it is with concrete removed.

The lowest course of stones was filled with a very, very hard mix of concrete which I'm afraid I had to take a mechanical breaker to. A chisel and hammer weren't cutting it (literally). What was interesting, and confidence inspiring, was the smell of damp which came out of the wall as the concrete was removed. It proved the theory that it was, in fact, trapping water behind it.

Dismantling a rotten wooden extension and dodgy electrics

The Sun Room (ironic name, it's North facing) is a wooden extension to the main house, built in (we think) the last 30 years and now just the nastiest, damp-smelling space within the house.
Since it falls outside the original footing of the house, I wanted to isolate it and seal it off until we're ready to do the replacement extension in a year or so. The first thing I wanted to do was remove some REALLY shoddy looking electrics from the room, and in order to do that I had to pull down some parts of the ceiling.

I wasn't really expecting much, but what was up there above the plasterboard was a mixture of mould, rotten boards, saturated insulation and mouse nests. Not pleasant, so I made sure to seal the room off from the rest of the house with a double dust-sheet taped around the doorframe and wore a respirator, gloves and goggles whilst in the room.

It's clear that the Sun Room roof has been leaking for quite some time. It's a bitumen/felt roof and is covered in moss on the outside, so the signs were all there.

Eventually I'd removed enough to be able to work out what was going on with the electrics. The Sun Room had been jerry-rigged with a single 32A mains cable going in to an ancient bakelite fusebox, which then fed two sockets (one of which was on a secondary bakelite fuse box), and what appears to be an orange extension lead which was feeding an old flourescent tube light. 

I ripped it all out and isolated the 32A cable until we remove the house wiring in a few weeks' time.

Finding an old extension within an extension

We wanted to know what was behind the plasterboard wall in the Sun Room, so we took all the boards off and found a solid brick wall behind it. Not a huge surprise, because there's evidence that this has been an outside toilet at some stage in the past.

But what we weren't expecting to find is that the old roof beams for the original extension are still in place, and the Sun Room/modern extension has just been built over the top of it.
On this photo (below) you can see the original beam in place, as well as what appears to be a lintel beam (at the bottom of the pic) which has been cut at some stage. This suggests to me that there may be an old doorway lurking in thewall between the bathroom and the annex which we've yet to discover.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Brickwork crumbling from damp and heat

Unfortunately, removing the Rayburn cooker exposed the extent of the damage to the brickwork of the North wall of the Kitchen. 

With major damp problems sealed in to this wall from inside and outside by concrete render and layers of thick paint, the intense heat of the Rayburn had expanded and contracted the wet bricks so much that they have simply turned to dust over the years.

In places, whole bricks are missing, and partial bricks have become so unstable as to be needing replacement.

We're scraping off all the paint and any sign of filler to give this wall a chance to breathe from both sides for a couple of months. Then we'll be digging out and replacing any compromised bricks and repointing before a new Rayburn is put back in roughly the same location later in the year.

Removing the old Rayburn cooker

The old, knackered Rayburn cooker had to go. It was a carbon monoxide hazard, and was serving no purpose other than getting in the way. 

But I couldn't even budge it. It was very, very heavy.

So, I took a concrete breaker to the fire-bricks that lined the inside of the Rayburn and carefully chiselled them all out. This removed enough weight that I was able to lift one end of the cooker and get a couple of solid-wooden broom handles underneath it.

Using the broom handles as rollers (thanks to the ancient Egyptians for that) I was able to roll it slowly but surely out from its hole and in to the kitchen. 

More broom handles were sacrificed in the name of DIY removals, and I was able to heave it towards the back door.

The quarry-tiled step to the back door was protected by an old rubber doormat to stop it being chipped, and the Rayburn was dropped down the step slowly, and on to more rollers which then allowed it to be spun on its axis.

It took about an hour to get it out of the kitchen and on to the driveway, where it was collected by a local scrap dealer and exchanged for the princely sum of £5.