Friday, 30 May 2014

Bye-bye builders - they move off-site

It's a bit of a strange day today. After 6 weeks, all of the trades that we've had on site have packed up and left, and we don't have any more scheduled to come and do anything. It's eerily quiet, and we'd gotten used to having them around. The two builders, in particular, had become friends to the point that they actually reduced their invoice because we'd been "good to them".

Before they left, they arranged us a pile of usable spares and cleaned up a tonne of bricks.
There's another big pile which I said I'd clean up myself, and the whole lot will be stored somewhere for re-use on another project (probably an outbuilding) at a later date.

As you can see, there's still a weekend of tidying up to do, but it's mostly the render which I'd chipped off.

And by the end of the weekend we will have filled our second skip - another milestone! This one is all concrete, brick and rubble. Amazing quite how much weight we're removing from the house.

Very damp bit of wall discovered

You can just about see it on this photo with the aid of a subtly pointing finger... but when we removed a layer of patchy concrete and gypsum plaster from the bottom of the North wall of the Sitting Room, we discovered a very, very damp patch.

Damp may well be the wrong word. It's moist. Cold and wet to the touch. And focussed on an area about 18-inches wide and a foot tall. It's rather odd.

A closer look at the area reveals that it is composed of what appears to be earth, broken tiles and bricks, where the wall around it is mostly stone and lime mortar. Could it be some old repair?

There's also a strange white powdery substance emerging from it. At a guess I'd say it's salt coming out of the drying material (whatever that may be), but without testing it, who knows.

In any event, the room has gone from smelling dry and dusty to smelling damp. Not mouldy, just wet.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Scaffolding comes down - chimneys completed

We had a nice moment today when the scaffolding was removed and we were able to see the new chimneys, and the (mostly) bare North gable-end for the first time.

The chimneys were rebuilt using their own bricks, which were cleaned, and mortared in a white-coloured Natural Hydraulic Lime 5 in their original design. They were each fitted with new pots, and careful lead soakers and flashing were installed by a very good heritage builder.

The house feels 'right' with its chimneys finished. It looks fantastic and, most-importantly, makes the house weather-proof for the first time in many decades.

Lifting a solid concrete floor - mud underneath

We broke up the old concrete floor in the Lounge yesterday and stuck it all in the skip. The room is 10 sq.m, so not huge, and the breaking took around 30 minutes. The clearing to the skip was back-breaking and took a couple of hours. You'll note that the stove has been placed on a large flagstone, which in turn sits on the concrete. Not a perfect scenario, but it gives us a datum for the floor level, and we had to get the stoves fitted to save money in the long-run on scaffolding.

Underneath the concrete was a patchwork of plastic sheeting, and under that... mud. Very damp mud!

The mud appears to be a mix of earth, clay soil and sharp sand, and a test dig in the middle of the room to a depth of 9 inches or so revealed nothing more than more mud, stones and hardcore.

The mud is covered in a network of roots which, given their direction of growth, appear to have come from the large Cypress tree which we had felled when we moved in.

The close-up photo above shows the remnants of the bitumen treatment which has been applied to the lower courses of bricks on the East wall of the Lounge. You can see it hanging off the bricks. Interestingly, there were always traces of damp where there were cracks in the bitumen, as if the water was forcing its way out.

We also revealed a few holes in bricks which appear to be an injected damp-proofing. There is, of course, no way that an injection of concrete in the solid bricks would have stopped damp.

Installing a flue liner and wood-burning stove

We deliberately coincided the installation of the wood-burning stoves in the Sitting Room and Lounge with the rebuilding of the chimneys as a cost-saving move. Only having the scaffolding up once, and with a division of labour between our builder and stove-fitter we were able to shave a few pounds off.

Here you can see that the stove-fitter has dropped a twin-wall stainless-steel flue liner down the working flue as the chimney stack has been built.

It's 6-inches in diameter, and was fairly easy to pass down the flue and in to the fireplaces below.

Each fireplace was then fitted with a register plate (to stop bits of rubble and thermal filling falling down) and a decorative flue installed where you can see it. 

The chimney flue was then back-filled, from the top, with Micafil which will insulate the new flue-liner. A warm flue-liner will create a better draft from the burner, and therefore a cleaner burning fire.

The top of each chimney was then capped with a set of pots and flaunched in lime concrete.

Lastly, the stove-fitter connected and serviced our two stoves and performed a smoke test. Effectively we could now use the stoves to heat the house, but we're going to wait a few months to allow the new lime-mortar in the rebuilt chimneys to carbonise and harden properly.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Paint stripping masonary paint from gable end

The Eastern gable end of the house has been painted in a weird green masonary paint which we suspect has been trapping moisture in that wall. We bought in some specialist masonary-paint remover and set about treating the wall yesterday evening. 

The stripper is horrible stuff. It stinks of acetone and you need a full body protective suit. It also eats plastic paint brushes.

To remove the stripper (and paint) requires a hot-water jetwash. We don't have one, so had to resort to using a cold-water jetwash instead.

It was an absolute bastard of a job. The paint adhered to some bricks and fell off others. And it won't come off the stones at all. Very careful and close use of the jetwash meant that most of the mortar is OK (but very wet), but in places it just wasn't doing anything.

You can see below that the bricks appear to have been painted in white paint at some point in the past too. Weird.

The scaffolding comes down after this weekend, which means we have a couple of days to try more stripper and manually scraping the wall before we have to resort to using ladders.

Decommissioning an unused chimney

We agonised over whether or not to keep the chimney breast in Bedroom 3. It served no purpose with the current configuration of the house, and the brickwork was badly contaminated with creosote and had become hygroscopic (attracting damp from the air).

We decided in the end to remove the breast completely and seal up the long-redundant flues.

Below this chimney is the Kitchen, where there is a window directly below the flue! And the fireplace in the Bedroom has been long removed. It was used as bodged flue for the now-decommissioned Rayburn.

We removed the single skin of bricks which came out in to the room. They were not structural and were mostly badly contaminated by fire.

Removing the bricks revealed evidence of a second, long-forgotten flue (to the right, above). It doesn't correspond with anything in the current configuration of the house, or anything we've uncovered, so we're assuming that at some point there was a fire or oven in the Kitchen below, but that was removed along with the chimney breast. What that meant was that the chimney breast in the Bedroom was partly unsupported from below.

You can see the extent of the glazed creosote which is covering the brickwork of this chimney flue. It is horrible, stinking stuff and is eating its way through the bricks and mortar. We've cleaned off as much as possible, and hopefully with the sealing-off of this flue it will no longer get damp and leach through.

Filling the gaps is a 'simple' matter of using lime mortar, thermal blocks and reclaimed bricks to re-face and fill the flue.

We'll most likely insulate and breathable-board this entire wall at a later date.

Mortar bees

We came home yesterday to find 50 (or thereabouts) dead bees on the windowsill in Bedroom 3. 

We've not seen any bees in the house, and can only assume that they're mortar bees which have been trapped in the roof space by the completion of the new chimneys and have perished trying to get out of the house via the room below.

Either that, or it's some kind of curse...

Chimney rebuild almost complete

Our builder has been fantastic. He has great attention to detail and the job has (inevitably) become larger than he anticipated as it has uncovered other problems. But, we finally have one of two chimney stacks completed, so here are some photos showing the finished product.

The lead flashing has been properly cut in to the lime render of the brickwork, and will direct any rain away from the stack and down the roof. The bricks have all been cleaned and re-used, and the whole stack is mortared in NHL5. (Most weatherproof grade of natural hydraulic lime).

Lead Soakers have been installed under the flashing. You can just see them between the roof tiles and the flashing here. These direct the rain away from the bricks like a channel. 

Unfortunately, we had to get new chimney pots. The old ones had cracked and would have introduced water and potential frost-damage had we replaced them. We did look at some reclaimed pots instead of these new ones, but felt that in this case the practical necessity of a good-quality pot outweighed the heritage look.

The chimney stack top is finished in a flaunching of Lime. This is proving a little problematic because it's cracking and shrinking, so we're keeping an eye on it as it dries.

The pot on the left (above) is connected to the Sitting Room's wood-burning stove. It's fitted with a bird-cowl.

The second (West) chimney stack is nearly complete, and you can see the stainless flue-liner poking from the top of it, waiting for connection to the stove in the Lounge, and for the flaunching and pots to be completed.

We finally have a working wood burning stove

6-months after moving in to The Cottage we finally have a connected, tested and HETAS approved wood-burning stove which is flued in to a working chimney. A small moment of celebration whilst all around it remains a building site. 

Since it's now May, and since we've just had the chimney stack above this rebuilt, we'll be giving it a few months to 'go off' before lighting the stove. But, it's nice to know that it's there when we need it.

Creating a fireplace from the old bread oven

In an earlier post we showed how we discovered the intact door for the original Victorian Bread Oven behind several iterations of later fireplace, which we knocked out. 

We decided to leave the oven door in place as a feature, and utilise the chimney and arched brickwork above it as part of a fireplace for a wood-burner. So, first order of business was to use some bricks which had been reclaimed from the property to fill underneath the oven door.

At the same time, we had a twin-wall flexible flue dropped down the chimney stack (which is being rebuilt). You can see it poking down in to the new fireplace here.

The old cast-iron door and its frame had been in contact with cement for decades and had rusted quite badly. I wanted to clean them up a bit, but not too much, so I gave them a good wire-brushing to remove a lot of the surface rust, and then treated them with Kurust, and finally gave them a lick of high-temperature stove paint.

The door will sit immediately behind the wood-burning stove flue, and will get hot, hence the need for the high-temperature paint.

Paint stripping from lime render

After proving completely resistant to paint-strippers (2 types) and manual scraping, I'm afraid we had to resort to using a steamer to get some of the horrible blue sealant paint off the western wall of Bedroom 2. It was a horrible job, which took 2 full days to remove 3sq.m of the stuff. 

You shouldn't really use a steamer on lime plaster - it knackers the plaster - but we couldn't see any alternative and we felt that we had to strip this wall to let it breathe out all the water which had ingressed through the leaky chimney above.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Removing more gypsum from old walls

We've started on removing any concrete or gypsum render from the Sitting Room today. 
One of the first areas of concern during the survey was the North East corner of the Sitting Room, where a 5-inch deep plinth sat in the corner. It was covered in thick gypsum and we had no idea what it was. A thermal camera during the survey revealed a cold corner, but nothing much more.

What we weren't expecting was for it to be original stone. It's a very definite, deliberate shelf of some sort built in to the fabric of the wall. We can't, at this stage, imagine what it was for.

The other side of the fireplace has obviously been treated in a few different ways over the years. There are strips of concrete and patches of gypsum which we can only assume were repairs or damp-proofing. We've removed them all and will lime-plaster the walls once they're dry.

Earth floors under concrete

You can just about see a plastic membrane between the dark (concrete) floor and the light (stone) wall in this photo.

All of the downstairs floors have this plastic barrier poking up at the edges, and we wanted to investigate whether there were original, breathable floors underneath the concrete, so we did a little test digging at the corner of the lounge.

You can see that the concrete is only an inch or so thick, which was a surprise. And it had been poured on to the plastic on top of sharp sand, which you can see has now been infiltrated by roots and bugs.

At that point we thought that perhaps the floors had been covered in sand to level them before the concrete was poured, so we dug downwards...

Nothing but mud to the bottom of the foundations, which are only around 8-10 inches deep. If the house ever had any floors on this mud, they appear to be long gone. And with a lack of foundations we can't really dig down to pour a proper insulated limecrete floor instead. We're currently looking at replacing the concrete with a more breathable flagstone bedded in lime, and we're trying to figure a balance between saving energy (a legal requirement for building regs) and not undermining any structure.

Revealing a hidden Victorian bread oven

We knew that there were the remnants of a beehive-style Victorian bread oven in the outside cupboard which butts up to the Lounge, but it is long gone save for a few brick clues.

What we didn't really expect is to find such a nice reminder of times-gone-by behind the defunct fireplace in the Lounge.

We had already knocked through to reveal an old fireplace (shoddily built), and I started by knocking the remnants of that out. It clearly wasn't original or worth saving in it's bare state. You can see that I knocked clean through to the cupboard in this shot.

I kept on knocking bricks out, trying to determine what the original structure would have been, and finally revealed the original bread oven opening and intact arch of bricks above it. I think it looks lovely.

In the original configuration of the house, we're guessing that what we're now calling The Lounge would have been the Kitchen, and the bread oven opening would have been in a wall, rather than a fireplace. Certainly there's evidence that the course of bricks beneath the cast-iron hatch spanned across the width of what is now the fireplace as a shelf. The fireplace as a hole would have been a much later change to the room.

We've decided to keep the bread-oven door and arch in situ and cut a new fireplace to the full width of the original oven arch. We'll put a wood burning stove in the recess and make a feature of the whole thing.

Re-roofing near the chimney

The rebuilding of the chimney at the East end of the Cottage, and replacement of the rotten rafter is coming along nicely. We had to sacrifice the original battens in the name of sanity, but we're re-using the original tiles, bricks and rafters (with the exception of the end one).

The verge has been redone in lime and the tiles are now all back in place. They have been fixed using a combination of clout nails and blobs of lime to hold them on the battens.

You can see the replacement rafter in this photo quite well. 

And whilst they were rebuilding, the renovators have put in a breathable membrane under the new battens to help manage any water which does find its way under the tiles.

Removing concrete render and pointing from bricks

I'm still removing the concrete render from the Northerly gable-end of the house. It's a horrible job.

I discovered a patch up towards the top of the house where the concrete render was very loose and easy to chip off. Underneath the brickwork was wet, most likely through a leaky chimney flashing. You can see the damp bricks in this photo.

Unfortunately, the top 4ft of bricks had been repointed (as well as rendered) in a really hard concrete. I couldn't chip this out without damaging the brickwork badly, and didn't want to leave it in, so I improvised and very carefully used an angle-grinder with a stone-grinding disc in it to cut a channel down the mortar lines.

Closer photos show the straight lines cut with the angle-grinder...

Then it was a matter of using a hand bolster and hammer to chip away the remaining concrete pointing to reveal the (very wet!) lime mortar underneath. The process worked well.