Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Dismantling the kitchen, part 2

I've been wanting to pull down the Kitchen ceiling for ages now. The shiny new(ish) plasterboard and downlighting spots stood out like a sore thumb in the otherwise olde-worlde cottage, and I knew that there was a host of dodgy electrics hidden above it. So, yesterday was the day... and down it came.

I was really pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the original ceiling is still in place, with plaster on lath between some lovely Victorian sawn Oak beams. It was a shame that these had been hidden.

But in the South-West corner of the room is a large section of more modern, somewhat bodged beams that indicated some serious structural work has been done in this room in the past.

We know from a local chap who was born in the house that it used to be divided in to two, with separate families living in ends of the house, but until yesterday we couldn't work out how that would have been possible. Thanks to a friend's eagle-eye, we've determined that the L-shaped newer part of the ceiling was once a staircase entrance, and that the Kitchen, Lounge and Bedroom 3 comprised one family's accomodation, and the rest of the house served the other family.

In fact, the floor in Bedroom 3 has been made, in part, from the staircase which it replaced.

You can see on this photo the remains of a newel post that would have supported the ceiling when there was a staircase here.

Now, I'm no structural engineer, but the removal of that newel post, and subsequent shoring up of the ceiling using a variety of offcuts of wood and some remarkably thin bolts should probably worry me more than it does. I've come to love the bodgey nature of this house and the fun finds behind every surface.

What we're going to try to do is 'prettify' some of the beams where they've had bits of offcut added to them. We're not worried enough, or well-off enough to embark on major structural alterations like replacing the beams for new seasoned Oak, so we're going to clean, veneer and thicken some of the bodgey bits to make it look a bit more even. Then we'll leave the whole lot on show to celebrate the building's heritage.

You can see in this straight-up shot that the steps have been used as floorboards.

Taking the ceiling down has also exposed the amount of damage done by the installation of various electrics and central heating over the years. Some of the beams have LOTS of holes drilled through them which will be affecting their structural integrity. All of these pipes are going to be removed, and electrics stripped back to reveal the extent of any damage.

One interesting feature we found is the register plate for the old Rayburn cooker flue. The plate itself is not that old - I'd estimate 30-40yrs, but the wood that it's mounted in to looks to be much, much older. I'd even guess that it's original, judging by the way it notches in to the beams. I'm looking forward to having a look under the plate to see if there's evidence of something older. I may replace it and leave it as a focal point.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Dismantling the kitchen

Superficially, the kitchen of the cottage looks okay. It's only when you dig a little deeper that you realise the fairly new cupboards have been installed in front of, around and over all of the major services. So as we are moving towards rewiring and re-plumbing, one of the jobs that we have to do is to dismantle the kitchen in a way that we can reuse all of the cupboard carcasses and reveal what lies behind them... But since we're still using the kitchen we have to leave it in a way that they can be used.

We pulled out all of the cupboards that we would not need and chopped down the horrible worktop to cover just the sink and soap, of which have been left on floating islands of cupboard.

The cooker has been remounted onto a steel frame which we found underneath the dishwasher in the Annex.

And moving everything has revealed some worrying electrics (no surprises there). And some Heath Robinson plumbing.

The main cold water into the kitchen and the hot water return to the bathroom are copper piping running unsheathed through the wall, and both are heavily corroded. You can also see the amount of damage to the brickwork around the pipes where copious amounts of salt are coming out.

We have also revealed that the full extent of the bodgery of the hot and cold water supply in the kitchen sink and the current annex. 

I will have to rip all of this out and essentially take the cold water main back to the point where it enters the house and run a new pipework in order to feed the kitchen sink and the replacement of central heating system properly.

It is at this point that I'm considering whether or not we keep the kitchen as a working room and do the renovations in a staged process, or whether we build a temporary kitchen in a tent in the garden. 

Two of the major jobs we have to do in this room are to did a small trench around the edge of the room to help of any damp escape from under the floor,  and thanks to some extremely dodgy wiring above the ceiling we will need to pull that down in order to work out what is going on with the electrics.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Laying the Lounge floor, part 3

Almost a week after the Leca and Lime mix was laid it appeared to be fully set, so I decided to make the most of a warm day and crack on with laying the flagstones. 

It actually transpired to be a blazingly hot day, which brought with it some problems, but more on that later.

First thing to do was to lay out the flagstones and determine if the pattern I'd drawn on the computer would work on the floor. 

We'd planned in really large gaps between the stones to maximise the breathability of the floor (this is a very damp room), so it was a case of jiggery-pokery to get the lovely uneven stones in to the correct sort of layout.

One thing we really didn't want for this floor was perfect geometry. There's not a straight line in the house, so delierately wavy-edged stones and slightly 'off' gaps are the order of the day.

I ended up ringing our chimney builder to go through my ideas on the ideal Lime mix. We agreed on a 2-part Sharp Sand, 1-part Red Building Sand and 1-part NHL5 mix. And given the intense heat and porousness of the stone and Leca layer, I decided to make the mix quite fluid. The best way to describe it is as Houmous.

Being porous, it was a case of wetting down the stones before laying them. They sucked in a fair bit of water, given the heat today. I've gone through 5 litres of water in the sprayer.

The mix varied during the day. I did today as a 1-man job, which was OK, but it did mean that I lost one mix with it being too dry and me being engrossed in laying flags. Lime doesn't seem to respond well to having water added when it's already been mixed for 20 minutes. 

The mix seemed to work best in its Houmous state, and it was certainly a damn sight easier to lay the flagstones in a wetter mix. It dried quickly though, losing a lot of moisture to the hot day, and I've been spraying the room every couple of hours with the water spray, just to keep it a little more humid in there. My worry is that if it dries too quickly it will shrink, crack and crumble.

It took from 10am to just before 7pm to lay the whole room. It undulates gently, but I managed to get it flush level with both the hearth stone and the kitchen step. I'm pleased with the result.

The stones themselves vary in thickness and flatness, which I really like.

In a month or so we'll be able to walk on the flagstones, at which point we'll do the grouting/pointing between them - we haven't decided on a colour of lime yet.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Laying the lounge floor, part 2

My previous worries about the limecrete we poured earlier in the week seem to have been unfounded. The trial corner that we laid has firmed up hard and the Leca seems to have been bound soundly. I can put my standing weight on it and not hear the Glapor underneath crunch and creak, which indicates that the whole thing is solid and unweilding. So today saw us crack on and tackle the rest of the room.

I decided to halve the quantities of Lime, Sand and Leca in each mix, to make smaller batches that were more manageable. I still managed to cock the first mix up completely this morning by pre-mixing the Lime and Sand - it balled up in to tiny marbles, trapping the lime inside.

I found through the day that the best way to get a half-decent mix was to put the water in the mixer first, then the lime, then the sand and finally the Leca. It seemed to cause the least amount of dry powder to migrate to the bottom of the mixer.

The rotary mixer isn't recommended for Limecrete mixing, and I can see why. It does encourage the mix to bind in to spheres. I found that the best way around this was to use my hands to break up the larger balls, to add the Leca which helped break up some clumps, and to use a garden fork to help mix as it span.

The mix above was a little too dry. The Leca seems to suck a fair bit of water up, but I found that the mix could be toned by adding a cupful of water (literally... it's a very fine line) or a handful of lime and sand to get the consistency to that of natural clay - sticky when squished in the hand.
The final mix looked like this (above), and hovered around the point where it was sticky enough to adhere to my gloves. In truth, some mixes were a bit wetter than others, but all around the same viscosity.

We were ably assisted by some friends who came over for the day and helped lay the limecrete as I concentrated on the mixing. The volume of mix would cover around a metre square at 5-7cm deep. And the finish was only intended to flat-ish... not perfect. There's another layer of limecrete (2:1 Lime, Sharp Sand) going on over the Leca layer in a few days, which will act to flatten the floor and bed the flagstones.

The whole job took 5-6 hours with 2 of us. It seems to have gone down OK, and there's a nice smell of drying concrete in the house. 

We'll leave it 7-14 days (with the window covered to avoid direct sunlight) before checking it for bond, and then adding the next layer. Research says that limecrete layers should be added whilst they are still 'green', so we'll be doing a best-guess between "hard enough to walk on" and "soft enough to add the next layer".
More info:

Friday, 18 July 2014

Limecrete mixing issues

I've done hours, days, eons of reading in to how best to lay a limecrete floor, and nobody seems to have a standard set. So there comes a time when you have to throw caution to the wind and go with partly gut, and partly learning by mistakes... so today saw part one of laying the limecrete on top of the expanded-glass aggregate in the lounge.

The first battle was trying to find somewhere that sold Leca - an expanded clay aggregate that looks a bit like dog food and helps bulk out and insulate a Limecrete floor. Very few places sell it, so a round trip of 3 hours to Jewsons in Dudley proved to be the easiest way to get hold of some. Apparently Dudley council use a lot of it, so they keep a stock there!

I decided to go for a mix of 1 part NHL5, 1 part sharp sand and 2 parts Leca. Why? Well, again, nobody seems to agree on the perfect mix, so that seemed about right. 

The next headache was working out the difference in 'part' volumes. The NHL is sold in KG. The sand is sold in unmarked bags, and the Leca is sold in litres. Night. Mare. There doesn't seem to be a decent calculator out there that converts NHL weight to finished volume, so the end mix was a complete guess:
1 x 25kg bag NHL5
1 x 20(ish)kg bag Sharp Sand
1 x 50L bag of Leca
6-7 Litres of water

I think I under-estimated how difficult it would be to mix the stuff. In fact, I can state for the record that it was an absolute bastard to mix. I pre-mixed the NHL and Sharp Sand in a large bin, and then added the Leca and the water. Instantly it separated with the Leca at the top and the dry lime at the bottom. And it became almost completely impenetrable towards the bottom of the bin.

So much so that the 1200W paddle mixer burnt out in 8 minutes. Great.
20 minutes of arduous forking, swearing and sweating (hottest day of the year today), I legged it down to the local hire place as it closed, begging for a concrete mixer. They took pity and so after about 60 minutes from the first time the water hit the NHL5, it was being tipped in to a mixer, by the bucket load, where it eventually, reluctantly started to become a consistent mix.

We decided to knock it on the head after 1 load because I'm just not sure if it's going to set properly. With such a crappy mixing experience, water added at a later stage (Leca absorbs some of the water) and intense heat and sun today, the mix has every excuse to turn to dust overnight.

You can see above how much 1x bag of Leca covers, at something like 5-7cm thickness.

And here's a close-up of the Limecrete with Leca in it. I have no idea if this is what it's meant to look like, but hey...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Laying the lounge floor, part 1

Laying the GlaPor expanded glass aggregate over a geotextile membrane was a simple matter of barrowing in loads of it and tipping it on to the floor. 
It's very light weight, and incredibly dusty because it breaks up a little bit on shipping - it's also a minor irritant, so wear a mask and gloves.

I found the easiest way to distribute it fairly evenly was with a broom, and initially I thought I'd over-estimated the quantity as I stared at a small mountain in the middle of the room.

I shouldn't have worried because a 30 minute session with a whacker/compression plate crushed it down nicely enough that it's roughly the anticipated height.

It's almost impossible to get it to a uniform smooth surface, which means that our limecrete layer may have to be a little thicker than I'd planned, to iron out a few lumps. I'm currently estimating around 5cm of limecrete on top of a second geotextile membrane, and underneath the flagstones.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Glapor - expanded glass aggregate for floors

The Glapor has arrived from Ty-Mawr, although it's not going to be the easiest thing in the world to remove the top bags safely!

It is like a very lightweight pumice stone, easily snapped and crashed in the hand. You put into place on the floor and use a Whacker Plate, to compress it to about 80% of its uncompressed volume.

We will be putting it into the lounge floor over the next couple of days

Friday, 4 July 2014

Planning the new ground-floor floors

I've been doing lots of reading and sourcing over the last couple of weeks about the best way to put in new floors throughout the ground-floor of the house. The current layer of crappy old concrete is cracked, dusty, and trapping lots of moisture under it.

The principle will be to remove the concrete throughout, dig down to a safe depth that doesn't cause the very shallow foundations any issues, and fill the floors with an insulating, non-wicking aggregate before covering them with Limecrete (a breathable concrete mixed with Natural Hydraulic Lime instead of Portland Cement).

There are two best-options for the insulating aggregate:
LECA - expanded clay beads of 10-20mm diameter which are coated to make them non-wicking.
Expanded Glass Foam - rock hard chunks of recycled glass that looks like pumice.

I rang 3 suppliers for a type of expanded glass called TechnoPor - none of them got back to me with a price.
So I rang a couple of suppliers for the coated LECA, and whilst the price is cheaper, the delivery costs are astronomical (more than the price of the LECA itself).

But eventually I found a different Expanded Glass Foam called GlaPor, from Ty Mawr in Brecon. That fits the bill and the delivery price is reasonable.

The idea will be to lay a geotextile membrane on the bare earth, then 10cm of GlaPor for insulation. On top of that will be more membrane and then a layer of Limecrete, on to which we'll put the finishing surface - flagstones or lime-screed.

Delivery of the GlaPor is expected next week.