Saturday, 26 December 2015

Replacing the ceiling between oak beams

Since we pulled down the false-ceiling in the Kitchen about 18 months ago, all that has separated the Kichen from the Bedroom above has been the gappy floorboards. Great for having conversations through the floor, but less good for draughts, dust and smoke from the range cooker.

You can see below, in the lower half of the picture, that the floorboards needed covering, and in the top half of the picture the solution. 

I thought long and hard about installing a lath-and-plaster ceiling between each beam in order to stay true to the original build of the house, but I'm afraid that practicality and cost won out in the end.

I cut modern plasterboard to fit in between each beam, leaving a gap of between 3-7 mm (they're not straight) so there's limited physical contact between gypsum and oak beams. Each board is held up on a set of tacks hammered in to the beams, so that it floats a few mm beneath the floorboards above. I've then sealed around the boards using acrylic caulk. 

I realise that last bit isn't great in terms of preserving the oak, but with the air space above each board and a gap around each edge, there's still plenty of space for each beam to breath above and below the thin line of caulk, and we won't get smoked out by the range cooker in the bedroom above any longer.

Chalk paint for damp solid walls

In the Kitchen we still have a big damp problem, which is managed through a combination of having the range cooker in there on constantly, good air-flow, and stripping the walls back to bare brick (or stone). The damp is being caused by the solid concrete floor, which sits on thick clay. All the moisture that wants to come up through that floor is being sucked up by the nice soft bricks and lime pointing, and wants to find its way in to the atmosphere. 

So, we wanted to put a finish on one wall which still allowed it to breath, but made the room a little more homely. Due to the myriad different finishes of limewash, milk paint, filler, lime filler and old brick, we plumped for a Chalk Paint from Authentico which was said to adhere to anything.

Before applying, I tidied up any features we wanted to keep on show, including an oak beam above the doorway, which I stripped back and used lime filler around so it can breath properly. 

The chalk paint is amazing! It goes on to any surface with ease, has incredible coverage over previous surfaces, doesn't smell, and a little goes a long way. Most expensive per litre, but also the best and thickest paint I've ever used.

A single brushed coat on to bare rough brick has given a lovely matt, textured finish.

Update April 2016: The wall is SO damp at the bottom that the paint, and underlying brick, is flaking off in tiny dust-like chunks. 

Planning to replace the staircase

We've saved up enough money that we can now start to properly plan the replacement of the staircase. The current flight has been bodged over the years to create the Stair Of Death (below) from the Bedrooms, and it currently descends in to the Sitting Room. We want to replace it with an L-shaped winder flight that starts in the downstairs hallway and comes up to give a small landing space where the Stair Of Death currently sits.

I've already put in place the 6x6in green oak support, which our friendly joiner is happy to use as part of the new staircase and has worked out a configuration that fits the Building Regulations, and should look like it belongs in the house.

We're going for European Oak, and will leave it un-carpeted.

Building a porch canopy

Winter's arrived in the form of endless, miserable dampness again, and the back door has swollen so it won't open or shut properly. The front door is the same - but we don't use it so it can wait. 
The time had come to offer the poor door some protection from the weather, and a simple porch canopy seemed to fit the bill.

Form followed cost on this little project, so a few lengths of C24 treated CLS wood from the local timber yard were chopped and routed to soften the edges, and then built in to a frame.

The tiles were taken from a derelict outbuilding we have on our land, which match some of the old roof tiles - including the lovely pitched ridge tiles.

It's not particularly fancy, but it does the job well.

Beeck breathable sealant for solid walls

We had some of the walls of the cottage sandblasted a while ago to remove paint/sealant which was still trapping a fair degree of moisture in them. We're going to leave these walls unpainted, but they are pretty dusty to the touch even since they've been vacuumed and wiped down with damp cloths. So, we looked to source a breathable sealant to reduce any fly-away dust in the air.

A lot of sealants claim to be waterproof - and they probably are - but our circumstances, especially in the Kitchen where the walls are dealing with a lot of water trapped under the concrete floor, we wanted the MOST breathable one. And a friend found it after some research for a similar project in the form of BEECK Fixative.

It comes in massive 10kg (10L) canisters and is used as a fixative for their range of paints in its undiluted form. For creating a breathable sealant, you water it down to 15% solution and spray or pait it on. For our uneven walls I chose to spray it on using a garden mister.

The first thing I noticed was the colour coming out of the stonework. Where the dust had created a fairly uniform grey wall, the fixative brought out browns, blues and flecks of black to make a much more vivid wall. In the picture above, the extreme left-hand side has dried, and that's the finished colouring, compared with the middle - wet still - and the right - not yet sprayed.

The effect on the bricks is really nice. It's brought out a deep orange/red colour and highlighted where different firing times have resulted in odd colours here and there.

The fireplace in the Sitting Room is especially nice. It could be overbearing (it's a big brick monolith which is completely out of scale with the rest of the room), but in the evening it's a warm and cosy room. The odd coloured bricks - including one white one - look really interesting.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Sandblasting painted walls

There's been a bit of a hiatus on the progress of the cottage because we ran out of money. But, we have some friends in a similar renovation situation as us who found a local sandblaster that specialises in low-impact Olivine (very fine silicate) blasting to remove paint from delicate walls and he offered us a deal for a Sunday job.

You can see that there is thick white paint (layers of various masonary paints) on some of the walls below, and that the salts and damp in the walls are pushing through the paint and leaving dirty yellow marks. 

The Olivine Guy (henceforth as he shall be known) set about blasting the paint off, and creating a lovely toxic cloud of death around him over the course of 12 hours.

The below photo shows the 'dust' from a single stone's worth of paint. After that it became too dusty to take photos in the house during the job.

The below is taken from outside the back door - Olivine Guy is in there somewhere.

The aftermath and cleanup has taken 4 days so far. The dust has gotten everywhere. It's penetrated through dust-sheets, gone in to rooms we had sealed off, and is hiding in nooks and crannies smaller than we can get a sliver of paper in to... let alone a Hoover.

But, it's been worth it. We have some before-and-after photos of the blasting, and what they were attacking.

The fireplace in the Sitting Room is a fairly hard brick. We currently suspect that this was built much later than the rest of the house because the bricks are much better quality than those used in the Kitchen (circa 1880), and we guess that at some point the Sitting Room was used as a kitchen. 

The whole fireplace was originally coated in masonary AND vinyl paint. We'd managed to get all that off and were left with a raggy, rough limewash.

The blasting has taken it back to the brick beautifully, and exposed some concrete pointing, and a single cream brick at the bottom left.

Not a great photo, but you can see the North wall of the Kitchen was covered in patchy whitewash of some sort.

You can see that the blasting has brought out the bricks really well, and tidied up the old beam. Incidentally, we've discovered that the beam has been used as something else previously to being above that window. It has notches and slots for assemblies which can't possibly have been in that location. 

And lastly, you can see the difference in the stone walls, below. The colour of the local stone - blue, umber and orange - coming out strongly.

For all of the walls we'll now be looking for a clear, breathable sealant to stop them shedding much dust and adding to the pockets of dust we have everywhere else in the house!

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Oak strut now supporting the landing

Only a small update to show that I've managed to cut the new oak strut to fit and support the landing

I started off by attempting to tenon-saw my way through the beam, but after 30 minutes gave up in favour of a chainsaw to take most of the meat out of it, and a chisel and plane to fine-tune the fit.

You can see it compared to the strut that it's replacing (above, left).

And here's a nice arty shot of the shake which is running down it's length. Lovely.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Oak strut arrives

I spent an hour at our local reclamation yards looking at reclaimed oak beams and struts, as well as green oak (green = freshly felled) and air-dried beams.

I decided to go for an 8-month old semi-air-dried section which is pretty straight for 2.8m and then kinks off at about 5 degrees for the last 0.7m. I only need 2.5m for my staircase strut, so I plan to use the end nearest the camera, which has a nice long shake (split) in it and is interesting to look at.

I decided against using a reclaimed timber just because this is a major structural strut and most of the beams I've seen have been fairly well insect-ridden or split over the years. Plus, greener oak is a darn site easier to cut and chisel!

Replacing the staircase - preparation

We want to replace the staircase because someone's cut a large chunk of the stringer (the supporting side beam) away, and because it comes down in to the Sitting Room rather than the hallway. In preparation for doing that I needed to take a look at the structure which would hold up the landing whilst the staircase was removed.

If you look at the photo above and below you can see that the brown strut has been added at some point - presumably when the previous owned added the L-shaped lower stairs (which we have removed) and cut the original cross-landing beam which was structural. (below, right hand side).

I'm going to use this corner of the original beams as the datum point for my new staircase, and install a large cross-section oak strut which will support the landing, and also give me something to cut in to to support the stairs themselves.

But first I had to create a solid and level floor below the point where this new oak strut will sit.
So, I set about digging out 6 inches of soil from the space under the stairs with a mattock.

Once dug out, I filled the void with Glapor and compressed it, then covered that in an insulating layer of lime and LECA clay beads. 

You can see the plumb line which I've screwed in to the corner of the landing beams to show me where my new oak strut will sit.

And looking down from the landing above, you can see that I've positioned a small flagstone - which is bedded in a sharp sand and NHL5 mix - directly under where the oak strut will sit. I'm going to give this a week to set before doing anything more with it.

Finishing internal walls and holes

After finishing the rewiring, it seemed most sensible to finish off the stud-walls for the upstairs shower room, and fill various large holes which we'd either created or found and had been useful for running wires through.

First off, the shower room wall needed insulating as per building regs to minimise the noise in to the adjoining bedroom, so it got packed with acoustic insulation.

The insulation isn't breathable, but in this wall it doesn't need to be because we have tiled the whole other side and are dealing with the moisture from that room via an extraction fan. 

This stud wall is also helping support the ceiling, where large sections of the original lime plaster have blown and separated from the wooden lath underneath. One particular section - where the gable end chimney flashing had leaked for many years - had crumbled compeletely, so I cut this section out to a square to make it easier to repair.

Because the wooden laths were still in place I could simply screw a piece of 9.5mm plasterboard to them and plaster the joint to the existing lime. Again, this won't be breathable, but for such a small section (36cm square) it won't matter.

In other places we had ripped off plasterboard which had been added in place of lath and lime plaster at some point over the years. In the photo below you are looking at the wall to Bedroom 1. To allow the oak frame to breath, I replaced the wall with sections of board between the beams instead - which also makes a nice feature of the exposed wood.


It's been a while since I've been able to catch up on the blog, but things have progressed over Summer, and we now have a safe, certificated and working electrical supply throughout the cottage. A mixed blessing; it's nice to not have to carry a lantern through the place all the time, but proper lighting does show up the rough edges on jobs we had considered finished beforehand!

The process of rewiring took 4 weeks due to me saving a considerable amount of money by running all of the wires myself - and being away on business a fair bit. 

I worked under the supervision of an electrician, who specced the cables, junction boxes and helped with the locations of the cable runs. 

The process of getting circuits up and in to the small attic space was a major headache.

The space is roughly 2ft tall, and you can see a major set of beams here which block any efforts to get in to the space above Bedroom 1. We decided to put a ceiling light in that room, so the process of getting the cable in to place for the switch and rose was a long one, involving coat hangers, cable feeding poles, duct tape and a lot of patience. Like trying to play that 'pick up a duck' game at the funfair, whilst standing on a ladder 7 metres from the duck... easy.

I finally got all the cables in, and we ended up with 2 radial circuits for sockets (one running along the front wall of the house, and one along the rear wall), and two lighting circuits for upstairs and downstairs.

I put together all of the connections as per my instructions, and our electrician came in, double-checked everything, ran safety checks and then hooked it all up... and it worked fine.

The sockets and conduit look great, and make a nice feature. The thick grey wire below is a temporary fix for the 2-gang staircase lights (switch upstairs and downstairs). Once we move the staircase I will be covering this with some of the braiding from our 2.5mm radial circuit wire so it fits aesthetically.

And so we now have lights throughout the cottage as well.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Starting the surface-run mains cables

As well as preparing the lighting circuits, I've started fitting the wooden conduit to the walls, in which we will be running the surface-mounted mains electrics.

We've been working with the manufacturers of a braided covering for electrical wire, and have sourced some brass buckle clips. 

I created the wooden channelling myself, and have used a combination of screws and adhesive to put them on the walls. They show up where even the flattest walls in the house bend and curl over the underlying stone!

The buckle clips have been spaced at 15cm, and are individually tacked in to the wooden conduit. The channel in the conduit is 1mm wider than the braided wire, which keeps it almost straight, but allows for the clips to sit comfortably.

To be safe, and meet wiring regs, I've ensured that the wire sits lower than the conduit's sides - so it can't be rubbed by furniture or passing feet easily. I've also positioned it at 25cm above the floor to avoid feet.

And you can see a short section of the finished article below. The braided wire catches the light and shimmer softly whereas the juxtaposition between the wood and metal clips makes for a statement about the old house and something more contemporary.

Planning and starting the lighting circuits

In order to place and fit a lot of the new pattresses and light switches, I had to remove and patch up a variety of old, disused switch locations.

For some of them it was easiest to cut a new piece of board to fill the hole, rather than cover it with a pattress or filler.

Then it was just a matter of patch-plastering over the holes to make them sound.

Where we are fitting the pattresses to wooden frames, I've mounted them already. You can see below that I've decided to keep the pattresses a lighter shade than the switches and woodwork, so they're easier to locate in darkness.

Woodwool breathable insulated walls

We're now looking to get the mains and lighting electrics installed, and so we're looking at all the jobs which need doing in order for that to happen smoothly. One particular job which I've been stalling due to lack of local supplies is finishing the boarding of the two cold stone walls in the Lounge. 
They have been battened and wool insulated for some months - which has made a noticable difference in the room - but to preserve maximum breathability when we've plastered them, I sourced these WoodWool boards. They were quite difficult to find online, and even harder to find a reasonable shipping price, but I happened upon them at LimeGreen when I was collecting the floor mortar.

They are construced from shredded wood, mixed with lime to give a firm (but a bit crumbly) board that can be screwed to battens and then plastered.

You can see why they needed to be done before the electrics, because this is our only boarded wall and the only place we're having hidden wiring.

This gives some context to their location in the lounge.