Thursday, 23 April 2015

Ripping out the Downstairs bathroom pt.2

I continued taking down the walls of the downstairs bathroom, which you can see a little more clearly in the photo below. The room was built over with a new extension some time in the '90s (guessing based on newspaper found in the woodwork), and the roof of the new extension has failed.

When the ceiling eventually came down it revealed a bit of a major problem. It transpires that the new extension is a bit of a bodge-job (suprise, suprise) and that the four beams which cross the span above the old bathroom are sat on a piece of wood that isn't fixed to the building in any way. The whole corner was just sat on the very old, slightly crumbly beam which was holding up the ceiling of the bathroom.

Unfortunately, as the ceiling came down, that old beam shifted (see below, it's being held up by a strut) and the entire new roof sagged downwards.

It's difficult to make out in the picture below, but the old beam (painted white) isn't fixed to the wall. And the new beam which is sat on top of it (you can just make out the pine-coloured end, which has sagged about 4-inches) isn't either. 

A little clearer in this photo perhaps, the old beam (white end) is holding up a new beam, on to which the roof struts sit. 
A bit of a panic later, as I stood underneath the unsupported roof, and I managed to use a bottle jack and ad-libbed wooden strut to gently lift the beams back in to their original position and hold them there.

The bathroom ceiling, which I'm assuming is as old as the brick part of the house (1880-ish) is a lath and lime-plaster construction, and really interestingly it's made from rough-cut branches rather than sawn or planed beams. You can clearly see the bark and knots still on the old struts.

When the dust cleared and I was happy with the support which is now holding up the Sun Room roof, I took a moment to have a look at what was revealed.

There's a peculiar archway construction between the WC and the Kitchen, which we know used to be a doorway. I had until now assumed that someone had knocked this archway out at a later date than the house was built, but a closer look suggests that it was originally built this way.

You can just about make out that the brickwork itself is arched (middle of the photo below).
I wonder if originally the WC was some sort of built-in larder or pantry.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Knocking out the downstairs WC

If you have a look at the floorplan, over there on the right of this page (not on a phone), you can see that there is a WC accessed under the stairs. This WC sits in a small brick extension which we think was built at the same time as the larger brick extension for the Kitchen and Bed 3 - some time around 1880. 

At a later date, the original entrance to the WC - which came off the Kitchen - was blocked up and a new doorway carved through the stone of the very original cottage. And a window was put in to the WC.

At an even later date that window was blocked up and a much larger wooden extension was built over the top of the brick one, so that we have an extension within an extension.

We plan to knock the whole lot down and rebuild in less rotten timbers next year, but since we've just had a skip delivered and we now have a functioning upstairs WC, it's time to rip out the old brick extension and get a better feel for the space we have to play with.

You can see below that the very old roof timbers of the brick extension were cut when the newer roof was put over it. The lath and plaster ceiling of the original WC are still there above a false ceiling... neither of which is suspended from much structural support now.

You can get a better idea of the room-within-a-room in the below photo where I've started taking down the bricks. It's 2 courses thick with a lime mix. Lovely stuff, but very brittle and flaky. Knocking the bricks loose is breaking a lot of them, unfortunately.

I found a nice reminded of the shonkiness of the house with this compression joint buried in a wall and covered with cement. 

I managed to get the wall down to about half-way in an evening, and what remains above the bricks is the original lime render, which is being held up by ceramic tiles and then a false wall with more tiles. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Replacing the staircase - planning

Because we're thinking about putting in the limecrete flagstone floor in the hallway downstairs, my thoughts have turned to what we're going to do with the staircase - because we need to plan where the flags are going, and where not.

The more I think about it, the more I'm erring on the side of replacing the staircase entirely.
It is original (as far as I can tell) to the house, but it's original to the stone part of the house, and when they built the brick extension in the late 1880s (Kitchen and Bed 3) they completely bodged the upstairs landing and have created a 'stair of death' arrangement, which is an accident waiting to happen.

So, whilst I'm thinking about replacing the staircase because of its structural problems (previous owner cut through the main supporting Stringer) and because of its layout (it goes down in to the Sitting Room, rather than the Hallway), I can also design out the stair of death, and create a proper landing space. In fact, if I replace the staircase I actually have to make it so there's a proper landing for building regulations purposes. 

However, making a replacement staircase has some implications for the existing Landing structure. At the very top of the below photo you can see a cross beam. That will need moving around 30cm to the right (of the picture) in order to give enough headroom for the new staircase (2 metres).

That's not a massive problem because that little beam is only held in by a couple of screws anyway!

The other side of the Hallway will present more of a challenge. There is, handily, a very strong beam crossing the Hallway in to which the joists are tenoned. This gives me a really good datum to level the new staircase to, and to create a new bit of landing. I can put one new joist on to the solid stone wall, and a second one midway between that and the existing joist, and give myself a nice strong base for some new floorboards.

 The area I'm referring to is where the existing winder stairs are positioned, below.

The existing staircase is bolted in a similar fashion to joists which are fixed to the walls.

In terms of actually making a new staircase, there are many options, but I'm quite keen to re-use as much of the existing one (which has very solid and sturdy treads and uprights) so I'm thinking of just copying the original design which uses super-simple screw-in sections which the treads sit on. The thickness of the uprights and treads themselves give everything a great deal of rigidity. It's all inch-thick oak

I found an online staircase designer and came up with the below idea. It's not quite right because the newel posts I'll need to use will be full-height - they will be supporting members for the landing itself - but the essence of the design is there.

I think that the D-step and bullnose step at the bottom will really help to open up the Hallway downstairs and visually connect the upstairs more than it has been previously.

Friday, 10 April 2015

Wooden electrical sockets

I'm excited because the wooden sockets have arrived. And I think they go pretty well with the brown pattresses, wooden conduit and what-will-be-braided wiring.

Regarding the wires, we're still talking to the manufacturer about colours, type of wire and what is/isn't legal. They're sending colour samples for us to check soon.

Mice, and filling holes in walls

We've had a visitor over the last week. A Wood Mouse, and his mate, have been coming in to the house through two holes - one in the kitchen, and one around the woodburner in the Lounge - and making a heck of a noise at night as they rifle through cupboards and search for my KitKats.

Filling the hole in the kitchen was a simple temporary affair using wire-wool, but the hole(s) around the woodburner in the lounge spurred me in to more permanent action and I decided to do something about the rough, broken brickwork either side of the burner. Long-term readers may remember that originally, this was a Victorian Bread Oven, so the opening never went to the floor. Someone knocked it in to a fireplace eons ago and hid the broken bricks behind concrete.

I had half a bag of premixed, pre-coloured NHL3.5 from Limegreen which fitted the bill, so I added water, soaked the wall, and set about doing some rudimentary plastering.

I'm not entirely sure that it's going to set correctly. It's VERY thick in places, and the lime didn't seem to behave exactly as I remembered it should. It's hard to describe the difference, but it was less 'bound' to itself - a little too willing to crumble apart, even when very wet. Time will tell if it will carbonise properly... and if it doesn't then I'll put it down to practice. As you can see, my plastering skills are useless.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Uncovering the original staircase

In order to put down the planned breathable limecrete floor and flagstones in the hallway, we knew that we had to remove the bottom 4 steps of the staircase, which were a fairly modern addition to the house (some time after the late 60s) and are sitting on a block of poured concrete.

You can see in the above photo that the configuration of the stairs was as an L-shape. But, from previous explorations, we knew that the original staircase was still in place underneath the modern addition, and that it ran straight down the back wall, with no 90-degree turn.

First order of business was to remove the single-skin plasterboard wall from the bottom of the original staircase (West wall of the Sitting Room) and reveal what lay behind it.

As we expected, the original staircase was in place, and save for the bottom step which had been trimmed to fit the plasterboard, it was in OK condition.

The modern part of the staircase had been fixed using 3-inch nails, so that was a bit of a laborious removal process.

Removing the modern additions revealed the structural horrors that lay beneath. 
Not much has bothered me about the house for a while, but careful looking at the way in which the original staircase and landing had been altered brought a bit of a chill - major structural integrity issues tend to do that.

In the photo below, taken from the bottom of the modern stairs looking upwards, you can see that a section of the original landing has been removed to give head-height as you climb the stairs.
The short beam has been added to bear the weight of the trimmed, original joist. Unfortunately, that short beam, which is holding a third of the landing up, is attached at either end using two nails. It's not notched or jointed in any way. When those nails fail through rust, that beam will fall.

The second horror we already knew about,but removing the stairs reveals more.

You can see a chunky dark post here which is supporting the landing above. That's fine. However, the lighter-coloured beam is hanging from that same beam, floating a good 2-inches above the floor. That second, floating post is holding up the staircase because they've cut the original structural side member off the staircase. So, effectively, the staircase is cantilevered off the floating post. Nice.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Period Rewiring Project - wooden light switch pattresses

I'll be buggered if I'm going to pay £10 each for wooden pattresses to sit behind our gorgeous period-style light switches. They're one of the things that's within the grasp of my ancient A-Level Woodwork, so whilst I had the trusty Aldi router out to make my electrical conduit, I decided to knock up a batch of pattresses too.

I'd love to tell you that I spent ages planning the size, shape and style of the pattresses, but in actual fact I used a piece of pine I remembered that I had hung in the garage (it was an unused shelf), and I happened to have a router bit which matched the depth of the wood in my kit

I knocked up one wooden pattress and checked out how it would look with a coat of 'dark oak' stain and one of our switches in place, and I was quite pleased.

So I did the only decent thing and chopped up the rest of the shelf to make 10 pattresses.

You can see in the photo above that I've managed to source a wood-coloured 2-gang socket pattress (from TLC Direct) which will work with the wooden conduit we're speccing. I haven't decided on a socket face yet. If you go for anything other than white they're horrendously expensive.

Period Rewiring Project - making some wooden conduit

I've come up with the idea of speccing a braided 2.5mm wire for the new radial circuits throughout the house. I'm talking with the manufacturer of the wire in Northern Ireland (flexform) and have been playing with ideas on how to attach it to our solid stone walls. I had wanted to use brass buckle clips, but some test-spots have revealed this to be a massive pain in the backside because the lime plaster is, in places, only a couple of millimeters thick and we can't hammer a clip in to the stone.

Also, we don't have (or want) skirting boards.

So, I've decided to spec a wooden conduit to attach to the walls and create a channel for the braided wire to sit in, nice and straight, and make a feature.

Today I wandered down to the local hardware store and had a look at the pre-made wooden forms, to see if anything off-the-shelf would work. It wouldn't.

I brought home a couple of simple rectangles - 21x15mm and 21x 18mm - to have a play with my trusty Aldi router. 

After a few trials I decided on a depth where the wire sits flush or even very slightly proud of the channel, which allows enough depth of wood that it shouldn't crack when applied to a wonky wall. At this stage I reckon that the best method of application will be adhesive, rather than screws.

I'm actually really pleased with the way that the wire sits in the channel on-show. I stuck both strips on an internal wall and decided that the more delicate 15mm was the way to go. 

I haven't decided 100% on the way that the wires will be retained in the channel, but I'm thinking of making or trying to spec some sort of brass retaining clip. It actually just has to be a simple brass (or steel) rectangle which is bent in around the wire and is held by friction.

You have to use a little imagination at this point!

Since it was a nice sunny day, I popped back down and grabbed enough wooden strip to do (I think) the whole house. A 2.4m length cost £1.90, so it's far from breaking the bank.

You can see that the router has produced some interesting differences in depth at the ends of the sections, but a second pass on any wildly 'off' sections brought them all in line.

Rewiring - garage electrics added

Long-term readers of this blog may remember the horrors which met us in the garage, electricity wise.

It may seem a bit odd to have the garage re-wired before the house, but my plan is to make some of the conduit and patresses for the new household wiring, so I needed to get my tools to a state of safe use early on. 

The electrician came and we ripped out all of the old stuff, replacing it with a new board and sockets.

The finished setup is enormously pleasing after a year of juggling extension leads from the house.

Rewiring - installing a new earth rod

We've started on the rewiring of the house, and the first order of business was to rip out any remaining 'old' wiring, replace the consumer unit and install a new earth rod. We're working with an electrician who is allowing us to reduce costs by me doing the laborious tasks - so I set about trying to get the metre-long copper spike down in to the hard, stony earth next to the house.

It took about 2 hours because I kept hitting big stones which required drilling through. However, I couldn't use the drill too much because the earth rod needed a good friction fit in order to maximise its effectiveness. Much of the effort was via a lump hammer.

I'm pleased to say that the new board tests at the 'very good' end of earthing now.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Removing render from brick wall - still damp after a year

Someone just commented on a post from about a year ago, here.
They asked if the wall that we had stripped of concrete render had been re-rendered yet, and the answer is no. Not because of money constraints, but rather because, even after a year, there is so much damp still left in that wall.

This is a picture I just took, showing a lovely array of green bloom coming from the lower bricks.

And if we drill in to those bricks (as I did today, in fact) you get a damp clay coming out, rather than fine brick dust.

So, proof perhaps that old houses work slowly, and you need to keep your patience.