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.