Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Bats in the Not-a-Belfry

There’s a line in the Discworld book The Truth, by Terry Pratchett, that goes:

“A lie can run around the world before the truth has got its boots on.”

Case in point: if you have or suspect bats in your house, They say that it’ll cost you one meeeeeeeeellion dollar to do any works you had planned, if you’re allowed to at all.

Honestly, the number of people who have said to us, when we’ve mentioned bats or newts, “Ooh don’t say anything because otherwise you won’t be allowed to do any work or make any changes and you’ll get prosecuted etc. etc. etc.”

I always suspected that was batbullshit, and I was right. Plus, we are tree-huggers and we are happy to host bats and newts. Bats eat midges. Newts are awesome.

(There are fascinating psychological reasons why this kind of nonsense story perpetuates despite a screaming lack of any evidence, and if you’re interested — and you should be — check out the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.)

Anyway, back to the batshit.

The next mini-project in the ongoing saga of The Dingle is the Stone Room on the first floor. It is to become the Most Magnificent Bathroom in the World.

There’s plenty to do in there, and you’ll be able to follow along as we go… but one of the first jobs was to pull down the ceiling and put a new one in.

Because the current ceiling is made of spiderwebs, cheese, cheap bolts, and hope.

When we had our new boiler fitted (blog post to follow about that shortly), we were finally able to drag the water tanks out of the loft space above the Stone Room and get rid of them. When we went up there to do that, we noticed what a shocking state the ceiling was in.

And we also noticed this:

A giant pile of poo

A giant pile of poo

Which is a giant pile of what we thought was bat poo. Certainly very small poos, and lots of it.

We did some googling, crumbled it between our fingers, and came to the conclusion that it was probably bat poo.

Plus, we know we have lots of bats flying around The Dingle of an evening, and although we’ve never paid that much attention to where they appear from and disappear to, old houses are perfect for bats.

So I called the Bat Conservation Trust for advice.

(Actually, I called a consultant I found on the internet, and we had a chat, and he recommended I contact the BCT because they do free checks and advice, whereas we’d be paying him. Good man. Thank you.)

Today, a volunteer and a trainee volunteer from the BCT arrived and had a look around. In ordinary times, they’d have come in and poked around themselves, but COVID has scuppered that kind of thing, so we got modern and used technology.

They asked for samples of the poo, and we FaceTimed around the loft space.

Up I went in my overalls to stagger around on the ceiling (did I mention it’s made of cheese and spiderwebs and isn’t fit to support anyone let alone a person?) and gather little pots of poo.

The poo from the main pile was definitely bat poo. They’ve taken it away to see if they can identify what species we have. And the poo from the other end was bird poo and mouse poo. Which is good news for us if the bats are only at one end of the roof space.

We’re quite keen to get this sorted because there’s water ingress when it rains on the interior wall, where the flashing has come away from the roof-wall interface. You can see the water damage here:

Not really dry…

Not really dry…

Ken our timber guy reckons it’ll be fine with a bit of reinforcing which is grand because we DO NOT want to replace the purlin and do major roof works. Plus that will require all sorts of licences for the bats.

And at the other end, there are large holes between the wall and the roof, and some of the fascias are rotting so we’ll need to replace/repair and cover those, and we need to know what we can do.

Daylight where daylight should not be

Daylight where daylight should not be

The volunteers are going to write up their report over the next day or so, and put it through to Natural England as an urgent job for us.

We expect to hear back in 2—4 weeks, and he said it’ll probably be more like 2 weeks.

They could not have been more helpful. Their main aim is twofold: to protect the bats AND to enable us to get on with the work we want to do as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

They’re well aware of the nonsense people believe: that conservationists deliberately make it difficult for people to do work.

Of course they don’t. It’s not in their interests. Because when they make it difficult for people, people don’t declare bats and do all sorts of stuff that harms the bats.

Bats are great: they don’t cause damage, most of the time we don’t even know they’re there, and they eat tons of insects. A common pipistrelle bat can eat 3,000 midges and mozzies and flies in a single night!

And it’s really easy and inexpensive to provide for them.

The only issue really is timing: they build maternity roosts from around May until the end of August, so we won’t be allowed to do any work that could affect access between those dates.

That won’t be a problem for us, we’ve timed it well. We’ll be able to build the new ceiling and block the loft space off, leaving the bats in peace until the end of summer. Then we can go back up and do any further work we need to do.

Probably what we’ll have to do is partition off a portion of the loft space for the bats, and then put a droppings tray on the boarded out floor so we can remove droppings once a year. (Which is cool because bat droppings are fantastic fertiliser for my vegetable beds.)

We’re fine with that. It’ll cost us a few quid and we can do the work ourselves, and we’ll be helping the bats, which makes everyone happy.

So, if you suspect bats in your house, and you’re worried about it scuppering your plans to renovate or repair: don’t be.

Ignore people who like spread rumours without having facts, and give the Bat Conservation Trust a call. Their volunteers are super-friendly and helpful, and will work with you to do the best for you and the bats.

Thank you BCT!

Moisture Management in Old Houses

Old houses are not the same as modern houses, and we can’t treat them the same way.

They’re designed to breathe and when they’re treated well, damp isn’t a problem.

Ancient buildings like this one don’t have a damp course in the walls to stop moisture being sucked out of the ground and into the walls. They also don’t have an air cavity in the walls to stop water transmission from rain on the outside surfaces to inside the house. Often there’s an oak frame that really does not mind getting wet as long as it has a chance to dry out afterwards.

Newly plastered wall panel

You can see the damp on the old brick panels

It’s really important to think about moisture management in an old house like ours.

It’s tempting to make efforts to stop the movement and transmission of this moisture altogether. Here’s some stuff people do to old houses to try to accomplish this:

  • Using modern waterproof grout to repoint all the stonework.
  • Laying a concrete slab under the ground floor
  • Using modern renders on the walls, internally or externally, to stop water moving around.
  • Painting with modern plastic paints.
  • Getting a damp-proof company in to inject the stonework with oily stuff to act as a damp course (many of these companies are absolute vandals when it comes to old buildings).
  • Pulling out original frame panelling and replacing it with modern bricks and mortar.

We found a lot of this stuff in The Dingle when we got stuck in, and it’s really common in old houses that have been “improved”. The problems are, though, that:

  • The concrete slab pushes water up the walls.
  • The modern grout traps water next to the stone. Cement grout is harder than the stone itself, so when the water freezes in cold weather, it puts pressure on the original stones and cracks them.
  • The new render on the outside of the house traps water against the frame and panels causing the frame to rot.
  • The brick infill panels trap water against the oak, ensuring it never dries out.
  • Internally, water vapour from breathing, cooking, and bathrooms is trapped inside, causing the walls to become permanently damp and develop mould.

All that well-intentioned effort makes such a house a horrible damp place to live, and eventually destroys the building.

So here is where we need to talk a little about lime and its purpose in an old house like The Dingle.

We can use lime as a mortar between stones and brickwork, and as a plaster to cover the stonework or anything else your walls might be made of. Lime is magical:

  • Lime is waterproof in that it soaks up moisture, and then releases it to the atmosphere.
  • Lime wicks water away from timber or stones and allows it to evaporate away.
  • Lime has natural anti-fungal properties and does not allow mould to grow.
  • Lime is a little bit flexible and does not crack easily.

Lime was essential in building a house like this one. If we remove the lime and replace it with cheaper modern equivalents, we will wreck the house. Stones will split, timbers will rot, walls will grow mould.

Modern materials are fine for modern houses, which are designed to be airtight and watertight. They are not fine for old houses.

If you own an old house and a tradesperson is talking about using modern mortar, plastic, concrete, modern paint… please please please think very hard before going ahead.

Get advice from someone who specialises in working with old buildings.

If you try to shoehorn modern methods into old houses, you could well be doing huge damage to your home.

The Magic Sponge: The Secret to Internal Lime Plastering

The original Dingle structure is oak frame with infill panels on top of stone walls. When the house was built the infill panels would have been wattle and daub — essentially sticks woven together and covered in daub (mud, clay, straw and manure) or lime.  Any paint would have been clay-based or a limewash. This method would have been perfect for the oak frame – it doesn’t weigh much, it keeps the weather out, it’s easily repairable using local skills, and it wicks water away from the oak and evaporates it to atmosphere, so the oak doesn’t rot. Perfect.

However, at some point the panels started to look a bit shabby and someone decided to replace them with bricks and mortar. This probably felt like a good idea: the local brickie liked the plan, bricks are pretty cheap, and who uses wattle and daub these days anyway?

The shabby panels get replaced.

A couple of seasons come and go, the house shifts a bit because it’s built on clay and doesn’t really have any foundations (foundations not being a thing before around 1800), cracks appear, and water gets between the timber and the bricks. Because it’s modern cement-based mortar, the water can’t go anywhere and starts eating the oak. Oak takes a long time to rot, but it does rot eventually.

When we moved into the house, we knew the panels had to go. The  bricks were soggy, the walls were damp, the oak was damaged and getting worse. We’ve posted about the task of replacing the panels themselves – it was quite the job.

Internally, after replacing the panels, we were left with this:

plaster 1

We replaced the panels with cork because: it breathes, doesn’t weigh much, is very insulating, and requires little skill to do (which suits us perfectly!). However that’s not really what you want the inside of your house to look like, so lime plastering is the next task.

Here’s how we did it…

**Disclaimer – I’m not an expert and you should probably get some grown-up advice if you’re considering tackling lime work yourself.

The Scratch Coat

Shopping

You will need:

  • Builders bucket
  • Hawk, trowel, pointing trowel and bucket trowel
  • Bucket mixer
  • Hemp lime (we got all our lime from Ty-Mawr in Brecon, who are super knowledgeable and helpful)
  • Finishing lime
  • Fibreglass scrim
  • A few cheap sponges (ours came from B&Q)
  • Gaffer tape
  • Something to cover your floor
  • Safety specs (lime is horrible, you do not want splashes in your eyes even a little bit, at all)
  • Spray bottle for water

plaster2

  1.  Give the wall a good brushing. Get any loose dust, bits of cork, and spiders off it.
  2. Apply gaffer tape to your timbers so you have a line to work up to, and any plaster that goes over the line isn’t staining the wood. (We learned this after making a right mess with a bunch of the timbers.)
  3.  Get a spray bottle and dampen the surface down.
  4. Knock up your lime. I used bagged non-hydraulic hemp lime for this job from Ty-mawr in Brecon. The lime is ready-mixed and just needs waking up. The idea is to get energy into it, which loosens it up and makes it easier to work with. We do this by chucking a 25kg bag of lime on the floor and walking on the spot on top of it for a few minutes. Then we open the bag and tip it into a builder’s bucket and mix with a bucket mixer for at least 20 minutes. If after that time it still feels a bit thick you can add maybe half a pint of water and keep mixing.
  5. Make a cup of tea, lug the bucket upstairs, and dampen the wall again. Cover your floor – this will be messy.
  6. Dollop the muck (that’s a professional term folks, don’t judge me) onto the hawk and get it onto the wall with the trowel. Aim for something like 10mm or half an inch thick. The first panel you do will be rubbish – don’t worry about it, you can do it again later. Watch some videos on YouTube to check out how the pros do it. The more plastering you do the quicker and easier it’ll be and the better you’ll get at it (funny that).
  7. Get the muck on the wall, get it more or less flat, and drink your tea.
  8. Scrim. Plasterers’ scrim is a reinforcing fibrous mat or cloth pressed into the plaster, creating a composite material. It strengthens the plaster and helps prevent cracking. In days gone by, a scrim would be jute or hemp sacking; these days it’s usually a fibreglass sheet on a roll. Cut a piece slightly smaller than your panel and sweep your trowel to press it into the plaster. Make sure the whole thing sits under the surface of the plaster.
  9. Clean your bucket and all your tools really well — you don’t want to start your next day’s work by chipping plaster off your nice new tools. Pay particular attention to your bucket and trowel. Bits in your bucket will make for scratchy plaster tomorrow.

And that’s it for a few days.

Sit back and worry about how you’re going to make it look tidy in the future.

The Top Coat

I was worried about this – I knew my skills were pretty minimal, I knew I wouldn’t get a beautiful professional finish… but I was honestly surprised how well it went. Our house is pretty wonky though, so wonky panels wouldn’t really matter so much.

(Editor’s note from Vicky: he did a cracking job. It looks beautiful.)

The top coat process is the same as for the scratch coat, except you’re aiming for maybe 3mm thick, and you’re trying to get the surface as flat as you can. I also had to deal with pillowing my panels (where the plaster curves away from you to meet the timbers). It looks great and we had no choice because of the size of the timbers… but I hope you don’t have to because it’s a faff.

When you’re halfway through this process you’ll be screaming inside. Something along the lines of: “I can’t get it flat!” and “It’s got scratches in it!” and “This is going to look shit!” and “I can’t do this, I’ll have to get someone in.”

Do not panic. Go and make another cup of tea (or at least leave the wall alone to dry for a few minutes).

The Magic Sponge

This is where the magic sponge comes in. Get your sponge thoroughly wet and squeeze it out. Put on some calming music. Now just spend 10 minutes with your sponge gently rubbing over the surface of the plaster. You’ll find the scratches disappear, the surface softens, lumps get evened out, edges get rounded.

It’s honestly magic.

Use your spray bottle if the wall is drying too quickly; dampen your sponge a bit if you need to. Get a feel for what’s going on and breathe a huge sigh of relief. It’s going to be ok.

When you’ve got it looking nice, stop. Peel off your gaffer tape.

Congratulations, you’ve done it!

Now you’ve just got to do the rest of the house.

plaster1

Health & Safety

Lime is pretty hard on your hands – it’ll dry out your skin and eventually your skin will crack. This is painful.

Wash your hands often and moisturise them regularly.

I had some pretty nasty cracks and burns on my hands after a few days of working with lime. I tried wearing plastic gloves but that just meant I had sweaty wet lime pressed against my skin for hours which did far more damage.

Happy plastering!

Hammer House of Horror: The Bathroom Saga

Picture the scene: wind howls through the gaps in the stone.

Cobwebs like ropes caress the face like grimy ribbons.

And underfoot, there is a 1-inch carpet of mouse and bird poo… plus a dead sparrow.

Nope, we are not in a Hammer house of horror. We are in the space above what is to become our bathroom.

Look at the horrors!

But it’s all FANTASTIC news because we can finally crack on with said bathroom after 5 years of no proper heating and a tiny grimy shower room. Hurrah!

Ripping Stuff Out

Here’s what the Stone Room looked like just a few short days ago:

Joe stands in orange overalls dismantling the old immersion heater cupboard

Goodbye horrible old cupboard and immersion heater!

And look at this amazing 80s wallpaper 😀

Orange, brown, and yellow patterned wallpaper

Incredible 80s wallpaper

Last Monday, plumbers came and disconnected our hot water. They took the water tanks out of the loft space, emptied and removed the immersion heater, and left us to it for the better part of a week.

We had some sponge baths with boiled water from the kettle, and I washed my hair with water so cold it gave my entire head cramp. (Try it: it induces brain freeze the likes of which you have never experienced.)

Then the chaps came back and fitted our very first condensing boiler. Ta da!

The new boiler all plumbed into the corner of the room

Ooh fancy! Hot water AND heating…

We now have hot water on demand and A WORKING RADIATOR! The Rayburn Room is warm again!!!

(Side note: the Rayburn Room hasn’t had a working Rayburn for a year and is to become the library, that radiator is temporary because I want cast-iron ones, and there’s still a ton of plumbing to do.)

The plan is to eventually move the boiler downstairs into the utility room, but we won’t be able to build the kitchen and utility room for a couple of years yet. So for now, we’re building an airing cupboard around the boiler and plastering up to the board it’s fitted to.

And now all the gubbins is out of the Stone Room, it means we can start the long and disgusting process of turning it into a bathroom.

Things we have discovered so far:

  • The Stone Room floor joists are 3 inches deep by 2 inches wide, with notches for plumbing pipes. For those not in the know, that is Not Big Enough to support a floor. It’s amazing we haven’t plummeted through it.
  • Creative plumbing decisions.
  • Absolutely freaking terrifying ceiling joists that gave me the horrors climbing up there.
  • Horrifying wiring: bare wires nestled warmly into the fibreglass insulation.
  • A dead sparrow :(
  • A LOT of mouse/bird/squirrel poo. Like, piles and piles of it.
  • Birds’ nests.
  • The world’s most epic cobwebs, but no spiders, oddly enough.
  • Water running down the stone wall, which was nice.
  • Plenty gaps in the roof: much fresh air, which was nice I suppose.
  • Ceiling panels made out of cardboard. Also panels made out of that plastic we used to cut up in CDT classes at school.
  • Roof braces held on with old hinges.
Cobwebs and a pile of mouse/squirrel/bird poo on the stone wall

Lots of cobwebs, a nest, & a big pile of poo

Horrifying wiring junction buried in insulation

Honestly I’m amazed we haven’t had a fire

Water trickling down the inside wall above the ceiling

The leaky roof. Which is nice.

(Side note: fibreglass insulation is evil stuff and I am SO BLOODY ITCHY RIGHT NOW. And yes, I was wearing gloves and mask and eye protection and overalls and a hat and PPE up the wazoo and IT GETS EVERYWHERE. There’s a special place in hell for the person who invented fibreglass fuzz.)

Because I weigh less than Joe, I was duly shoved up through the hatch with a clamp lamp and a plastic bag. I set about rolling up the insulation and passing the tidy bits down to Joe, who bagged them. I bagged the scraps and bits and pieces up in the loft to prevent too much crap raining down on Joe.

Vicky’s feet dangle out of the loft hatch

Making my way into the unknown

We filled six huge bin bags, which Joe later hauled to the tip.

Black bin bags full of old insulation

All this came out of the loft space

I also removed several dustpans full of poo.

And lots of bits of paper, plastic bottles and canisters, scraps of insulation, tarry stuff that was coming away from the rafters, and pieces of MDF that were lying around looking like things to put weight on, but which were NOT for that at all.

Once we got rid of as much of the insulation and general rubbish as possible without falling through the ceiling, we started ripping the ceiling panels off and creating a big, big hole.

View from under the ceiling, through the holes, to Joe doing some wiring

Joe makes some wiring less scary

Oh, and unwiring some wires that didn’t seem to do anything anymore.

It’s been quite a day…

But at the end of it, we got to have an EPIC shower powered by our new boiler, with frankly quite alarming pressure, and so it wasn’t all bad.

Next in the Stone Room: continue removing the ceiling, sweep and hoover and make as tidy as possible, repair the leaky roof and the holes under the eaves, and hurl some lime plaster at the rough loose stone to make it a bit tidier and sturdier.

After that, we’ll pull all the old plaster off the walls and put in new oak windows (which we’ve just ordered), then take the floor up.

After that, we’ll replace the ceiling and the floor — at which point we can start actually creating a bathroom! And deciding whether or not to have underfloor heating…

UPDATE

Having done some searching of images on the Google, we now have a suspicion of bats. So we have a local batman on his way to do a preliminary survey. All work in the roof space has stopped for now, and the next thing we’re going to do is focus on the walls below the ceiling line and replacing the Stone Room floor, and stripping out the Rayburn Room.

Then we shall wait and see what the batman says and do what needs to be done.

Opening The Dingle’s Eyes

It’s 5.30 am. All is dark. The moon is shining through the new windows, and I can see frost glowing on the cars.

And the room is warm.

Louder, for those in the back?

The room is warm.

Plus, we have actual light shining in.

Because we gave the cottage new eyes, and those eyes are double-glazed oak-framed beauties, and I can’t even articulate how delighted we are with our new windows!

But let’s start at the beginning, with the old windows.

They were not pretty. The frames were rotting, the single glazing rattled, and the fake lead strips blocked out a surprising amount of light. The secondary double-glazing inside helped a little, but it was super-ugly.

And none of the windows opened.

Except the tiny one in the Rayburn Room, which was covered by secondary glazing, so didn’t really open at all.

Why Oak?

We chose oak because we wanted it to last another 400 years, and look beautiful. And neither of us likes uPVC. At all. Especially not on an old cottage (even though some of the new wood-look uPVC is very good indeed – it’s still plastic, and that’s not us).

We knew the new windows would make a big difference; we weren’t expecting the difference to be quite so dramatic, inside and out. We’ve had lots and lots of lovely comments from the neighbours, who are glad to see some visible progress. As are we!

Window by Window

Let’s start with the tiny window on the side of the Rayburn Room, looking out towards the rosebushes. Here it was:

Tiny window in stone wall, ivy

The tiny window

It’s a bit of a mess, with a rotting frame and largely obscured by ivy and, as you can see, a long-dead plant on the windowsill.

This was the quickest and easiest window to replace and it looks fabulous inside and out:

New oak window in stone wall

Tiny window looking smart

New oak window from inside

Tiny window looking brighter inside

Next came the main window in the Rayburn Room, in the stone portion of the cottage.

Ratty old window

Before (pretty ugly, poor thing)…

Replacing it made an enormous difference:

Beautiful new oak window in stone wall

Isn’t it beautiful?

On the list next year is getting the stone portion of the house repointed and repaired, because in the past cement pointing has been used and it’s destroying the stonework. New windows have highlighted the other stuff that needs improving…

Next is the big window in the living room. One of them was broken because someone (us. it was us.) bounced a lump of concrete off it in the summer… here it is:

Old window...

Broken old window and shonky old bricks

And here’s the beautiful new window and new oak lintel above it. Which makes us feel a lot less like the wall might suddenly crumble.

New triple oak window with new oak lintel above

Ooh isn’t it glorious?

And here’s the inside:

Beautiful new window at night, with stunning oak work

Look at that scribing on the lintel!

On the left-hand side of the house, to the left of the porch, is a small window set into 18-inch solid stone walls. It didn’t let much light in, and that end of the long living room was perpetually gloomy. You can see from this photograph that the window opening used to be much larger; we don’t know why or when it was reduced. But we decided to open it up again.

Window, house name, and previous size visible.

Embiggening a window

You can see the newer stonework with the fresher paint. And yes, the house really is as wonky as it looks in this pic.

Here it is from the inside:

Small window, gloomy corner, lit by a lamp.

A gloomy corner

Ken Milloy and his trusty fellow wood-worker, Phil, knocked a whopping hole in the wall, gently removed the original stones (we’ll be reusing those when we build a new porch and new walls elsewhere), and we discovered this:

Original wooden frame buried in stone wall

That’s the original shutter frame!

Ken is pretty sure that’s part of the original frame (you can just see where it’s been chopped about on the right) – and that it was for shutters rather than windows. Glass was extremely expensive when this house was built, so it’s likely the cottage had shutters. But we don’t really know for sure.

That bottom piece of wood is the original windowsill and that is most definitely staying. It’ll be protected by the new piece of oak we’re putting inside as the new windowsill.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t keep the original frame in there; it’s too small. So it had to come out. However, it is staying on the property and we will reuse it as part of something else. We’re not sure what yet, but it will show up on this blog when we figure it out. Funnily enough, a chap from the USA wanted to buy it from us and turn it into a table! Sorry fella, it’s staying with us :)

Once again, Ken and Phil installed a new oak lintel outside – and discovered the main beams inside weren’t really being held up by anything. So there was a little extra structural oak work to do inside too. Once again, we’re a collapse-free zone.

Here’s the finished window:

New triple window in stone wall with new oak lintel

Another stunner

And just look how much light pours into that end of the room now!

New wider window lets in tons more light

Flooded with light

If you look closely at this image and the other big window, you’ll see the stunning scribing Ken did to make the new oak fit seamlessly with the old piece. It’s beautiful work and we do a little happy Snoopy dance every time we look at them.

Next is the windowsills. We’re getting 3-inch oak chunks, with wayney edges if we can, but straight-edged if not. They’ll fit perfectly under the new windows when we’ve chipped all the cement plaster out of the way.

Which has got us thinking about what to do with the rest of the living room… but that’s for a future instalment…

For now, here’s a little look at the new curtains. They’re not our forever curtains, but they’re certainly a vast improvement on the mismatched charity shop ones that have served us really well for the past few years…

Red and gold patterened curtains on night-time oak windows

Cosy and stylish!

Imagine how glorious it’s gonna look with the chunky oak windowsill… and how much warmer for the cat bums to sit on.

We’re Watertight! And Waney!

After a verrrrrrrry long summer in which nothing much happened at Casa Dingle, a lot has happened in the past three weeks.

The Front Soleplate

We discovered that the soleplate along the front of the house is solid! (Unlike the soleplate on the gable end which was thoroughly rotten.)

Soleplate over window

Surprisingly solid soleplate

So all Ken and Phil had to do was face it with a beautiful new piece of oak:

New soleplate facing

New soleplate facing

They did this because otherwise there would be a big ledge where the timber frame meets the wall. So now there is the original soleplate, the new oak facing, and the lead flashing over both – held in place by a piece of softwood which will form part of the frame for our new cork panels:

Showing how the soleplate and lead is fixed

Neatly layered timber

Here’s Phil oiling the new lead:

Oiling the lead

Shiny shiny!

And here’s the house looking alarmingly skeletal. Don’t worry, we’re assured it’s quite sound…

Ken's van in front of The Dingle

Ken Milloy: master conservation timber wizard

Over the next couple of weekends, we’ll be rebuilding those wall panels with cork and lime, and the house should warm and watertight. Because…

The Gable End Wall…

…has been weatherboarded!

Some time ago, we had plasterers come out to quote for plastering the exterior of the gable end wall, which streams water inside when it rains heavily. That end of the house gets all the weather and it suffers (hence the rotten soleplate and bricks).

Soaking wet every time it rains...

Soaking wet every time it rains…

That isn't a shadow...

That isn’t a shadow…

Their advice was to clad it in weatherboard to protect it, because we were unlikely to be able to make it watertight simply by plastering.

So we took their advice and asked Ken and Phil to sort it out, which they duly did.

They started by attaching battens and felt to the existing wall:

Battens and felt

Prep for the weatherboarding

We decided to go for waney edge oak boards, which means they retain their natural live wavey edge. It’s absolutely beautiful and looks much more natural than straight boards, and is also more in line with what the original builders would have done, had they chosen to weatherboard the house.

The electric company came and moved the power cables to a more suitable position, and updated from two cables to a single cable, so that was a bonus, and it now looks super tidy.

Isn’t this gorgeous? And it’ll weather down to silver over the next few months:

Gloriously weatherproof and stunningly detailed

Gloriously weatherproof and stunningly detailed

And just look at the wooden carved detail in the peak: our initials, and the year it went up :)

Vicky and Joe did this (well, commissioned it) in 2020, the Year of Weird

Vicky and Joe did this (well, commissioned it) in 2020, the Year of Weird

We’re thoroughly in love with the new end of our house. And even more in love with the fact that it’ll no longer rain indoors and blow a gale through the walls.

Thank you so much Ken and Phil, you’ve done an absolutely magnificent job.

Tomatoes, Walls, and 2020

We’re starting this entry with tomatoes because things at The Dingle have been delicious. The jam project this year will be magnificent. Vicky has grown the most enormous marrow ever. We have a shed-full of onions. And the tomatoes have been a triumph.

Tomatoes, blackberry jam, a giant marrow, and onions

Yum, yum, and thrice yum

Which is good because this has been 2020 and we think zombies are next. We’re also becoming increasingly convinced that we’re living in a simulation and the aliens running it are screwing with us.

It’s been… a weird year.

An awful one for a lot of people.

We’ve gotten to know loads of people in our village and it has been so glorious to see people looking after each other and getting to know each other well. We have new friends we might not have made before, because we were village wardens and volunteers.

So good has come out of woe.

But at Casa Dingle, things have been fruitful. And we’ve made a bloody big mess.

Again.

Plans Changed…

Our plans have changed slightly. The chaps at PlasLime recommended we weatherboard the gable end wall, so that’s what we’re doing. Ken is sorting it for us.

But next week, Ken will be back to put in a new sole plate along the front of the house because the one that’s supposed to be there… isn’t.

Which means a couple of weeks ago we replaced the top panels of brick and concrete (a rant on that will follow) with cork and lime. It looks splendid and the house now weighs considerably less.

We were a bit sad to find an original panel made with lathe and plaster. We couldn’t salvage it unfortunately because the entire panel had slipped down and become unstable. That was probably the only original one left:

Original lath and plaster wall

Sadtimes.

Here’s what the wall looked like a week ago:

Old walls

That’s all gone now…

You’ll see we had proper scaffolding delivered instead of trusting to the wobbly death tower. It was also 35 degrees C that weekend so we spent some time pretending we were on a balcony in Greece.

Me climbing through the wall

Proper safe scaffolding. It was a treat.

This weekend, we’ve been replacing the bottom panels. There are two more concrete panels.

The air has been blue. Because we cannot FATHOM why anyone would fill a timber-frame house panel with cast concrete and stock fence.

It must have been far more difficult to do than use bricks. And believe us when we say it’s been a complete bloody nightmare to remove. Really, really, REALLY awful.

And the mess. God the mess.

Rage.

Joe with a hammer drill

Hammer drill action and swearing

The concrete has also done a fine job of rotting the oak frame. Not all the way through, but enough to be a bit of a worry. The pic below shows a shake stuffed with concrete. The wood all around the concrete and a few mm in is rotten and crumbles away, which is not great.

What not to do with timber

Concrete in timber. Rot.

We’ve removed it, and the house is now happier and lighter and we can move on from the trauma of it all.

Oh, we also broke a window when some debris bounced off the wobbly death tower (yes that’s back).

Broken window

Oops.

Good job we’re having beautiful new oak windows later this summer, eh?

Next stop: panelling the walls with cork and lime again, Ken puts the soleplate in, then we badger Kelvin for our glorious new windows.

Hopefully not too long before the weatherboard happens too.

After that – it’s time to focus on the bathroom, which we’re going to turn into a plant-filled jungle paradise :)

Storm Dennis Stops By

Luckily, we don’t live in an area that floods – although the roads in and out of the village can get bad.

Late last year, Vicky’s old Xsara drowned on its way out of the village. It was at this point we decided The Dingle should have at least one vehicle that can cope with floods, mud, ice, and snow. So Harvey the Freelander joined us.

Anyway, this isn’t about flooding so much as it is about our plans for this year, which include getting Plas Lime back to plaster the outside of the gable end wall, and possibly the front of the house, too.

There’s no massive urgency, but we do want the house more watertight than it is right now by next winter…

IMG_6514 As you can see, there’s a little water soaking through…

IMG_6518

The great thing about lime plaster and cork, though, is this will dry out beautifully. If we’d used modern plaster and concrete, the walls would be in big trouble…

Vicky Has A New Office

Ever since I started my business, I’ve been working from the dining room table. At Cedar Tree Farm, I was in the main living room. Here at The Dingle, I’ve been working in the Rayburn Room.

I’ve been waiting a long time – nearly eight years – for an office of my own… and finally I have one!

Two weeks ago, I moved into Casa Moxie – and it’s been magnificent.

Not only because I now have my own space, and a proper routine, and can shut the door on work – but because it now means we can start sorting out the stone part of the house.

The room I’ve been working in for the past few years will become our library/snug/music room, and the room above it (once our bedroom) will become the most fabulous bathroom in the world.

But back to Casa Moxie. Let me show you what we did…

Log Cabin-Tastic

We spent a lot of time scouting around, reading endless articles, getting option paralysis, and eventually just staring at all the options in dismay – until my friend Dawn, who’s building her own house, told me about Keops. They’re building a three-bedroom house log cabin on the land they’ve bought.

Keops is a company that builds bespoke log cabins at much lower prices than you might think. Turns out, one of our neighbours lived in a big Keops cabin while he was building his house, and he showed us around it. His cabin is much bigger than what I needed, but it made my mind up, and I made an appointment to go and see them.

A few days later, and I’d paid the deposit and got organised. First task:

A Great Big Concrete Slab

Our neighbour Graham is a builder, so we asked him to lay our concrete slab. After a couple of days having adventures on our awkward steps to get everything up and in place, he did a brilliant job and the perfectly level slab was ready to go.

Preparation for the concrete slab

Filled with rubble and ready to go

Another bonus: we got rid of two dumpy bags full of rubble and crap, because Graham used it as hardcore. There’s something underneath that slab, too – some kind of void filled with larger bits and pieces. I like to think it’s an ancient Templar hidey-hole, and one day Things will burst forth from it. (Don’t worry, it’s perfectly solid and safe.)

Slab

Shiny!

We chopped back the trees to create enough vertical space, and pushed the bank back a little, and all we had to do was wait for the materials to be delivered…

Flat-Pack Office

It seems incredible that this:

Office materials by side of road

Flat-pack office

And this:

Insulation and OSB by side of house

Insulation and OSB

Could turn into this:

Office from up the bank

My office!

Isn’t it fab? And it went up in two days, which is incredible. The materials all come ready-made and ready to lock in together, then the workers fit it all like Lego, put the insulation in the roof and floor, lay the roof, fit the windows, then bugger off.

I made a time-lapse video:

And another:

Timelapse 2

Making It Weatherproof

We only had a few days to make it as weatherproof as possible before it started raining – and it hasn’t stopped since. About a month. Ugh.

Anyway, we treated the entire structure, inside and out, with Sadolin wood preserver, which didn’t take too long.

Then we painted the outside with Sadolin Classic weatherproof paint in gossamer blue. Or, that was the idea. We did about two-thirds of the outside before the weather defeated us and we got properly grumpy about the whole thing. It’s a really, really, REALLY dull job. So I’ve decided to pay an odd-job person to do it for me. It looks kinda patchy at the moment because it’s unfinished. It’ll look gorgeous when it’s done, though.

Side view of office showing painted portion

Part-painted building (the front is mostly done now)

We took the gutters off to paint the fascias, and they’re back on now. It was fun up on the roof – I took a panoramic pic of The Dingle:

View from the roof of the office

Roof-eye view of The Dingle

Going Indoors…

Time to go indoors for painting, floor-laying, and shelf-building.

I painted the walls in the main office in Little Greene’s French Gray Mid, and the details (skirting boards, window frames, door) in French Gray Pale:

Painted walls and skirting board

Beautiful walls!

In the kitchen alcove, I used Little Greene’s Edith’s Eye, which is a kind of yellow-green and I love it. The window frame and details are in French Gray Pale again:

Shelves and worksurfaces in kitchen alcove

My Tea Palace

I was going to have a little fridge in the kitchen, but for now I don’t need one. The water filter does a good job, I have a kettle, loads of different teas, and some funky mugs. Happy days.

Next step: laying the floors. I found the cheapest laminate flooring online I could, and I may live to regret it. We’ll see how long it lasts… it was great fun laying the underlay, because I got to imagine I was building a space station. It was also delightfully warm.

Rolls of gold underlay

Fun with underlay

Pretending the underlay is a space station

See? Space station

And then we laid the laminate floor on top. I suspect the more expensive, thicker laminate is easier to lay… but it wasn’t too bad and it looks great:

Mostly finished laying the floor

Lovely smooth floor

We boxed all the electrical wires inside the skirting board, and fixed the plug sockets just above on the wall. There are track lights running the length of the office, and a light inside the cupboard and in the kitchen alcove.

We’re fitting outside lights this weekend, because I’ve discovered that coming out of a bright office into the pitch-dark Dingle leads to face-planting down the stairs.

Being Thrifty

We left the cupboard as bare wood, partly because we were fed up of painting, but mostly because I wanted to leave some of the cabin in its natural state. It’s a fantastic great big cupboard that I’ve organised beautifully.

The shelves are all made from left-over cabin building materials, which makes me happy:

Shelves

Shelves

Tons of space :)

Tons of space :)

I have a solid worktop on each side of the office so I can package up books, do filing, and generally organise my stuff.

My whiteboard lives in the cupboard, too – as does my sewing machine and arty bits and pieces.

Making It Beautiful

Finally, I’ve made it into the stunning office I’ve always wanted! I still have a few pictures I want to frame and hang, and framed book covers to sort out, but it’s more-or-less there. And I have a giant squishy armchair arriving from IKEA tomorrow.

Here it is!

Decorated for Hallowe'en videos

Decorated for Hallowe’en videos

And here’s Flamingo Corner:

Neon flamingo light and potted plant

Flamingo Corner

My mail rack, complete with beautiful flamingo crocheted by my lovely friend Jenn:

Mail rack

Mail rack

My desk, complete with one of my absolute favourite things: my map of Ankh-Morpork:

Ankh-Morpork

Ankh-Morpork

And a little office-warming sheepy gift from my friend Dawn:

Rupert the Rainbow Sheep

Rupert the Rainbow Sheep

A noticeboard for helping me to choose curtain fabric – and to show off Sean D’Souza’s beautiful cartoons:

Choosing curtain fabric

Choosing curtain fabric

The most important thing of all: my bookcase. Complete with extra space for my pole-dancing and trapeze trophies :)

Treasure

Treasure

And a space for Noodle the Office Manager:

Noodle the Office Manager

Noodle the Office Manager

Investment

It was surprisingly inexpensive to build and fit out the office, and we suspect it’s already added more value to the house than I’ve spent on it. Here’s a breakdown – hopefully it’ll help if you’re thinking of building a home office.

  • Concrete slab = £2,145
  • Log cabin (including build) = £10,798
  • Wood treatments and paint = £395.28
  • Electrical, lighting, and decorating gubbins = £292.78
  • Flooring = £211.08
  • Kitchen worktop = £100
  • Furniture (desks, bookcases, chairs, sundries) = £1,630.72

Total cost (so far – and there won’t be much more to spend) = £15,583.36

I’m delighted with my new office. It’s very much an investment, and I’m already feeling the benefits – I’m much more focused, much less easily distracted, and I feel like a “proper” business owner now. It’s lovely to have the house back as ours, without me commandeering one of the rooms.

Next step: turn the stone portion of The Dingle into a bathroom and a library. Onwards!

Behold The Chicken Palace

Would you like to see the most over-engineered, elaborate chicken run door in the multiverse?

Of course you would.

Here it is:

The fanciest chicken run door latch ever

The fanciest chicken run door latch ever

You’ll note the piece of oak forming the latch. No cheap softwood for our girls. And that giant knob? I found it in a junk shop and was determined to make a door handle, then promptly forgot about it. Joe did not forget, and kept mocking me for leaving it lying around – so he turned it into a chicken run door handle.

We’re super-chuffed with our new Chicken Palace – and owe huge thanks to our lovely friend Jodie for gifting us the framework.

We chose a spot in the TinySheep paddock, at the back near the compost heap, and spent a couple of weekends moving several tonnes of earth. By hand.

It was bloody hard work, but when we’d done, we had a flat surface which we laid slabs on:

Slabs inside a framework

Easy-clean surface

We ran out of enthusiasm and couldn’t be bothered to dig out the stump, so we left that space in the middle for the hens to turn into a dust bath. They love it.

We covered the framework with weld mesh, zip-tied it all together, and left a skirt of around 18 inches around the edge. We’ll bury it under a few inches of soil and that should keep foxes and rats out.

When we first made the run and put our new ex-battery hens in, the new fancy coop from Solway Recycling hadn’t arrived yet. It being warm, we improvised with part of our Wobbly Scaffold Tower of Death and a tarpaulin:

Improvised chicken coop

Improv

It worked pretty well for a few days – and all the girls, new and old, are now settled in and getting on well. We now have eight hens: five new ones joined Peggy, Eggwina, and Yolko.

So far, only two of the new ones have names: Chuck Norris, because she looks like hell and is a total badass boss. And Gimpy, because she had a limp for the first week (she’s better now). Any name suggestions gratefully welcomed. Winners get free eggs.

New rescue chickens

New arrivals

Peggy and Chuck Norris face off

Peggy and Chuck Norris face off

It’s been a big couple of weeks for The Dingle animals, but it’s fantastic having them all in one place. We can let the hens out during the day with the TinySheeps, and nobody can escape. Everyone gets grass and fresh air, and everyone’s happy.

Especially us :)

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