Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Category: Attic (page 1 of 2)

Wiring Up The Attic Like A BOSS

Ancient houses bring interesting challenges, such as: how to deal with the wiring.

With a newer building, you just chase the wires into the wall and plaster over them, job done.

In an ancient structure, with exposed timbers and lath and plaster, and newer cork panels, and strong oak joists, it’s not that simple. You can’t wire through oak joists because they’re smaller than softwood ones, so there’s a risk of banging a nail into a live wire. Not a big risk, but the regs don’t like it.

And you don’t want to go chasing wires into walls when there are timbers in the way.

So what do you do?

You find the World’s Most Expensive Cable and the World’s Most Expensive Sockets and Switches, and you crack on.

Of Chalk And Saddle Clips

We started with chalk and marked out where we wanted the sockets, switches, and saddle clips for the cables. Don’t want any (more) expensive mistakes.

Chalk mark on timber

Deciding where to put sockets.

We didn’t put the sockets on the timber in the end, we put them on the plaster in the corner to the left of that X.

Chalk mark and saddle clip on timber

Marking saddle clip positions.

We made sure the saddle clips were spaced at regular distances (except when we had to wire around bends). This was exactly as fiddly and annoying as it looks like it was. I mangled many innocent tacks.

One Week Later

I now have a new respect for conservation sparkies.

I’ve never done anything so fiddly in my life. There was much swearing and gnashing of teeth – but we’re delighted with the results. Here’s what we did.

We took the 2.5 twin-and-earth wire (beautifully braided in old gold and a special order from the fabulous chaps at Flexform) from the junction box, into and out of four sockets, through the panel, and along the front of the mezzanine. When we’ve finished plastering, we’ll take pics. It’s actually pretty neat and tidy and it looks fab.

However, it was not as easy as it sounds: there are no straight lines in this house, so we followed the lines of the timber. It’s a work of art and it took hours.

Wiring and timbers

Wiry Art

You might be wondering why there’s a cheap-ass black plastic back-box on that there wall. Good question. Especially when you find out these beautiful bashed antiqued brass sockets go on top:

Antique brass sockets

Glorious sockets

We chose one with USB ports and three standard double sockets, all from Jim Lawrence. They’re beautiful but super expensive. With brass back-boxes too, we wouldn’t have been eating this month. The black ones are barely visible unless you know they’re there…

Which, of course, we do. So I’m going to replace them one by one, when Joe isn’t looking.

One of the sockets has turned out to have a faulty switch, but the woman at Jim Lawrence couldn’t have been more helpful. They’re sending a replacement next week. The others work perfectly.

When we turned on the ring main, with Joe working his way along the fusebox switch by switch, it was just like that scene out of Jurassic Park. Not even kidding.

Fuse box scene from Jurassic Park

Scenes from The Dingle earlier today.

Two Weeks Later

Mum and dad came over for the day and brought soup and an extra pair of hands.

Joe and Dad and I got cracking on the lighting circuit. We’re putting three pendant lamps in the attic bedroom and one pendant lamp in the double-height hallway above the stairs.

There will be two switches in the bedroom – one for the bedroom lights and one for the hallway light – and one switch on the first floor, for the hallway light.

Normal lighting wire for moving volts around is three-core (two plus earth) 0.75mm. Wire to the switches is four-core (three plus earth).

We tacked them up the oak doorway frame and into an oak pattress, then into gorgeous antique brass dolly switches thusly:

Braided cable on oak frame


Chalk marking the pattress position

Chalk marking the pattress position

Dolly switches

Dolly Parton switches (because they’re so pretty)

That earth tape is to mark which switch is which. The bottom switch – the one marked with the tape – works the attic bedroom lights. The top switch works the hallway light.

Or they will, when the lights arrive…

Always Be Learning…

The great thing about this is, I knew nothing about electrics before we started this. In fact, I feared the electrical world. Joe understands electrics, because he has his 17th Edition.

(Yes, we’ll need to get an electrician to certify everything when we’ve finished the house.)

I now understand how to wire a ring main, how to wire a lighting circuit, how to wire sockets and switches and lamps. In fact, I’ve done all these things in the last three weeks. That’s pretty damn cool.

Behold The Very Tiny Wall In The Attic

When the new amaze-stairs went in, we were left with some pretty triangular strut-work above the truss, and two big gaps below, one on either side of the stairs.

Gap between oak truss and floor on 2nd floor.

It’s an ‘ole. Needs filling.

So we got down to filling them.

Wooden battens inside the hole frame

Framing the big ‘ole.

Cork panel from below

Lovely tidy cork panel

Like the gable end wall,  we used the cork panels and lime-cork-hemp plaster-glue to stick them together. We’ve only done one so far, because the builders will need to use the other hole to fit the last floor joists and we don’t want to do the job only to have it damaged. We’re pretty quick at doing this panelling now anyway, so it won’t take long.

Joe lime-plastering the new cork panel

Scratch coat of lime plaster.

Then we got the scratch coat of lime plaster on.

It’s made a big difference to the feel of the attic bedroom already.

Under The Eaves

While we were there and had the gloop made up, we turned our attention to the gaps under the eaves. Here’s where we made a mistake a year or so ago.

When we got overexcited about the attic ceiling panels we’d fitted, we rushed ahead to get them plastered with lime by the expert chaps at PlasLime. They did a great job, exactly what we’d asked for… oh, if only we’d thought it through properly.

At the time, we didn’t know what we were going to do about wiring up the attic, so we asked them to leave a couple of inches gap at the bottom between the sloping ceiling and the supporting timber.

Turns out, we’re mounting all the wiring on the surface using The Most Expensive Wire In The World. So we didn’t need those gaps… and now we need to fill them. Doh.

So we did.

We’re using offcuts of cork:

Cork slivers

Waste not, want not

And stuffing them into the eaves gaps with the cork-hemp-lime-plaster gloop:

Filling gaps with cork

Filling gaps

That gap beneath the timber is annoying. When we put the new windows in, the wall panel above slipped down a little. We need to kick it out and replace it anyway because it’s brick, and we want to cork it, but still…

Then Joe got up on a ladder (I don’t do ladders because they are HORRIFYING) and wobbled around filling more gaps until the gloop ran out:

Joe up a ladder filling gaps

Precarious gap-filling

Plastering: The Final Coat

Finally, we decided to have a go at putting the posh top coat of lime plaster onto one of the gable-end wall panels:

Putting the top coat on

Putting the top coat on

Joe’s done a really lovely job. It needs a little sanding and finishing, but it looks great:

Smooth top coat of lime plaster

Looking smooth!

Coming up next: Tiny Sheep Agility Training!

Predictable Delays But Awesome Stairs

So, somewhat predictably, we weren’t in the new attic bedroom by Christmas.

But our new stairs are up and they look magnificent.

We’re completely delighted with them – not least because they came in £3,000 under budget. Which should give you some idea of how extravagant they were.

But we wanted solid oak, we wanted them to look beautiful and feel beautiful, and that doesn’t come cheap. Nor would we want it cheap.

Still, three grand lighter is a result!

Wanna see them?

Here they are:

View looking up stairs

Magnificent new door frame

And beneath the stairs, we’re going to panel the slope with wine crate lids, then build a cupboard door at the bottom for a little storage:

View under the new stairs

A little secret storage

We’re really pleased with the new floor, too.

Obviously we decorated the stairs with fairy lights for Christmas…

Stairs with fairy lights

Twinkle twinkle little bat

View down the stairs

Twinkle down the stairs

And they pass the Noodle Inspection:

Cow-print cat on stairs

Noodle gives the stairs a good sniffing

We gave the stairs two coats of Osmo oil to protect them, and they’re just about done.

Ken is coming back after the New Year to fit the final floor joists and fix the ugly bracket, and then we can lay the floor, which we’re doing ourselves.

In the meantime… it’s full electrics ahead!

Exciting Times At The Dingle!

The stairs are here! The stairs are here!

After months of waiting and delays, I am writing this with Noodle purring on my knee, listening to our new oak staircase being fitted upstairs.


Because, you see, when the stairs are up, we can get up to the attic properly and finish off the room. Things we’ll be able to do:

  • Finish the plastering onto the beams.
  • Fit electrics and beautiful lighting.
  • Lay an oak floor.
  • Move our bed up there.
  • Choose some gorgeous furniture.
  • Find an amaze-rug.
  • Fit glass panels to the oak structure.
  • Have a proper beautiful bedroom for the first time in nearly three years.

We really really REALLY want to be able to move in up there by Christmas. We have guests for New Year and we’ve promised them a bedroom instead of a sofa bed, so that’s our goal…

In the meantime, here are the stairs in bits:

Stair parts on props

All fitted together and ready for takeoff.

Oak pieces for stairs

Bits of stairs, newell posts, and other assorted gubbins.

Backside of the stairs.

Backside of the stairs.

Not sure what this bit is.

Not sure what this bit is.

The stairs are going to go up as we enter the first floor, then turn and go straight up to the attic.

Ken the Wonder Joiner is going to chop out a big piece of oak truss (eep) to create a new doorway, then rearrange the oak props and beams so the roof doesn’t fall off.

We also need a new patch of floor around where the stairs will sit, because the beautiful old oak floor you can see in the pictures above is patched where there used to be a staircase from below.

We’ll do pictures when we get to that.

Right now, we’re too excited about the prospect of stairs…

Skellington Floors

It’s been a while, but things are moving on. Fish has created a skeleton floor with the new oak beams — which are gorgeous — and new oak joists.

We were going to go for cheaper softwood joists and cover them, but Fish managed to find some green oak that was pretty much the same price, so we’re dead chuffed. They look great.

Oak beams and joists and a temporary platform

New oak beams and joists in the skeleton floor

In the process, Fish created Mount Dustmore:

A pile of sawdust fenced in with an offcut

Mount Dustmore

There’s space for a final joist once the holes in the wall are fixed:

Gap between joist and wall

Room for a little one

So that’s where we are for now. We’ve still not decided on a final floor plan — we need the architect for that — but the windows are hopefully going into the front of the cottage before the end of May. I’ve got some paint test pots from Little Greene, so I’m pretty impatient…

We’ve got no floors and big ‘oles in the wall

Crivens. Well, quite a lot of destruction has happened over the past week. And quite a lot of discussion, as we realised we really ought to have put more thought into details like windows.

But let’s start at the beginning. Fun on the scaffolding, because obviously if we have scaffolding outside the house it becomes an aerial playground for Vicky (and her giant clown feet):

Pole move on scaffold

Bustin’ a move

Anyway — the scaffolding went up, and so did the acroprops in the living room. To stop the house falling down when they took the old, not-substantial-enough beams out from the attic floor.

Acroprops in the living room

Holding the house up

Then things escalated real fast and suddenly we had no ceiling in the wonky room. And decided that we were going to leave part of the upstairs double-height, where the stairs go up to the attic, because it looks amazing. Proper “wow”.

No ceiling double-height room

That escalated fast…

And the final Big Thing: we have two big ‘oles in the front of the cottage:

No more winking...

No more winking…

I’m a little sad because the house is no longer winking at us. But the good thing is: we’ll have loads of light in the wonky room. Until now, it’s been a great big room with two tiny little windows — basically a big dark cave. We’re having two big windows at the front, and we don’t know what’s going to happen with the back yet.

But that led to a discussion about windows.

Originally, we wanted cottage windows with 6 panels, but Fish reckoned that wouldn’t let enough light in. He suggested duplex bars to fake it. I turned my nose up, because I don’t like faking things… but when I had a look at a load of pictures, cottage windows with little panels fit our Dingle best. And you can’t really tell the fake bars are fake. So… that’s what we’re going for.

They’re going to be hardwood we can paint.

Now to find some monkeytail fasteners and stays…


The Mysterious Plumbing of Dingle

Now Christmas is over and everything’s back to normal, we decided we’d better get back to work in The Dingle. Next stop is the stairs and floor, and we still have some way to go before we’re ready for that – not least of which was getting rid of the header tank inconveniently located in the attic.

Header Tank

You can see how we wouldn’t want a water tank dripping away next to our bed, right?

Now, we weren’t entirely sure what this header tank was doing. We’d done some cursory investigations and come up stumped. So my first suggestion was to just take it out and move it into the Stone Attic.

Then Bill the plumber came round to service the Rayburn and I diverted him up to the attic instead to have a look. After some sleuthing, we figured out it was feeding the shower in the ground-floor shower room. That room will eventually be knocked down with the rest of the lean-to additions, but for now we kinda need a shower.

The hot was fed from the hot water tank in what’s currently our bedroom (the Stone Room) and cold couldn’t come off the mains because the pressure was too high. We’d just get cold water if we did that.

So we went and bought a pressure valve, some plastic pipe (temporary measures, remember!), and some courage.

Joe set to work manfully and discovered two things. Firstly, an old pub sign was repurposed as a shower room wall panel, which is ingenious – we’ve found loads of brilliant repurposing in the house so far:

Repurposed wall panel

Repurposed wall panel

Secondly, the plumbing is interesting. There are many water feeds to different places.

  1. Mains cold water to the sink tap.
  2. Cold water to the shower from the header tank.
  3. Hot water pipe #1 to the shower.
  4. Hot water pipe #2 to the hot sink tap.

I took a picture:

Many plumbing

Many plumbing

It seems like it evolved organically. Like mushrooms.

The answer was to cut out some bits of batten here and there so we could take mains cold water from the existing pipe and route it up that blank wall with lots of mystery holes in it, and around to the shower, then add a pressure valve, like so:

High-quality bodgery

High-quality bodgery

Then we (well, I say “we”. I was working. I actually mean Joe) put it all back together and ta-da! We have a working shower and no bloody header tank in the attic! This feels like real progress for the first time since the plastering went on.

I’m seriously impressed with Joe because he’s never done any plumbing before and he confessed he was a little nervous about “flooding the entire house and village and planet”. I knew he’d be fine because I’ve done a little simple plumbing before, but I wanted to watch him flapping.

Speaking of flapping…

Here’s a little bonus for you. I heard strange noises coming from attic, so I went to investigate. Here is what I discovered…


We Got Plastered!

It’s now been two weeks since the plasterers left us with a totally transformed space. The photos don’t really do it justice, because it looks absolutely stunning:

Plastered 1 Plastered 2 Plastered 3

We’re going to leave it for a few months – probably until summer – before we paint it. Advice was to leave it a year, but my level of impatience is too high for that, so we’re compromising at 8 months.

We’ll be using clay-based paint designed to go onto lime plaster, so there’ll probably be lots of posts about which colours we like and how we can’t decide.

Next job in the attic is to finish sanding and oiling the timbers. We need to lightly sand all the timbers, in fact, to take the plaster off.

Then we’ll be putting in the electrics. Yes, yes, we should have done all that before the plasterers arrived but things got on top of us and we got overexcited about the plastering. So we’ll be looking for surface-mount LED spotlights for the ceiling, and using that gorgeous old-fashioned braided flex for the wiring that’ll be exposed.

After Christmas – if we’ve got enough cash! – we’ll be getting the window in the wonky room knocked back in and the 8″x8″ beams installed to reinforce the attic floor.

We got John and his team from PlasLime to come and do the work, and they were brilliant. A total delight to have around the place, and really careful about keeping everything as clean and tidy as possible. We were pleasantly surprised at how little dust there was.

The bill was huge… but it was totally worth it. Beans on toast until springtime.

Getting Plastered

So, after all the mess and preparation and planning and mind-changing, we’re finally getting plastered.

The lads turned up on Friday – proper lovely chaps they are too – and proceeded to put the scratch layer of lime plaster on the walls and ceiling in the attic.

Joe and I are feeling quite smug because John, the master plasterer, kept saying what a beautiful job we’d done of the insulation and gap filling. Here’s what the attic looked like on Saturday morning – it’s already taking shape, and it’s certainly more echoey now.

We had some good hollow booming voices going on.

So, this is the gable end that adjoins the stone part of the house. They’ve put an extra layer on that centre panel because the brickwork was a bit of a mess where the chimney goes up the wall. So they’ve built it out to tidy it up.

Gable end 1 scratch

The other gable end. There’s still daylight under that tape, but not for much longer!

The plasterers are using special insulating lime plaster, which is not as good as using proper insulation, but is much better than just plastering onto a single skin brick wall. So it’s a decent compromise to keep the timbers on display, but not freeze to death in winter.

I guess we shall see!

Gable end 2 scratch

And the guys have tidied the windows up – which makes a big difference:

Window prep

So, today they’ve been putting some of the top layer of lime plaster on and they reckon they’ll be done tomorrow. It already looks absolutely fab. I was beginning to doubt whether we’d really end up with a lovely room, but we totally will.

I’ll update in a few days with the finished article, before we paint it…

But in the meantime, our living room has become a serial killer’s kill room. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Dexter, but…

Kill room


But surprisingly effective at keeping the worst of the chill out of my office. Hopefully tomorrow, we’ll be dust free for a little while…

We Have No Walls Upstairs

It’s been all go here at The Dingle over the past couple of weeks. We’ve finished installing the eco-friendly insulating boards in the attic

~ (and, by the way, the professional lime plasterer who came around to give us a quote today said, “Who did this? It’s absolutely excellent. Some of the best I’ve seen.” *proud*) ~

and got Fish our joiner around to make a decision about the floor.

We didn’t so much get on with the floor as rip out everything on the first floor. From this, with the not-original dodgy stud wall:

Before, with the dodgy stud wall...

Before, with the dodgy stud wall…

To this. A big mess:

Just a wide open space...

Just a wide open space…

Now we’ve got all that space, we’ve got more options. So, here’s what we’re definitely going to do before we move up into the attic:

  • Take out the two beams supporting the attic floor. They were never meant to support a “proper” room, and according to the buildings guy who came round with Fish, were probably wall timbers supporting struts for lath and plaster before they became our ceiling.
  • Install two 8in x 8in oak beams to support the floor.
  • Knock out the “winking” panel so we can install said beams, and put in a new oak-frame window at the same time.
  • Maybe install new oak floor joists – the buildings guy said it’s not essential, but if it were his house he would do it. So we’re going to get a quote and see how much it’d add to the bill. We’d like to do it proper-like.
  • Move the stairs. The new hand-made oak stairs were going to go in the same place as the old ones, but it makes more sense now we’ve opened up the space to have them go up from the corner, more or less where the downstairs stairs come up.

So that’s all structural stuff we’ve to do, to make the building sound. All good, and it means we get a window into the Wonky Room so we’ll have more light.

Fish suggested we could put the bathroom into the Stone Room, which has given us something else to consider… It’d be an amazing huge bathroom, and I could  put a roll-top bath right in the middle, as well as a big walk-in shower…

We really need to sit down with pen and paper and decide on the layout upstairs – and how it’s going to relate to downstairs when we build the new kitchen at the back.

Anyway. In the meantime, we’ve discovered some treasures:

Old papers lining the plasterboard between the ceiling joists – from 1949 and 1950

Old papers lining the plasterboard between the ceiling joists – from 1949 and 1950

I’m going to save a couple of these panels, the ones in best condition, and varnish them and turn them into a little treasure. Same with some of the crazy wallpaper we’ve lost with the stud walls. I’d like to keep a little reminder of what was here before us.

And a rats’ nest:

Thankfully they moved out...

Thankfully they moved out…

Okay, so perhaps that’s not a treasure. And thankfully it’s an old abandoned nest. No rats here. But you can see the horizontal slots in the ceiling beam, which are odd – hence the idea they were once wall supports. And the beam itself isn’t sturdy enough, really, to support a floor. It’s like a trampoline up there…

There's a bit of a bend on this one...

There’s a bit of a bend on this one…

We’re leaving this timber in place. Partly because it’s so wonky I don’t know how we’d replace it. It’s aces. But mostly because when you jump up and down on it, it barely moves. We’re going to replace those supports with something beautiful though.

We had a quote today from a lime plastering expert, and it looks like we can get the attic plastered before Christmas which will be brilliant.

He’s solved the freezing wall problem – there’s some insulating lime plaster that gives you a “pillow” effect, so we can expose the timbers but still keep some of the chill off the wall. Looks like we’re looking at about £50 a square metre, which seems pretty standard from what I can find out.

Exciting stuff :)

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