Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Category: insulation

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.

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 :)

Plastering and all that

On the first floor, we have the gable-end wall that we’ve posted about earlier in the blog. There were 8 big rectangular panels of soggy bricks in a very old oak frame.

We’ve kicked the bricks out, replaced them with lovely cork (which is light, breathable, renewable, insulating, and basically perfect for the job).

Externally that’s had a scratch coat put on it, but does ned a second coat of lime to add a bit more weatherproofing and make it look pretty.  While this was going on, Ken Milloy, our splendid heritage timber man from Ludlow replaced the rotten sole plate and added a couple of repairs to the frame. I’d link to his website, but he’s a bit oldschool for that.

plaster 1

Internally, it’s getting

a couple of layers of hemp lime (that’s lime plaster with chopped up hemp in it).

The hemp does good things ; it adds strength to the mix, just like adding fibres does. It also reduces the weight of the plaster, which is nice for both  the wall and the plasterer.

Yesterday we knocked up about 20kg of it, and I squashed it onto the wall.  Knocking up is the process of mixing the plaster to get energty into it, and it loosens up the mix and makes it easier to handle and spread around. We also added about a litre of water to it, to loosen it further, as it was pretty chewy and I couldn’t really spread it.

It’s unlikely that the finish will end up looking the same as the rest of the attic, so we’ll probably whitewash all the plasterwork to standardise the apearance internally.  Once the surface of the first layer was about where I wanted it to be – something between 3mm and 10mm, we pressed a mesh into it. The mesh adds further strength to the layer, and will hopefully prevent cracking later on.

It was fairly hard work – both the mixing and the applying, but the end result looks ok to me.

I find jobs like this look terrible when you’re doing them, you’re so up close and examining every aspect of what you’re doing. If you go away and look at it an hour later you suddenly realise it’s fine, and it actually looks good. Almost like someone who knows what they’re doing has done it.  Almost.

plaster2

Next weekend we’ll hopefully get a few more panels done, if my blisters have subsided by then..

All the materials for this wall have been supplied by Ty-Mawr Lime, who have been hugely generous with their time and advice.  If you’re thinking of doing something like this, I’d really reccommend talking to them.

A Big Big Hole…

And yea verily did the weather gods decide these two idiots had pushed their luck far enough…

Idiot on scaffold tower in snow. Other idiot taking photo.

Putting up a new wall panel in an actual blizzard

A mere 10 minutes before this, the sun was shining and we were cracking on. You can’t really tell from this photograph, but it was the beginnings of an actual blizzard. Then it matured into more of a blizzard. Then we decided to call it a day…

But what are we up to? Good question.

Over Christmas, we both got frustrated at the lack of progress we’d made, so we made a plan. A 12-week plan to replace all the wet brick panels in the gable end wall. We’re on schedule.

Joe did a lime-plastering course at Ty Mawr, and learned all manner of useful and interesting things – such as, we can replace the bricks with cork panels. Originally, it would have been wattle and daub, and elsewhere in the house there are still a couple of panels knocking around. We’ll leave them be. But this wall is not original infill and it’s soaking wet, and we’re freezing, so cork it is. It works well with lime, is eco-friend, and is super-easy to use – and fairly inexpensive.

At the moment, costs are at around £800, which is massively less expensive than getting actual grownups to do it for us. But where’s the fun in that?

Okay, so here’s what we did. This is week 2, we did the first panel a couple of weeks ago. Here’s our neat stack of materials – EcoCork insulation boards, big plastic washers to fix them to the frame, and various screws.

A massive pile of cork panels

A massive pile of cork panels

We chose cork because it’s natural and renewable (it’s extracted from the cork-oak tree every nine years). It’s breathable, chemical-free, no synthetic resins or carcinogens. It has a low thermal conductivity so it’s very energy efficient. When we put our hand on the new cork panel in the wall, and the other hand on the old brick and plaster panel, the difference in temperature is remarkable.

We also had bags of ADHERE Vit lime adhesive to stick the boards together. And lime plaster and sand for the scratch coat.

The chaps at Ty Mawr advised us to seal the gaps between the frame and the original timber, just to stop water getting between them and festering. To do that, we’ve used Orcon F sealant, which is eco-friendly and suitable for all the stuff we’re doing.

Before…

Inside of the gable end wall before renovations

It’s a bit of a mess…

The outside of the gable end wall, before renovations

It’s a bit soggy…

Note the terrifying and shaky aluminium tower of doom (Vicky’s Christmas present from Joe. Vicky does not have a massive life insurance policy) and the horrifying ladder of death.

We made a cup of tea, had a think, and decided we’d better get on with it. Only one way forwards: we had to knock a mahoosive hole in the side of the house. So we did. It was an alarming thing to do, just in case you’re wondering. Especially in January.

Alarmed face as we push the bricks out

The face says it all, really

Carefully knocking bricks out

Carefully knocking wet bricks out

Massive hole in wall

Not a window

That little blue blob to the right of Joe? That’s bubble wrap and foam packing, from where we accidentally knocked a little hole in the wall before Christmas. Why not start there? Good question. Because the timber horizontal above it needs replacing, and Ken’s not available just yet.

Next up: we took the top layers of woodwormy, rotten timber off the original frame, sanded it smooth, and brushed the dust off.

Original timber frame ready for sanding

Sanding the top layer off

Then we fitted a timber batten frame inside the original oak frame, screwing the battens in.

Fixing a timber batten frame

Fixing a timber batten frame

And finally sealed the gaps between the new batten frame and the original oak.

Frame sealed and ready for cork

Frame sealed and ready for cork

Then we fitted the cork boards onto the frame. This is a 20mm thick board, fitted inside the batten frame and screwed onto it.

Cork board screwed into frame

First layer of cork goes on

New cork wall panel

New wall panel!

It fits neatly inside the timber frame, with a few millimetres all around for the lime plaster to push into.

Joe on the tower outside the house

Ready for the next layer

Vicky up a tower putting cork adhesiveon

Slapping the cork adhesive on

The next layer goes on outside – another 20mm thick board. We fix it using the cork-lime adhesive, which we mix in a big bucket, and apply like lime plaster.

Then another layer goes on top of that – a 40mm thick board.

So all in all, the new cork wall panel is 80mm thick. We’ll be lime plastering over the top of that.

The first coat is just a scratch coat of lime, because we’ll be sandblasting the external timbers and the stone wall in the summer. Then the final coats of lime plaster and limewash will go on later this year.

Newly plastered wall panel

Newly plastered wall panel

We’ll no longer need that lead flashing, because it’ll all be watertight. No more water pouring down the walls…

The second panel was a little tricker, as you can see…

Not a square frame

Not a square frame

Joe's amazing frame bodge from one of our new oak offcuts

Joe’s amazing frame bodge from one of our new oak offcuts

Apart from the blizzard, it’s been an epic couple of weekends. We’ve made great progress and we’re having tons of fun :)

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