Project Dingle

Restoring an old cottage...

Category: walls (page 1 of 2)

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!

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…

Strip Some Wallpaper, She Said

As several years’ worth of rain has fallen in the past week, we decided against knocking a hole in the front of the house today.

(Of course, it’s been sunny all day so we could have done the wall panel in the end.)

Instead, we fired up the wallpaper steam stripper, opened the windows in the Stone Room, and got stripping.

A Little Background

The Stone Room is the Victorian addition to the house. It’s a square, solid stone, two-storey structure stuck onto the left-hand side of the original house. It’s offset slightly too – it protrudes about four feet to the front of the house, presumably because of the shape of the banks behind the house. But who knows.

There used to be a window in the front until the 1950s (we think), then the previous owner filled it in. We haven’t decided whether or not to reinstate it yet, but we’ll definitely be rebuilding the in-fill because it looks a mess from the outside and we’d rather it blends in.

The Stone Room was our bedroom until a month or so ago, when we moved up into The Beautiful Attic. It’s going to become our huge, decadent bathroom.

There’s a small-ish window in the back, looking up the garden, and a tiny window in the side.

Small windows

We’re going to make the window on the left bigger

We have plans to make the back window much bigger and take it down to the floor so Vicky can lie in the bath and look up the garden.

Saturday Stripping

Before any of that happens, though, we need to strip the room back to its bones. We’ll need to replace the floor so it can take the weight of a bathtub (and, you know, people) and we’ll need to replace the ceiling because it’s a bit of a horror show.

Also, the roof leaks and the roof space is dark and full of terrors.

Awful mess

The Stone Room roof space is dark and full of terrors

We also wanted to investigate the impression on the far wall – you can see where there was once a fireplace. We’re not holding out much hope, but you never know… We’ll probably put one back when we start making the room beautiful.

Before beauty, though, comes The Great Horror.

We stripped all the structural anaglypta wallpaper off…

Stripper Joe

Stripper Joe

And we found some cool remnants of old pretty wallpaper:

Archaeological wallpaper

Archaeological wallpaper

That Escalated Fast…

And knocked some bloody great holes in the wall. Which was exciting.

Turns out there’s just random bricks shoved into the old fireplace, and we can still see the firebox and firebrick. Nothing pretty though.

A lot of plaster came off with the wallpaper, so we thought, “Sod it, let’s see what the stone walls are like.”

Turns out, the interior stone wall is in pretty good shape. It’ll need repointing and whatnot, but we may make it a feature stone wall and limewash it.

Big mess

Feature wall, yes?

The rest of the walls, we’ll repoint then insulate with cork boards (probably) and lime plaster. We may put some wood panelling up. No idea yet. Watch this space!

Creatures On The Ceiling

One thing we will miss about sleeping in that room is our Ceiling Creature Companions. When we had the timbers sandblasted, it created some interesting shapes on the plasterboard. Like this velociraptor:

The velociraptor

The velociraptor

And this kingfisher:

The Kingfisher

The Kingfisher

Anyway – having made a mahoosive mess, we’re done for the day. Tomorrow will be more of the same if the weather is wet, or we’ll knock a great big hole in the front of the house again.

Paint and Oil

The attic is almost done! The attic is almost done!

We’ve spent the Easter weekend painting the attic walls and ceiling in Flutterby clay paint by Earthborn. It’s delightful stuff: goes on easily and dries super-fast and looks gorgeous. Putting it on with a roller, it retains most of the lime plaster texture.

Then we oiled all the exposed timber with Osmo Polyx Oil – same as we used for the floor.

Doesn’t it look beautiful:

Vicky sitting on the floor oiling the timbers

Freshly painted and mid-Osmo

We still have to put skirting board up – but we’re getting Ken to come and take a look. He’s making us a door, too. And we’re getting some architectural glass to fit over the frame at the end. But other than that… we’re almost done.

We’d have been moving into the bedroom tomorrow if we’d read an email properly.

The bed-frame we have now is gorgeous, so we’re moving it up to the attic. But the mattress is pretty aged, so we bought a new one from Emma – it was 35% off and is rated as the UK’s best mattress, so we’re pretty chuffed with that. Paid extra for fast Saturday delivery, thinking it’d arrive Easter Saturday… only on checking the email, it said delivery for Saturday 27, which is too late. So I’m waiting for them to call me and rearrange delivery and give me my extra delivery cash back.

We’re so excited because we also have brand new duvet and pillows made from Merino wool, and gorgeous new bed linen from Cologne & Cotton.

And we have a chair, which I’m going to reupholster in some amazing fabric.

Tomorrow, I shall start making the attic cosy.

And we’re fitting the most magnificent light above the stairs…

Happy sunny Easter, Dingle fans :)

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!

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.

Our Crumbling Sole Plate

So, of all the things you want to happen when you knock all the bricks out of one of your wall panels and open a gaping hole to the outside world, this isn’t one of them…

(Parental advisory: Joe swears)

The first course of our house is stone. The timber-frame part sits on top of that stone. Once upon a time, there was an oak sole plate sitting on top of the stone wall – a massive long piece of timber forming the bottom of the frame.

Then, someone put a concrete sill on top of that timber, fixing it to the wall. You can see it in the next photo – it was covered in lead flashing. There’s a red arrow pointing to it.

Crazy man in orange jumpsuit stares at wall

Joe peels back the lead flashing to reveal… CONCRETE DOOM

Unfortunately, concrete destroys timber. It literally dissolves it: it pulls water in, and holds it there, so the timber rots. And you end up with this:

Rotten timber

Rotted timber woe

The wood has crumbled to nothing next to the upright, which is pretty rotted too. Luckily, there’s still a little solid wood in there. The sole plate is dead though. We pulled it to shreds with our bare hands.

The face of woe: holding the rotten sole plate

We both wore this face for a good hour

I sent a panicked text message to Ken, who is a conservation timber expert and master carpenter, and who will be doing all our oak work… but it was Saturday, so we really didn’t expect to hear from him, which is fair enough.

Every time a car went by, we got all excited in case it was Ken. We really, really wanted a grownup to tell us what to do next.

But in the absence of any grownups, we decided to take care of it. After all, we couldn’t really live with a 1.5m by 1m hole in the house for several days.

Ideally, we’d have waited and got Ken to replace the whole sole plate with a piece of timber the length of the wall, but that wasn’t an option. So we decided to do the best we could, fully expecting Ken would pull it out and do the job properly within the next few weeks.

We have loads of old oak lying around from when we ripped the attic floor out, and Joe found this piece, which we cut down to size. We cut a notch out to sit around the second upright:

New old oak

A likely-looking candidate

Then we cleared out all the old concrete and timber splinters and rot, and took the stone wall back to as clean as we could:

Sole-less

Sole-less

Loose stones on the top of the wall

Loose stones on the top of the wall

Those two stones up there are just sitting loose, so we took them out, cleaned them up, and then laid a bed of limecrete to sit them in. This was Vicky’s first ever go at building a stone wall. It’s only two stones, but it counts:

Lime bed for the stones

Lime bed for the stones

We bedded the two loose stones back in, then laid another thick bed of lime on top for the new-old timber to sit in. We squeezed plenty of it into the corners, too, because there wasn’t really any support in there before. Then we laid the new timber thusly:

New sole plate with batten frame, ready for corking

New sole plate with batten frame, ready for corking

We scrambled to get the cork panels in place as before, and frankly weren’t really sure whether we’d done the right thing.

Well, Ken popped by today (Sunday) and had a quick look – and said we’d done really well. Obviously he’d have taken the whole lot out at once and replaced a whole new piece, but he said what we’ve done is perfectly adequate. He’ll make us a fake peg to hide that wood screw, then put a new timber in for the rest of the wall length.

We might ask him just to do the entire length so it’s “proper”… we’ll see.

Either way, we’re pretty chuffed with ourselves. And now the temperature is up again, the lime should be fine.

All in all, an exciting weekend… so we celebrated with mountains of Mexican food and Black Panther at the cinema. Chin chin!

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