Restoring an old cottage...

Category: preparations (Page 1 of 3)

Walls on Top of Walls

The room that will become our bathroom is on the first floor of the Victorian stone portion of the house. The stone walls have been lime plastered in the past, patched with gypsum plaster, and then skimmed with gypsum, painted, wallpapered, painted again, and generally added to over the years.

As we’ve taken layers of wallpaper and paint off, we’ve had a bit of a conundrum: plaster has come off in places too, which is pretty common in old houses. Plus the tops of the walls, where they disappear into the ceiling, were a right mess.

Old walls with plaster crumbling

Messy messy walls

What to do?

Do we patch the holes and skim over?

Pull all the plaster off and start again from scratch, filling in all the big holes?

Or do we build a new set of walls inside the old walls, leaving the surfaces as-is, and have a more-or-less square room?

Vicky was in favour of pulling the whole lot off and starting again; Joe was in favour of building a framework inside the walls.

In the end, when faced with the magnitude—and dusty mess—of basically pulling down the walls, we decided to batten the walls and put up wood-wool panels ready to take lime plaster.

Battens going into the wall to hold the wood-wool panels

Battens going into the wall to hold the wood-wool panels

Our main concern was losing too much room area by effectively bringing in all the walls by a couple of inches each—but it’s a large room.

How We Did It

We bought a whole bunch of 38 x 18 mm battens from B&Q, and fastened them to the walls as a frame. We measured the frame so that the wood-wool panels from Ty-Mawr would fit neatly to them.

This was actually a monumental pain in the butt because it involved masonry drills and not really knowing whether or not any of our plans would actually work…

Writing on wall reads: Vicky + Joe made this bathroom Winter 2021. It was both fun and a right pain in the arse. S0 WHY HAVE U TAKEN OUR WALLS DOWN?

We really did have a right old time with this

We piloted through the battens to prevent them splitting, then used a masonry drill bit to put holes through the plaster and into the solid stone of the wall.

This proved super-irritating because quite often we’d miss a stone, or it would shift, or the gods of renovations would just be in a bad mood that day. It was a trying time.

Once the holes were drilled, though, we screwed the battens into the walls using 120mm concrete screws. That frame is solid as a very solid thing.

We were genuinely worried we were not going to be able to find anything to work on those walls, and that we would end up having to pull all the wall surfacing down and start again. Thankfully, though, the screws held and we were able to start fixing the wood-wool panels thusly:

Wall, battens, and the first wood-wool panel screwed into the bottom of the wall

First panel goes on

These lining panels are simply screwed into the battens using wood screws and big plastic washers to spread the load and prevent the screws being pulled through the panel. They’ll take lime plaster beautifully. The room already looks vastly different:

Room’s looking swish and ready for plastering

Room’s looking swish and ready for plastering

Looking much tidier

Looking much tidier

One of things we’re pleased with is the main window, which was a right mess. The window “ceiling” was pretty much open to the eaves and we were losing loads of heat, so we stuffed a bunch of insulation up there, then built a mini-frame with battens to hold the wood-wool. We had to make wedges because the window slopes backwards, and we needed to leave as much of the oak windowframe visible as possible to allow as much light in as we could:

IMG_6482

Then we fixed the wood-wool panels and now a multitude of horrors are hidden, the wind no longer whistles in, and it’s tidy tidy tidy:

Fully paneled window return

Look at that! Out of sight, out of mind…

We’re pretty chuffed with the result and we’re excited to see how the plastering goes.

The room still feels pretty large for a bathroom, it’s much warmer, much more soundproof, and it’s definitely going to be easier to work with.

We’re getting quotes for plastering to be done for us because we don’t fancy plastering the ceiling and dealing with the loft hatch. The plan is to have softly rounded plaster around the window frames, and oak windowsills, which we’ll need to install before any plastering is done.

Then we’ll be creating a waterproof shower cubicle by building a stud wall and lining it with specialist tiling wall panels and a ceiling panel that are all fully waterproof—then tiling it.

More on that next week…

Oh—and also!

Ken came along and built us a new doorframe:

A wonky old doorframe made from bits of crappy leftover wood scraps

Before: wonky and saggy

New oak doorframe

After: beautiful wonky oak doorframe

You may be wondering why we didn’t just straighten up the top of the doorframe. Which is a reasonable question.

You can see the stonework above the doorframe—there was no proper stone lintel, and we didn’t fancy taking out that structural stonework to make the doorway higher. And to level it below the stone would mean an extremely low doorway for Joe to limbo through. So wonky it remains. Much like the rest of the house.

Then we had a quote for an oak door from the guy who does our windows (who is amazing) and we laughed and laughed and decided a summer project for us would be to make our own oak door because how hard can it be?

The Stone Room Floor of Death + Woe

That floor we opened the last post with? Yep, time to go. It’s been grim. Really really grim.

We started downstairs in the Rayburn Room and ripped all the weird fake panel bits off the ceiling:

Ceiling panels

Ceiling panels were kind of structural…

Stripped off the fake panelling

Stripped off the fake panelling

Then we put on masks and gloves, took a brave pill, and Went Upstairs.

And discovered such delights as this section of floor which isn’t really attached on one side at all hahahaHAHAHA such fun!

Gap between floor joists lovely

This floor is actually held up here with hope

And this exciting bundle of bare wires that go who knows where and are stuffed into a broken junction box under the floor with highly flammable wood and dust and crap WOO!

An exciting collection of wires going who knows where

Fun with wires!

And this floor joist which is two scraps of wood held together by one old nail which I put my foot on AND NEARLY DIED SUCH LARKS!

Secure floor

Secure floor

We perfected our balancing techniques (and when I say we I mean Joe because I got proper vertigo up there looking through the floor at the room below it’s NOT RIGHT) and pushed out all the MDF ceiling panels. Which, we truly believe, were partly structural. Which is also terrifying.

In the end, though, we dragged out everything and ended up with this magnificent, cathedral-like space:

Truly cathedral-esque

Truly cathedral-esque

And this exciting door into nothingness:

White wooden door with black iron hinges opening onto nothing

It’s like a haunted horror house

So, yep.  Next thing was to fit the wall plates, which you can see my dad working on in the pic above, and then the floor joists, which we pretty much fitted in the same way as we fitted the ceiling joists above. More on that later…

The Floor + Ceiling of Almost-Certain Death

When you think about a floor, what do you picture?

Boards, maybe a carpet or rug… and beneath it, strong sturdy wooden joists built to last forever (more or less) and carry multitudes of footsteps..

That’s what we picture.

What we don’t picture is THIS:

The underside of the bathroom floor, scraps of timber joined with bolts

Fun with floors!

Note the poorly joined random scraps of wood.

This part was fun too—see the actual gap where the joist fails to connect with the beam?

Bits and pieces of timber joined to fill gaps when the staircase was removed

This is where an old staircase used to be

This is actually cool though because from the shape of it and the retro-bodging, we’re pretty sure there was a staircase in this corner of the room. We know this end of the house—the stone portion—used to be the village shop, and we think it may have been two separate dwellings at one point. So it makes sense that it’d have its own staircase.

Honestly I don’t know how we didn’t fall through that floor in the four years we used it as a bedroom.

But no more! Because we’re finally turning the Stone Room into a bathroom and the Rayburn Room into a library. Hurrah!

Before we go on, though, let us say this: although we’ve uncovered some fairly horrifying electrics and alarming structural stuff, we’re having a great time. Not just because this is genuinely fascinating and fun and we’re learning lots, and it’s extremely satisfying creating a home with our own hands…

But also because we’re getting a real insight in the history of the house and the resourceful and innovative (and delightfully eccentric) people who’ve lived here.

It’s a story of people who wanted to reuse as much as possible. Who perhaps didn’t have a huge amount of money, so did what they could with what they had. And who were absolutely unafraid of electricity.

We’re so grateful that we get to peek into some of this history, and catch a glimpse of the personalities who’ve lived here over the centuries. What a privilege to be the caretaker of a place like this 🙂

So. Here’s what we’ve done over the past few weeks, since the bats moved out (actually they never moved in again we don’t think, but we still held off work until the start of September)…

Stone Room Ceiling Horrors

We started by pulling down the ceiling in the upstairs Stone Room. My dad came to help and got thoroughly covered in dust, bat poo, and general awfulness from a roof space filled with 150 years of living. Oh, and we all enjoyed the exciting wiring, which makes absolutely no sense at all.

My dad in a mask up a ladder sorting errant wiring

My dad shortly after I yelled at him and Joe because they weren’t wearing masks

That ceiling structure, too, was made of spiderwebs and hope, but at least it didn’t have to actually hold anything up.

It came down pretty easily, which is when we spotted this:

View up into the eaves of the rubble wall, with loosely packed terrifying rocks

The Giant Death Rock of Damocles: yes, it’s that massive one right in the middle

This boulder is so big that we couldn’t lift it out. So we were somewhat alarmed when we touched it and it moved. And not just a fraction, but in a menacing way that suggested it had had enough of sitting in the roof space and was ready to come down and start a fight.

You’ll notice it’s positioned perfectly above the doorway and it absolutely would have crashed through the brittle plastic ceiling panel (not kidding it was plastic), onto the unfortunate person’s head, and thence through the floor to the Rayburn Room below. And probably from there into the molten centre of the Earth.

The first thing we did was mix up some lime mortar and cement it back into place, along with a few of its smaller but no less rowdy siblings.

So we’re no longer afraid of giant death from above, which is a relief.

Next up: clear debris from the tops of the walls and find stones suitable for drilling into and affixing a ring beam.

We levelled this around the room so it’s very horizontal. We’re pretty smug about this which is amusing because it’s now the only horizontal thing in the house.

Joe and my dad drilled 16 mm holes into the stone walls, and we inserted threaded steel rods. We hung off them to make sure they were strong enough. I think you could probably hang a car off them.

Joe angle grinds the bolts to a more sensible length. Many sparks.

Pretty fireworks so I immediately stopped proceedings to put up a firewall…

We are extremely ingenious and use a snow shovel to protect the flammable stuff from sparks

Very sophisticated firewall to prevent sparks from starting a fire that’d kill us all

In fact, we’re fairly sure that if the rest of the house falls down, that ceiling structure we’ve built will remain standing.

Next up: some scribing, maths, a little bit of swearing and sweating, and we drilled some holes into the ring beam to correspond with the wall bolts—and held our breath as we finagled it into place.

The ring beam placed above the bolts so we could scribe the distances and drill holes that actually fit

Much careful measuring and drilling of holes…

It fits! Hurrah!

Bolts in, and it’s time to do the other side.

Joe and I repeated the process on the opposite side of the room, et voilà! We have a ring beam.

Ring beam fixed to the stone wall with great big bolts

Woo hoo! The holes all matched!

 

Next job: cutting the cross joists to length and fitting them to the ring beam with brackets. This was a fiddly job made more fun by working at height on a wobbly floor covered with pieces of chipboard that may or may not collapse at any moment.

We used little pieces of wood to make hangers so we didn’t have to hold massive pieces of wood over our heads, then wedged the joists in tightly, then screwed the brackets into place—and tightened up all the ring beam bolts which had loosened as we expanded the house.

Little piece of wood fixed to the large joist to position it

Making our job easier with spare bits of oak

We’re pretty pleased with the result. The ceiling is probably strong enough to hold a bathtub. It’s what you might call overengineered, but that’s cool. It’s not going anywhere.

Joe hangs by his hands from two of the new ceiling joists

Joe proves that we are fine workpeople

(Aside: this moment started a competition which has not yet ended. Joe did one pull up, so I did three. Then Joe did three. So I did four. And so on. We’ll continue this until one of us is dead.)

Joists all fitted and looking solid

The joists are in!

Look at how wonky that roof is! Love it.

Then we fitted a loft hatch, because of course we did. Here it is, floating in a ceilingless ceiling:

The loft hatch ladder hangs down, forlorn and alone, in a ceilingless room

Loft hatch to nowhere

The ladder is very long and as yet uncut. Joe looks on, gurning.

Think there might be more ladder than room here

At some point, of course, we’ll put up a proper ceiling and cut the ladder down to size. But for now, we’re happy with our overhead installation art.

 

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.

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.

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!

Whirlwind Dingle Update

Gosh. It’s suddenly November, and we seem to have not updated since… summer.

A lot has happened.

So, in brief…

The House Has Eyes

The windows are in. They may come out again, because I’m not entirely happy with how they’re fitting at the moment, and I’m certainly not chuffed with the expanding foam that’s in there. Evil stuff.

Painted in Celestial Blue from Little Greene Paint.

Painted in Celestial Blue from Little Greene Paint.

The plyboard is temporary, natch. And we really need to redo that ex-window in the stone part of the house, because it does not look good.

We’re now thinking we may go for oak for the rest of the windows, sell these ones, and replace them. Because obviously we’re not making this easy for ourselves…

Another Dingle Tragedy

Remember Nugget, our poory little rescue hen? She was sick, and we were giving her antibiotics every day. She was getting much better, much more lively, and was a clever little hen. Then a fox took her.

Vicky basically cried for a week.

Then there were four hens, who are all most fabulous: Granny Featherwax (the original and leader of the pack), Shirley (the other rescue hen), Big Betty (a Bluebell), and Mrs Pickles (a Cheshire blue, who Vicky trained to fly up onto your arm).

chicken sitting on my arm

Mrs Pickles has come home to roost

Floors…

We pulled up the scabby old carpet in the living room to find a roomful of quarry tiles. Sadly, they’re not all in beautiful condition, and there are two different types.

We’re probably going to put flagstones down in here.

Quarry tiles of variable quality

Quarry tiles of variable quality

The Garden…

We have been pretty busy in the garden, though. We got a good crop of vegetables, and more squash and pumpkin than any reasonable person could wish for.

More squash than you can shake a courgette at

More squash than you can shake a courgette at

Two of them became Hallowe’en pumpkins:

Meet Bob and RuPumpkin (we've been watching a lot of RuPaul's Drag Race)

Meet Bob and RuPumpkin (we’ve been watching a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race)

And we’ve started preparing the Chicken Palace and new mower shed. The idea is, where the compost heap is at the moment was a big patch of wasteland, really. 15 feet of brambles and nettles at the end of the orchard, next to the field.

So we’ve cleared that lot out, started levelling it, and acquired 60 paving slabs. Some of those paving slabs will go to form the floor of the new mower shed and chicken feed shed. The chicken house will be attached, and raised off the ground leaving a few feet for the hens to mooch around beneath, then there’ll be a big permanent run that’s totally fox-proof.

Watch this space.

But for now, here’s the progress (we put Vicky’s niece Ella to work):

Child labour. Cheap and cheerful!

Child labour. Cheap and cheerful!

But perhaps most excitingly in the garden, we now have a greenhouse! Joe’s sister offered hers up to the first taker — and never one to pass up a bargain, we snapped it up.

We took down the shaky little shed next to the vegetable beds and levelled the land:

Shed. Mostly held together by clematis.

Shed. Mostly held together by clematis.

Clear and level, on the hottest day of the summer.

Clear and level, on the hottest day of the summer.

Then we lumped thousands of paving slabs up the hill and Vicky became the most irritating fussy person in the world: they had to be millimetre perfect… after Joe had finished chilling, there was further levelling.

A job well jobbed.

A job well jobbed.

Then up went the greenhouse. Hurrah! And we only broke two panes of glass in the whole transportation and erection process.

#winning

Greenhouse is ready for action

Greenhouse is ready for action

Then we filled it with chilli plants:

The future of many trips to buy soured cream...

The future of many trips to buy soured cream…

Compositions in Fibonacci…

And finally, Joe and the chickens inadvertently arranged themselves into a Fibonacci sequence. And Joe learned that, when presented with peanut butter, chickens give zero flips about manners:

Fibonacci chickens

Fibonacci chickens

What’s Next?

Today, we’ve been pondering attic electrics, looking at the neighbour’s amazing timber-framed extension, and planning the bathroom.

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…

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