Tuesday, 24 December 2013

The Restoration - Week Twenty

Its almost Christmas and after 20 weeks, 6 more than originally planned, the building work on OLF has been completed - well - apart from a few small jobs which will be finished early in the New Year.

Early in week 20 most of the work was focused on finishing the roof repairs before the scaffold came down on Wednesday. In a race against time this meant Mike and Jack working on the roof by starlight on Tuesday evening! Earlier on Monday, Tim had completed the re-tiling of the west side of the roof where the wall plate had been replaced and the corbelling course re-laid.

Early in week 20 Tim worked on completing the repairs on the west side of the roof and relaying the ridge tiles.
Corbelling re-laid and tiles replaced on the west side, following the curvy line of the gutter and the ridges are re-laid

The early part of the week was pretty frantic with 3 or 4 working on the roof as well as plasterers finishing off inside the house on the window reveals and patching walls.

Early in week 20 and its a busy site at OLF - but the end is in sight - even though it didn't feel like it at the time! 
OLF has been scaffolded for almost 5 months, making it difficult to fully appreciate all the work which had been done in the meantime but on Wednesday, within 3 hours, the scaffold was gone transforming the look of the old place. 

The scaffold is gone and OLF is revealed for the first time in 5 months
The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that there's an issue with the lime render on the end of the lean-to! That had been completed on Wednesday but gale force winds and driving rain on Wednesday night managed to wash the finishing coat clean off the wall. So that job will have to be redone in the Spring once the better weather returns and before the lime-wash is applied.

Having got rid of the scaffold, Thursday and Friday were clear up days to return the place to normal after months of rubble, builders vans, mud and general clutter. The guys did a great job and the first step was getting rid of the last (4th) skip from the site late on Thursday.

The final skip is uplifted leaving the site clear for the finishing touches on Friday morning
Early on Friday morning 10 tons of local stone were delivered and the team from Phillips & Curry got to work spreading it and making the place look like a home, rather than a building site.

10 tons of local, Gonsal stone arrive for the yard and driveway.
Its really hard to describe just what a difference 10 tons of stone and the removal of the scaffold have made to the appearance of our house - so take a look at the pictures below and judge for yourself. We think it looks great and it will hopefully look even better in the spring when its lime-washed. The volume of work done over the past few months has been enormous and thanks to the skill of all those involved I believe we have safeguarded the future of this old house for another 400 years. There are certainly some more jobs which would be advisable to do over the next 5 to 10 years like relaying the roof and insulating more internal walls with breathable systems but for the moment we are happy that the house is now in much better shape than it was back in October 2012 when I chipped the first lump of render off the lean-to wall.

The new face of OLF - next job, several coats of lime-wash in Spring 2014
As I have mentioned many times the skill of the guys working on this job has never failed to impress me and its great to know that there are people around with the traditional skills necessary to undertake this kind of restoration work - and much more complex jobs than ours. I plan to continue blogging about the house and after Christmas I will post a list of the names of all those who have been a part of this project. If anyone out there would like contact details then you can send me a message and I will pass on details with pleasure.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Restoration - Week Nineteen

Even after almost 5 months this old house can still surprise us and this week it produced a big (unpleasant) one! Within about two hours of arriving on site on Wednesday, Tim the roofer revealed the latest secret. Tim was stripping about 6 rows of tiles above the guttering on the west wall, which we already knew were not overhanging the gutter meaning that in some places rainwater was running down the wall. What we didn't know was quite how much damage this water had done over the decades.

What Tim found was an oak wall plate rotted to a stick and numerous rotted ends to the rafters.

"Come up and have a look at this but keep your eyes shut" said Tim. -
I knew this meant trouble!
As I stood not quite sure how terminal this decline was, Tim and Ben the carpenter chatted casually about ordering a piece of oak and tanalised softwood for delivery the next day. At times like this I'm very grateful to have experienced people working on this project who have been there and done it all before.

What were also revealed by the removal of the tiles were the enormous curves in this old wall. This had a big impact on replacing the wall plate to follow the curve. Having collected the timber the same afternoon, the guys were able to have everything looking shipshape by lunchtime the following day!

Within 24 hours the new section of curvy oak wall plate is fitted and tied to the stonework with stainless steel pins and the new ends are spliced onto the rafters having removed the rotted ends.
By Friday afternoon the roof was battened and ready to be re-tiled. 

The repaired section is ready for re-tiling

Removing the tiles at the top of this big stone wall had also given us a nice view of the lime grout (all 4.8 tons) which had been poured into strengthen the wall several weeks ago. The grout was level on top where it had settled and set so Ben decided to add to the history of OLF with his own record of the latest restoration.

Hopefully a future builder will find Ben's mark in the lime grout in another 400 years!
Another important job done this week was the fitting of air bricks into all three gables, bringing some much needed ventilation to the loft spaces. This will be a big help in keeping the roof timbers dry in future.

Two of the airbricks fitted in the gables to provide air movement in the roofspaces

So its been a busy week with some serious restoration on the roof timbers successfully completed. Next week should be the last week of building work before the team leave us after 5 months hard work. There are still a lot of tile repairs to be done, ridge tiles to be replaced and quite a lot of plastering to be completed inside. After all that the scaffold will be coming down, the site cleaned up and some new stone spread in the drive and yard to prepare OLF for a very Merry Christmas! 

Some of the scaffold was removed already this week around the big west chimney stack, allowing us the first clear view of this newly restored stack with its new pots.

The newly restored west stack complete with new pots.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Restoration - Week Eighteen

This week we've seen the completion of the brickwork repairs and our brickie Stuart has left after working on the project for the majority of the time.

Before he left Stuart rebuilt both chimney stacks and installed the six new pots to top them off.

One of Stuart's last jobs was flaunching the east chimney stack, thankfully without any slips!

As I've mentioned in previous posts, we wanted to install a pot for each of the six flues on the stacks even though only one is now in use. This would certainly have been the configuration as far back as 1800 and maybe earlier since census records show 8 or 9 people living here in the early 19th century and there are signs that what is now the loft was a living space with a fireplace. The wood burner in our living room has had a barrel topped pot for the last 40 years and this worked well, so we replaced it with a new identical one (except it terracotta not buff). The other five pots are capped with ventilated inserts to provide air flow into the blocked up flues while avoiding the ingress of water and crows nests!
The chimney pots arrived and the east stack is restored

The weather turned a bit chilly in midweek meaning that the newly rebuilt west stack had to be protected from frost. Thankfully all was well and its now looking the part with its four new pots. We find it amazing to think that this old house once upon a time would have had six fires burning on a cold winter night - imagine the wood and coal needed to keep them all going and imagine the work bringing all that fuel to the top of the house where the farm servants listed in the census would have lived.
The big west stack restored with a pot for each of its four flues.

Another ongoing job this week was the effort to remove the masonry paint from the corbelling courses in a few places. This thick red paint is proving stubborn, not least because the lower temperatures are now making the solvent stripper less effective than it might have been earlier in the year. With hindsight this might have been better done in summer but the priority then was brickwork and repointing with lime mortar.

Jack jetwashes the paint stripper off the corbelling courses while the new windows have been protected from the solvents.

Finally this week we were able to add one of the finishing touches with the arrival of our handmade kitchen furniture from Unfitted Ltd. Amongst these is a cavernous larder cupboard which fits, millimetre perfect into the kitchen fireplace.

Our new larder is a snug fit!

Next week the final push begins: relaying roof tiles and replacing guttering along the west wall, relaying ridge tiles, making and fitting timber inserts in the window soffits, plastering internal stone walls and window reveals as well as patching all kinds of assorted bits and pieces of plaster. This will probably be the messiest week inside the house so far - roll on next Friday!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Restoration - Week Seventeen

This was the week of the cill board - or should that be sill board? (Either is ok apparently!) Regardless of the spelling ours have been expertly made on site by the carpenter working on our project, Ben Hughes. Ben has used kiln dried oak planks which he has had to join together to cope with the depth of the cills in OLF. Apparently using wide planks is a bad idea as these inevitably warp over time. The oak planks firstly have a central groove routed out of their edge so that small wooden ovals (called biscuits) can be inserted into the groove at intervals to bridge the joint between the edges in what's known as a "biscuit joint". The edges are also glued and then clamped and left until the bond is set.
The planks are prepared, biscuits inserted and glued before being clamped together.

Ben has joined these planks with such skill that you literally can't see the join in many cases where the grain matches. Once the boards were ready, each one was cut to fit, every cill being a unique size, just to make it a bit more of a challenge for Ben! Once fitted a couple of coats of Danish oil really brought out the beauty of the oak grain.

The first of the 14 bespoke oak cill boards are in place.

We had hoped to have the large chimney stack rebuilt this week however a bit of a debate over the final choice of chimney pots has delayed this until week 18. Nevertheless there were other small finishing bits and pieces of brickwork and pointing to get on with.

The last remaining render was removed from the east gable above the roof of the lean-to. Like the rest of this gable some of the brickwork was in poor shape and there was also quite a bit of repointing to be done.

The repointing of the roof verges in lime mortar is complete and repairs are started on the remaining brickwork on the east gable.

Repointing of the bases of the brick walls was completed this week and, as everywhere else, this is a two stage process with the mortar roughly applied at first before being scratched back and consolidated when partially dried to give the final finish. The drill holes from an old chemical injected damp proof treatment (unnecessary and useless) will be filled with lime mortar and should disappear once limewashed next spring.
Repointing the bases of walls is complete with only some old drill holes to fill.

After 17 weeks, the end is in sight. Next week the chimneys should hopefully be rebuilt and repointed. Other than that a few bits of brickwork require repointing or replacement bricks, a few rows of tiles will be lifted and relaid to meet the guttering more effectively and the ridge tiling will be replaced. Once these jobs are complete, the scaffold can come down and we can see what this old house really looks like at last after almost 5 months of highly skilled and painstaking restoration work.

Inside OLF there are still cills to be made and fitted, reveals and soffits to be made good and all kinds of patches and larger areas replastered where plumbing and electrical work has been done and where dry linings were removed during the grouting of the stone wall. The plasterers are booked for the start of week 19 and all of this will be complete before Christmas!

It'll not be long before the scaffold comes down and we get a closer look at the "new" Old Lawns Farmhouse!

Sunday, 24 November 2013

The Restoration - Week Sixteen

For the first week in a long time I wasn't around for most of the week so it was nice to see the dramatic changes to parts of the house when I returned.

The biggest step this week was the fitting of all the timber infills above the windows. This has really transformed the look of the house and its great to see our vision become reality.

Adding the wood arches is the finishing touch on the new windows and doors.

The front door will be sanded and painted to match the windows once the builders have finished when it won't be in danger of getting knocked or scratched :0).

The completed windows and doors really change the look of the house

Another job done this week was the repointing of the verges which, as you can see in the photos above are wrapped in Hessian to protect from frost.

Last week we thought the whole of the large chimney would need dismantling and rebuilding but on Monday this week, after a closer inspection, it was decided that repointing the lower parts would be sufficient and it would only be necessary to rebuild the top section. After removing the flaunching we found four flues, three blocked at various levels in the house and roof space. Only one is in use today for our woodburner but we'll fit capped, ventilated pots to all the blocked flues to restore the original look of this big stack with four pots.

There are four flues under the Hessian protecting the repointing and its easy to see which one serves our woodburner!

The last major job done this week was to repair the chimney breast in the kitchen. There were a lot of crumbled bricks and very little mortar under the plaster when it was removed but now its looking in much better shape!

The brickwork still needs some cleaning to remove old limewash and distemper but its now repaired and structurally stable.

Next week we hope to get close to completing the repairs on both chimney stacks. As well as the stacks there are also quite a few other outside jobs to complete; relaying some rows of roof tiles and fitting new guttering along the west wall, laying new ridge tiles, fitting airbricks in each gable to ventilate the roofspaces and repointing the stonework at the base of several of the walls. So we have our fingers crossed that winter waits for a couple more weeks! 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Restoration - Week Fifteen

Almost 4 months since the start of building work, all major brickwork repairs to the walls have been completed. This leaves only repointing of poorer areas to be completed and that work was continued by the bricklayers Gareth and Stuart throughout the whole of week 15.

Other work started this week was the preparation of window and door reveals ahead of the plasterer who will be with us again in a few weeks. We also saw some clearing up inside the house where lime grout had leaked through the west wall (in significant amounts) into the living areas and cellar.

The oak arch infills, each of which is a unique size, handmade on site by Ben the carpenter, all received their second coat of linseed oil paint and these should hopefully be installed next week.

Another job completed this week was the upgrading of the electrics to bring OLF up to modern standard. Whilst rewiring wasn't needed since all cables are in good condition, the ring main had to be split into smaller sections, some junction boxes were upgraded to more waterproof versions in the cellar, earth cables were connected to incoming water and oil supplies, a new larger earth cable and ground spike was fitted and a new consumer unit installed.

Apart from all of the above, attention switched to the chimneys as a new "lift" was added to the scaffold to reach the big chimney in the centre of the house.
The scaffold heads skyward to reach the big central chimney
Once we had access to this chimney it was quickly apparent that it would need major attention - more so than originally thought. The mortar was extremely damaged and looks like a very weak mixture had been used in previous repairs. This leaves only one sensible option - a complete rebuild of this chimney which will start next week. The chimney stack will be taken down to roof level and completely rebuilt using a suitable lime mortar and repaired with reclaimed bricks to match the present style. We think there may be a total of 4 flues, with 2 currently hidden beneath the flaunching. If thats the case, we will probably install 4 pots to restore the original look of this big stack.

The poor state of the big chimney stack was very clear once we were able to take a close look.

There was better news from the other chimney stack which, apart from needing some repointing and a few bricks replaced is otherwise in good condition. So we will have less work to do on this one since we had budgeted to rebuild the top six courses. The leadwork will also be repaired.

The second chimney stack is raked out to be repointed and will have the lead work repaired.

So, the scaffold not only gave us a better view of the chimney stacks, it also provides a great vantage point for a unique view of the garden and surrounding Shropshire countryside - a reminder of why we are liucky to live in such a beautiful spot.

Next week we hope to see visible changes outside with repairs starting on the big chimney and the timber arches fitted over the windows.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Restoration - Week Fourteen

This week has mostly been about repairs to the chimney on the east gable. After removing the render it was clear that this wall needed a lot of repairs and the chimney was in particularly poor condition.

Having removed damaged bricks and mortar, Stuart made a great job of restoring this section of the chimney.

There was another area of badly damaged brick further up just below the chimney stack. The stack will also require some rebuilding but that will be tackled over the coming weeks.

The bricks below the stack are transformed

When the render was removed form the east gable the ends of both purlins were revealed as they had only been covered in a thin layer of lime mortar under the render. We have decided to make a feature of these by repairing the brickwork around them and adding a flaunching of lime mortar around the timbers. After they are coated with limewash they should be adequately protected from the weather.

The brickwork and pointing around the purlins have been repaired and the exposed timber  will be a nice feature on the gable end.

There was also a lot of repointing and some brickwork repairs to be completed on the North gable this week. Below the eaves there had been a lot of gaps which had previously been filled with cement render and these have now been filled completely by cutting a lot of bricks to fit beautifully into the gaps.

Gareth has been busy on this gable end and made a great job of repairing the pointing and brickwork below the eaves

Another job going on quietly in the background this week and still to make a star appearance has been the making of the timber arches for above the windows. These are being made on site from oak and are at this moment in various stages of completion  in our temporary paint shop (our sitting room which has become a store for everything we have had to move from other parts of the house). As the Linseed oil paint takes forever to dry (at least 48 hours) and two coats are applied it will take some time before the first ones can be fitted. Each window and lintel placement is also a little different because of the variety of brickwork on the house, meaning that Ben the carpenter has made every one to a unique size and design to give the best fit and appearance once installed.

Ben had a very busy week making (and painting) bespoke oak arches for fourteen windows and doors.

One job which I decided to tackle was to remove the gypsum plaster from the chimney breast inside the kitchen. Having previously removed the tiles and cement from the fireplace we wanted to reveal the brickwork on the chimney breast to see if it could be restored and kept as an exposed brick feature in the kitchen. It will certainly need some repairs as there is no mortar left in places and there are a few old coats of paint in some places but we are hopeful it can be left as exposed brick once its cleaned up and repaired. 

One little piece of interest we found this week was some of the old lime mortar which fell out around the chimney breast. It had a lot of animal hair in it. This was commonly used to help bind together the mortar and the hair I found is still in amazing condition - very soft and flexible.

The chimney breast is revealed and in need of some TLC. 

So that was week 14, originally the estimated finish date for this project. However that was always only an estimate and various jobs have turned out to be more time consuming or complex than we originally thought. Its likely we have another month ahead of us before the building work is finished. We will certainly need to wait until spring before limewashing as the temperature will be far too low to apply this material by the time the building is ready for it.