Sunday, 28 April 2013

Underfloor construction and more stone walls

Been quite a busy week, putting in quite a few after-work hours as I started the underfloor construction in one of the second floor bedrooms. I really should have been doing this for the first floor rooms, our main living level, but I've ordered spruce timber for that level, to better withstand the slight dampness we might get from the cellars, so that'll have to wait.

I have to admit, it took a lot longer than expected. Getting the 4x6cm laths, onto which floorboards will eventually rest, perfectly level as they span over 6 or more totally uneven oak beams, meant a lot of planing of shims, checking levels, adjusting, ad nauseum. I've set them at 400mm centres, which should be fine for 20mm hardwood boards, and set them as low as I possibly could, to maximise the already low room height. As a result, we'll have a step at each end of the room, as the main beams rise at each end. One of these steps will be incorporated into a wardrobe, and the other end will be a small sub-level, only 5cm higher, within the room. This will probably be a recurring feature throughout the house, at least where unavoidable.

The back step, later to be hidden in wardrobe.
Still have the other end to do...
The previous week, I got a bit further with the first floor wiring and marking out sockets for the kitchen, as well as taking out the last floorboards (well, almost last) in the main bedroom, so we can plan the level of the new floor. No nasty rotten beam surprises, but the battens between the beams have rotted out in places, giving us a nice shortcut into the cellar. We're now considering putting a laundry shaft in the bedroom, so some inspiration from deathtraps in the floor.

And while I've been doing all this easy work, my wife has been busy in the cellars, knocking off old clay and lime plaster off the limestone walls.

Instead of plastering these walls, the idea is to leave them natural, and re-point the blocks, after first giving them a good clean with a wire brush on an angle grinder.. They are really held together with clay, instead of mortar, and damp rises from the subsoil under the house pretty easily. The idea is that leaving them natural and open will allow them to breath better, and besides, plaster and paint would look pretty shoddy after a while in those damp conditions.

We know this, because in the entrance hall, where one wall was plastered and wallpapered, the wallpaper was clearly damp around the base of the wall. We decided to remove this plaster, which turned out to be about 50mm thick, and backed with a plastic damp-proof membrane. I reckon it is because of this, dampness climbed higher, contributing to the rotten beam in the living room, which rests directly on this wall.

She removed all of that this past week, revealing not just the fairly uneven stone wall, but another sandstone frame around the doorway leading to cellar one.

Our "new" sandstone door frame

Not the prettiest, but it'll clean up.
I think with some nice ambient lighting, we could have a very nice entrance hall. Well, once we do something with the ugly 1960s floor and stairs and, of course, do all the horribly dusty work of cleaning them down properly, not to mention the days it will take to re-point everything... It'll be worth it!

Monday, 15 April 2013

More laths and beginning of wiring.

While waiting for something more constructive to do (Hah!), last week I moved up to the second floor and began putting up the stud partition walls in the bathroom, filling the big holes left from when we pushed over a brick wall sometime last year. Or maybe it was the year before. With the main studs and noggins in, it was a bit of a challenge getting laths in to form a vertical surface, as the old beams here are fairly uneven. The walls here have to continue up one more level, as we're leaving the bathroom open, so it is 1.5 stories high, the most headroom in the house.

Almost perfectly vertical laths. Mind the gap though!
With the beginnings of the fourth wall begun (on the right in the photo below), it feels more like a proper room, but that stairs has to move.

Doesn't look like a bathroom, but it does say WC on the wall.
I still have to figure out the best way to continue the installation shaft up through the bathroom, which will affect the placement of the toilet, but that will be a lot easier once I've inserted a new beam to close the gaping hole in the floor.

Top of the installation shaft, looking down into kitchen.
Similarly, on the level below, I finally blocked up the old doorway into what is now the first floor bathroom. I used autoclaved aerated concrete blocks (Gasbeton Steine in local parlance), also called Ytong blocks, which are light and easy to cut with a saw, which is just as well as it had to be built around the struts supporting the WC cistern.

Shortcut closed off :(

Toilet cistern now looks like a proper corner toilet.

This is a job I'd put off for too long, but the main reason that got me doing it was to get the blocks out of the living room for the next major undertaking: the wiring.

I've never wired a house before, but our friend Sace, who is a master electrician, gave me simple instructions, so I can break it down into stages. The first stage is to get the basic wiring for each room done, leading cables from a central distribution point in each room to where sockets or lights will be, forming chains between them if needed. It's light, enjoyable work, with the hardest thing deciding how to best run cables so they are hidden. Of course, there are standards to follow in terms of the height of sockets from the floor, heights of switches etc, but once you have a list, it's easy (and as an ex-surveyor, it's nice to have exact measurements to work off).

We need lots of sockets where the telly will end up.
Beams will be visible, so cables have to go through them
The cables that run under the floor are sheathed in PEHD corrugated pipes for protection, and the cables for the lights will run under the floor above (or above the ceiling, depending on your perspective), to avoid having to drill through too many beams. It's all great fun, and the benefit is I'll know where every single cable is, which is handy when installing floors and other stuff later.

To keep the pace, I have to remove the only remaining floorboards on this level, in our bedroom. I'd left this as a kind of workshop, but it has to go, so i need to find somewhere solid to store tools and materials until a temporary floor is put in.