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Thursday, 29 August 2013

A permanent damp solution?

The history of my drive way next to the house has been a voyage of discovery thanks to my neighbour. I live at an end terrace and there is a shared driveway between it and next door. It is a concrete drive that butts right up against both houses.

Now this drive way was originally two garden paths and a stone wall, but it was converted to a driveway to open up access to the back. This is a fine thing, but it has been through a few changes over the years. I have been discovering these and the also living with some of the consequences.

The paths were not taken up, just tarmac put over the top. Several years later concrete was put directly onto the tarmac. Of course this should not be done as the tarmac disintegrates under the concrete, but more important for me was that the height of the roadway was now above the level of the floor in the house! No wonder we have damp in that wall.

So I have had to cut out the roadway using a disc cutter (a diamond blade worked a treat) to get a 'straight' edge. I marked out a line with chalk, but the dust from the cutter obscured this quite badly so care needs to be taken when doing this.

My attempt at a straight cut to make the initial trench at the side of the house

I then set about smashing up the concrete with the breaker I had hired. Fair Dos the breaker was great. However I discovered the tarmac. So my first pass with the cutter only got me through the concrete. The tarmac though had failed and so was quite easy to remove. I did though have to use the breaker again. After a third round of breaking and shovelling (well using a trowel) I eventually got to a difference of between 20cm and 10cm between the floor level and the outside ground. So I now have a 15cm drain between the road and the house.
The concrete road broke up nicely with the breaker
The work involved taking off the render off of the walls from this low level. Knocking this render off was really satisfying. You could also feel the walls breathing a great sigh of relief as the old render and road way were removed and bricks and stone exposed (with their sodden lime mortar!) Surprisingly the wall from the door back turned out to be a brick cavity wall! This is an 1880's house with solid stone walls at the front and back. Finding a brick wall was therefore quite strange.

The damp was in evidence when the road level had been lowered down

I then repaired the road way using a concrete mix to shore up the edges. I did this as the road despite being a good 5cm thick could have failed along the edge. I also then did a lime and cement mix for the base of the drain. This will allow any rainwater to flow down to the road and away from the house. I angled the drain so that any water is kept away from the wall. Using a lime mix was there to ensure that there was some breathability in the structure so that it was not just trapping ground water in the area next to the house. To give an extra bit of strength I used some lime tolerant mesh in the structure as this should give it a bit of extra stability and strength. The lime will also help ensure that there is no cracking since it can flex a bit unlike a pure cement mix.

The new trench was lined with mesh and then thinly covered with a lime rich cement

This shows the re-rendered wall, the exposed lower wall and the new lined trench
So the job looks OK now and the water is draining away nicely. Only time will tell if this is the long term solution to the damp in the wall, but already I can see the walls drying to the outside. Fingers crossed they will continue to dry now that they are not constantly damp from being under road level.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Rotting wooden beam

Not my rot, but it looks quite similar!
Whilst the family are away on holidays I have been practising what I preach. Sleeves have been rolled up and the 1890's Cardiff end terrace is getting a bit of a once over. I will tell you a couple of tales of the coming weeks about my experiences - there are a few already!!

I will start with the unexpected one.

The house has a history and part of that was a council funded make-over in the seventies. Cheap stairs, poor re-wiring, removal of original features, concrete floors, 'damp-proofing' and a new cement render. Arrggghhhhhhh!!!

This particular post is about the joy I found when I took off the cement render on the side of the house to fix a crack in the render. Only a tiny one, but I know the issues associated with this type of fault. I cut out the render using my new angle grinder and knocked off the render, to find that the original house has a 8 by 2 beam / lintel running through the house, right up to the render finish.

The crack in the render had, of course, been allowing water in behind the render and keeping it there. This of course was then fed right into the end grain of the timber. Guess what?? Yes, a lovely rotten beam. So my little repair job has turned into a major disaster! But thankfully I know that there is a problem. Better to find out now rather than when the upper internal wall collapsed! Actually that is over dramatic as the beam is thankfully supported by some 4 by 2 uprights internally. However, this is a happy coincidence rather than good planning! If we didn't have a stud internal wall at that point (and this would be quite feasible) then the whole of the back of the house would be at very high risk of sudden failure. Not a pleasant thought.

So I have treated the wood and will be repairing it so that it should last another 120 years. However it is a clear example of how cement render can seriously affect a house structurally.

The only positive is that it is reassuring that my belief that using the right materials is really, really important when working on old properties. If the wall had been treated with a lime render then the dampness would have been kept away from the end of the beam more. I cannot blame modern materials completely, as the beam should not have been pushed all the way through the wall in the first place - 19th Century builders can be as bad as 20th and 21st century ones! However, the use of modern cement has certainly contributed to its demise.

The treated wood will now be encaptulated in a lime based render to help keep it dry and hopefully now rot free.

To come:
Render removal and French drain installation
Flat roof issues
Oak posts set in the garden

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

New washable Eco-paint - It's Lush!

Earthborn have been busy. Thanks to a request from the Lush chain of shops, they pulls sleeves up, dug deep etc and have come up with a new washable eco-emulsion. Based on their excellent EcoPro range, the new formulation has a silk finish but maintains the coverted EcoLabel.

It is water based, with no oils or acrylics, breathable and free from all harmful emissions and VOCs which means it is not only eco friendly but also helps create a healthier, more comfortable living or working environment. The new paint will be initially available in the Eco Pro colours, so some standard colours like Magnolia, Gardenia, Platinum etc. Despite being an industry flavoured range they are still great colours both for homeowners as well as landlords and tenants.

Eco Home Centre is retailing the new Mid-Sheen as well as the Eco Pro Range of paints, so visit our store to help yourself to a great new product at a permanently reduced price.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Superhomes on show

Superhome network can be found at
It is worth knowing about the Superhomes network that exists in the UK.

This is a partnership between a number of organisations and even though they have been really focused on carbon reduction, some of the work done is of really good quality and you also have an opportunity to visit some of the homes through their events. Talking though work with people who have planned and sweated over their homes and who are now reaping the rewards is always useful and inspirational. Check out the events diary on the website to see if there is an open home event close to you, or that you could go to on a trip out. See

The site also has more information on refurbishing your type of home. It is not just for solid walled buildings, but for any refurbishment. So there is info on cavity walled properties, system builts etc. Their FAQ section is OK, but there are some mistakes / high risk recommendations that I would not give out as an overarching advice. However, hearts are in the right place and there is plenty to learn from.

Examples include people insulating their homes, fitting new heating systems, installing renewable energy, changing control systems etc.