Hi everyone, sorry to have been so quiet for the last month or so, I think the whole project was starting to wear me down a bit towards the end of last year, and we have had quite a lot of problems with our internal walls. Between that and christmas I’m afraid I couldn’t really face the blog.
But, the decorations have come down, its a new year, and I think its about time I told everyone what has been going on at Speckled Wood.
The internal partition walls of the building are of a lath and plaster construction. The plan (and and awful lot of work went into it) was to use earth plaster on these walls.
I remember, as it turned out rather foolishly, a remark being made just before we started plastering over our hand cleaved chestnut laths. It was something along the lines of not expecting them to see the light of day again for about a hundred years or so.
As it turned out nothing could have been further from the truth. The laths were visible again all too soon.
We have been really lucky that so many people have been prepared to come and help on the project, that is part of the reason I have been dreading having to write this post. I don’t know how many people helped us with the earth plaster, but there were a lot.
It was mucky work, but everyone got stuck in, and for a while it looked like it was going really well. But soon we started to have problems. The plaster was crazing, cracking and starting to delaminate from the laths. Every week we put in at least two days work filling cracks, wetting the plaster down, putting on extra slip coats, and readhering it onto the laths.
You can see some of this process taking place in the picture above. Several times chunks of plaster were so much on the verge of falling away we had to tear them off and patch in with new clay.
We all put so much effort into it but the cracks kept on appearing…
We managed to get to a stage where they were getting smaller over time, but still we were having problems getting it to adhere properly to the walls. We put a heap of work in just before christmas, had some time off to recover and then came back in early January to see what on earth we were going to do.
I tore off a couple of the worst chunks to have a look at what was going on underneath, so that we could make an informed decision.
Underneath it was bad news. We really wanted to stick at it, give it a few more weeks, presevere and make it work. But I was worried. We were going to have to re patch so much of it we wouldn’t be back to where we were for a month or so at least. It just takes for ever to dry, and you have to be carefull not to let it dry to quick or the cracking gets worse. Then came the final, and biggest worry. After all that extra work we were considering putting in, was there any guarantee we would manage to finally get it working? In the end I realised, we could put in a solid months work and still fail. We had to call it a day, cut our losses, and find a different way forward. The earth plaster had to go.
It was funny really, I had been dreading it for ages, and fealt absolutely awful about it (very much feeling I have let people down by not getting it right) but when the decision was made I just knew it was for the best. We are now in the process of tearing off all of the clay and we will be lime plastering the internal walls instead.
One thing is for sure, it certainly comes off a lot easier than it goes on.
I know some of you reading this are probably far more expert in these things than me, and some of you probably know where we went wrong. I think I know some of the reasons, and am sure 3 or 4 mistakes conspired together so that in the end we were fighting a losing battle. I am pretty gutted about the whole thing, it was one of the aspects of the build I really wanted us to get right. But, I also know that we are building a house, and can hardly call it that until it is in a fit state for someone to live in. The time really has come to get back to the bigger picture and stop staring at cracked mud.
Lime plaster should work fine as a replacement, in terms of the history of architecture you could probably argue we have taken an evolutionary step forwards! I know it is the right choice for us, with what we have learnt I wouldn’t be afraid to try it again, but it would be on a much smaller scale, and only for feature areas, I have been converted to the joys of lime.
I guess I was wrong about how soon those laths would be on display again, lets hope next time they are covered over its for good.
Its been quite cathartic writing this, I really hope nobody out there is too dissapointed with our decision. I really hope it means I can get back into the blog, as well as back into the project, there is so much there that is going well, hopefully I will be bringing you news of some of that over the next few weeks. Happy New Year!