february has been a crash course in damp. i've spoken to lots of people about damp, read all about damp, picked my way through many conflicting opinions and sought out a couple of damp experts. my biggest hurdle has been knowing whose advice to follow. i now understand a lot about traditional building materials, techniques, breathability and ventilation. i also understand the basic principles of modern building. the problem is when the two collide and there is a bit of both. i have a traditional granite wall but a thin and badly cast floor of concrete laid on bare earth. under the window bays i dug out sack after sack of damp earth and on one side hit concrete. the other side i just continued to dig and realised there had once been floorboards laid onto bare earth! they crumbled to dust as i tried to pull them up. now i have an indoor garden!
i have also realised that i do not find most builders very helpful. i have an idea of what i want to achieve and run it by a builder and am hit by a wall of nos, 'oh no you can't do that..... NO..... this is what you want to do'. and when i ask why not i'm told that that's just not how it's done. full stop. but slowly i'm weeding out my type of builder. that is a builder/artist. someone who knows about materials and how they work. someone who can think beyond the bounds and conventions of the building trade. i've been fortunate enough to meet a brilliant guy who is a builder but studied fine art sculpture. he was apprenticed to a builder (his dad) at 16 and went on to cast full size people (mostly himself) using building materials - concrete, bricks and resin in his work. i ran lots of my ideas by him and he said YES..... of course you can do that if you want to. at last i had found someone i could trust to chop out and rebuild the bottom section of my wall where the timbers had also been laid onto bare earth. this was a job i didn't want to do as it involved acro-props and maintaining the structural integrity of the building. fortunately it transpired that the wall everyone had told me was load bearing (after i'd already sawn out a big section !!) actually wasn't taking much weight after all (phew!)
|daylight under the wall!|
|a structural engineer's nightmare|
i am committed to using sustainable, natural and recycled materials. i only want to give my money to companies who are not causing environmental damage. i do not want to fill my space with products that leach chemicals into the atmosphere. this mean putting a little more thought and research into things. and everything takes a little longer. but it's totally worth it.
so now with enthusiastic advice from the builder/sculptor i've started to take the ceiling down. this involves getting filthy - years of dust and soot and soil - MORE soil!! just how does that much soil get above a ceiling?! when i unblocked the fire place i ended up with a huge pile of granite and 55 sacks of sooty soil. i weighed one bag and estimated over a tonne of soil. the granite was claimed on free-cycle. the small and medium pieces went to a woman who is building a little wall around her pond. the large and extra large-too-heavy-for-me-to-lift-off-the-ground pieces have found a new home with an archeologist who is building a fire pit in his garden. it must be a big one!
so, onwards with the ceiling. the small joy of embarking upon this task is the knowledge that, within the main area, when this is done there really is nothing else i can possibly take out without demolishing the building itself! and amidst the dust and grime there are funny moments. balanced on the top rung of the ladder i levered a big piece of plasterboard off on three sides, closed my eyes as the layers of dust and soil slid past my head. i looked up thinking there was still more to come and was actually hit on the head by a porn magazine! that must have been stashed away beneath the floorboor boards for a few years. do i mention it to the neighbour i wonder?