Thursday, 29 March 2012

Putting in the groundwork…


John (Natural Path) and Neil Bentley of BDC  still smiling  after a long session trying to get to grips with a stone/cob wall with no foundations… Neil has been great finding really pragmatic solutions to some very challenging problems.

Mike Wye also joined us earlier and was invaluable in discussing the options available and how these could mesh with the natural materials.  John  is heading off tomorrow to do part of the lime rendering course with Mike before we get stuck into our first “harling coat”…

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Slice of Lime

Yesterday John and I spent the day at a CPD course with Mike Wye Associates learning all about the applications and benefits of lime technologies. It was a really good day and I would recommend it to anyone who wants an introduction to this natural alternative to renovating. We talked a lot about the issues of damp and in particular about our project.


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The hardest thing is that there is no “right” answer so we now have to marry some new ideas with those of our architects, Squirrel Design, and try and find the best course of action for our property. We have a very complicated set of issues around the back of the barn, with rising damp, structural support,  cob/block/stone mix walls, earth banked up against the side, no drainage in a high weather exposure area and orientation… we will find THE solution… it’s ultimately what we do: analyse the problem, seek the experts opinions, develop a consensus, implement, monitor and adapt if required. It certainly requires more use of the grey matter than new builds, but if we are to keep our architectural heritage it is essential.

In the near future we will post some cross sections of our solution to this particular problem… just in case anyone ever comes across the same situation!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Squirrelling away

We just had a great afternoon with Mick, our architect from Squirrel Design. With John having exposed all the walls and ceilings, Mick came up to have a look at what we needed to do… quite a lot actually! A new oak beam joists needs to be supported – the question is how. New roof supports needed to be created so that the ceiling could be vaulted. A wall needed to be underpinned to allow a raised earth bank to be removed, and a new floor needs to be put in below the foundations of the original barn. Nothing too challenging then!

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I think involving an architect regularly is even more important with renovations. Mick had both the knowledge and experience to know what the best options were… things we hadn’t come across before, he had.

After several hours and a lot of tea and coffee we felt we had made huge progress and lots of decisions.

So an exciting time begins, that or reconstruction of a breathing, low VOC naturally renovated barn into a beautiful, fun, healthy building with another 300 years life built into it! And that’ just the first the buildings we will be tackling in this project.

Thursday, 8 March 2012


John is ripping out so quickly that every evening the room is transformed... always left tidy so the day starts and ends with order and clear thinking.

We are now back to the original stone walls, all studs and fake walls out the true form of this part of the building is revealed. Every element is being recycled reused, from studs to switches and copper pipes. It seems absolutely crazy to have to buy in new materials for everything but that is exactly what most renovations involve. The argument is labour saving but frequently it is more motivated by margin on material purchases.

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We are finding that with a little thought, planning and materials management that the skip that arrived from Acorn in Bideford (thanks guys, best price and great friendly quick service) remains empty, whilst the store fills with sized timbers, cable runs, pipes and switches.

Of course the dilemmas have already begun and after 1/2 hour on the phone to our partner architects, Squirrel Design, there remains much research to be done. What insulation system do you use to achieve the most thermally efficient cob/stone wall system for a large house wanting to make use of natural materials wherever possible whilst reducing the thermal carbon footprint for the future?