I will start with the problem I had. My house was built around 1910, I believe. It is a 2 bedroom house, with kitchen and bathroom. As it is an end of terrace house, I have three sides of outside walls with only one attached to my next door neighbours. I had several problems with damp in various corners of my living room, and bedrooms. Also, my living room was chilly due to two chimney breasts with cupboards installed instead of fireplaces and a lovely wooden floor-boarded floor with nothing underneath this but the ground.
I first called a maintenance company for an estimate as to the problem. He whizzed through the house saying – “yes rising damp, get a specialised company in and they will see to it. It will cost a lot, It won’t do any good. But you will have a certificate to pass on when you sell the house”. I was not happy with this!
I have a friend who was renovating his own house and he recommended the co-operative approach of Neighbourhood Construction, a Community Interest Company, and gave me a link to the website.
Simon came and spent some hours finding out my needs and assessing what might be done about the problems. He looked at everything and was very thorough. He was up in the attic, even the bit you could not stand up in, all the rooms of the house and the outside walls. He talked me through his Monopoly Board – user map! His enthusiasm was infectious and I, who am a 76-year-old non-scientific woman gathered the following:-
- Lots could be done by altering my behaviour, which had the advantage of costing nothing. Examples:- Open the window in the bathroom after my shower for 10 minutes, run the extractor fan when cooking to let steam escape etc.
- In the first place, he found that in the sitting room it was not rising damp but caused by cold spots and lack of air circulation.
- I had enough insulation in the loft but it had been badly fitted causing cold spots which condensed into water,
- The removal of the fireplaces had allowed air from the existing open chimneys to descend into the room, making the room cold (though keeping my white wine cold enough not to need a fridge!).
- The building methods nowadays are not correct for older houses when therefore causing damp spots where appropriate air circulation was unable to happen.
- Neighbourhood Construction helped me make a list of work to be done and the order of importance to keeping the house warm and the costs identified. I was thinking of moving up to Lincoln to be with my daughter,
- Phase 1 was identified and we decided to tackle the following issues first. They were as follows:-
- I altered my behaviour especially in the kitchen and bathroom – avoiding condensation after a shower by opening the window for at least ten minutes after I leave the bathroom. Not boiling a kettle with too much water and ALWAYS turn on the extractor fan when cooking in the kitchen which also avoids condensation. I am not, at the moment, drying my washing outside but this is desirable too. Down with tumble dryers!!!
- The first phase of work was to deal with air circulation around the house.
Doors upstairs and down were rehung so they were shutting properly. They were painted where necessary and fitted with new door furniture,
The insulation in the loft was rearranged, as the insulation, though plentiful had been laid badly around the chimney breasts creating cold spots.
The trapdoor, giving access to the loft was given a better fit to avoid draughts.
The rather flimsy cardboard shutting off the chimneys still in place but now used as 2 cupboards for Hifi and booze, These were torn out and replaced by plywood that fitted better and kept the cold air out.
This work was carried out by Ian Wilson of Jay construction introduced to me by Neighbourhood Construction as someone who was reliable, able to work on his own, and had done training with them. He was easy to talk to and attended very much to what I wanted to be done rather than talk me into anything else. He did all the work in a very short time with no fuss and no mess and I am inviting back if he is interested. Only one piece of work was not fully finished, the newly fitted vinyl seal to the attic trap door, the seal was removed for the frame to be painted. Fortunately, this simple oversight was noticed and put right whilst looking at Ian’s progress.
The cost of this was reasonable and far less than the original maintenance man estimated.
We moved on to the second round of work I needed to do before selling the house, as I have now decided to move up to be with family.
- The main worry for me was trying to fill in between the lovely old floorboards which sent a terrible draught up and froze my feet
Neighbourhood Construction suggested filling in with decorators caulk, and I was so enthused I opted to do this myself. However old bones, meaning I cannot kneel, and realising I was never going to do this overcame me! So this was done with the help of a friend, I cannot believe how much warmer the living room and the house in general is. I have an open plan living/dining room and inherited an open staircase. So heat rises!
- The next task was to deal with the damp spots in the living room. These were knocked out and supervised by Simon as a research project with exclamations abounding at what he found! He took photos as he went. There were several to deal with. The main sites were in the living room, at a corner place and behind a bookcase (cold spot) and in the kitchen both sides of a door that was raised some years ago when I was altering the kitchen. Both these were on outside walls sometimes abutting a garden wall outside, ‘Classic’ as Simon said! The knocked out holes have now been re-filled with hemp-lime plaster some while ago.
Now, all that is left is to paint the filled areas and yes I WILL buy the breathable paint! And I might even apply it!
One of the things I have been impressed with is the idea of the partnership between ‘customer’ and ‘provider’ of work, we are both Neighbourhood Construction practitioners. The ethos of the Co-operative is to encourage the owners to join in and experiment for themselves. This can cut down cost and spread the knowledge around. This was how I found Neighbourhood Construction. I respect this egalitarian view of the project and wish I had joined in many years ago. I have also missed a couple of social get-togethers that I was invited to and hope I might be able to go to one before I leave Bristol.
It has been a pleasure and fun to learn so much from this experience and having such great support in a difficult year. All I did was to provide strong coffee and ginger chocolate biscuits. They work really well!
– Whiz Collis
Uncontrolled air ingress – hole in the wall left after the removal of the tumble dryer.
Obsolete vent – sealed with a Foam applicator gun.
Smörgäsbord – a history of cement render, PVA and gypsum plaster. Vinyl paint has been removed and white salts have been washed away with vinegar in preparation for a thin skim of hemp-lime plaster.
Hemp-lime plaster – ideally the all the cement and gypsum would be removed and replaced with light-weight, insulating Bio-aggregate. With the draughts closed off and the source of moisture reduce such an extensive project can be postponed until such time as the kitchen is due for replacement.