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Renovating a mud house... big step up from playing with mud pies!

Blog entry by rdlaurance posted 09-19-2010 01:33 PM 13266 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Greetings fellow RENOVATORS…

Though I’ve been involved in the sister site Lumberjocks for about a year now, I haven’t really been too involved with this site. However my plans initially were to put together some blog entries on some of the renovating work I’ve done on my house, once the house was finished and I had a little more available time. Presently, I’ve got just too many ‘irons in the fire.’ With all of Martin’s work putting together the Creative Hands network, I thought it would be a good idea to contribute something and the Window Project Competition seemed an area to focus on. As this is the first blog that I’ve ever actually put together, I hope you all will be patient with me and overlook any areas that I may happen to neglect.

A little background history on this house that I’m working on and after three years of almost daily work (99% of my labours alone). My lovely wife and I purchase it February of 2007 but didn’t really begin work until about July. The house was originally built sometime at the beginning of the 1900’s according to the records , which actually weren’t written down till about 15 years later. During my reconstruction I have found numerous indications that the house may actually have been built during the late 1800’s and possibly even earlier. It is of an adobe brick construction with a wood facade. The farmer that we purchased it from had acquired it at auction in 1947 and very little had been done to it through the years. It was in fact, in dreadful condition, with moisture and mildew problems throughout. We fell in love with the location with its fabulous view and its country location yet one kilometer from the village’s outer boundary, so the amount of work it would require to make update it with a real plumbed bathroom and kitchen and all had undaunted me in the least. The house is located in the southern province of Skåne, here in Sweden. Though my wife is Swedish, I hail from the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, actually) of the USA.

In renovating the house, I have literally replaced all the windows and most of the exterior doors, though for this Project I will focus mostly on the SouthEast bedroom window, because I actually built the window myself, whereas the other windows were built by another local carpenter. These windows are all double glazed windows that actually fold out so that the insides and outsides can be cleaned while serving to give additional insulation. They are a traditional style built in this area since the beginning of the 20th century. I have tried to maintain the facade’s appearance of the house as it was when we bought it, though I have input my own creativity to alter the design slightly do be a bit more aesthetically appealing. The window surrounds and framing are all of my own design with references back to the 1800’s from areas of central and northern Sweden, where carpentry seems to have been more ‘artful.’

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This first picture is how the house appeared during February 2007 when we purchased it. Even the weeds were allowed to grow 4’-7’ heights. The gavel end of the house is that portion that this blog will primarily deal with.

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This is the gavel end of the bathroom about one year later. The weeds have been eliminated, flowers planted, stones from around the property have been laid down for a private sitting area and the tired,weathered gavel end …. still needs work.

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On the interior of the bedroom, my wife joins in to strip roughly 80 years of newspaper, chalk paint and wall paper off the walls. With it the smell of mildew slowly begins to dissipate. There were roughly about 7 layers of papering over the adobe walls, with layers of chalk-based paint between some of those. The window in the background is the window that I’ll be replacing. The panes of this window as all of the windows in the house are all handmade from mouthblown glass. I have meticulously removed all the handmade panes from the old windows and reused them in all the new windows.

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After the floor boards and timbers were removed, I had to fill in the cellar directly underneath the bedroom. It remained the whole first year, even through the summer, with between 2”-6” of water and a few frogs and salamanders. After the infill, with massive quantities of boulders from the ground level of other rooms of the house, packing them to stabilize, I proceeded to cut back some of the protruding stones that were part of the foundation at floor level. My plans were to fill in floor areas with concrete which in turn would have embedded an Hydronic Radiant Floor Heat System’s tubing. In preparation for that, it required me to reinforce the stone foundation with a concrete backing that would serve to keep the foundation intact and stable and offer a basin to easily fill for the concrete flooring. Some stones were too high at the floor level so had to be cut and chiselled back so as not to impede on future surface areas.

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Due to my previous laptop crashing and losing the harddrive and data I regretfully have lost many pictures of this renovation. What’s that mantra, I keep hearing…. ‘Backup’….’Backup’… ‘Backup’… One oftentimes has to learn from costly mistakes…..

So, though I don’t have a picture of the bedroom floor removal and infilling of the cellar, this picture from the living room is pretty much what all the rooms of the house looked like at this stage with the old rotten floors and timbers removed… and the stone and boulders moved into the cellar or outside for future building projects. All the floors timbers were laid directly on the dirt and stones, which were built up about 18” above the outside ground area.

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So now I’ve filled in the floor area with about 10” of gravel, packed tight. You can see the remaining foundations here under the adobe walls, that will be reinforced with a backing concrete foundation.

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Sheets of a closed-cell foam insulation (styrofoam-like) are stacked tightly across the surface of drainage gravel abutting the concrete foundations. Within this, I’ve set in the rebar and netting which has the hydronic thermal heating pipe bound tightly against, ready for the floor to be poured.

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A contractor arrived precisely on time and pumped in tons of a gypsum-based levelling compound which will harden overnight. Actually it was a two day process, pumping out half to lock in place the hydronic thermal tubing which will have a tendency to float, even with the rebar and netting attached. After that first layer hardens, the next day a primer is sprayed on and the final layer (pictured layer) is pumped in, and being self-leveling will involve no additional work.

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So now I have a level surface in the house to stand on, rather than a whole in the ground. That brings an immense satisfaction, even though it feels like eons before the house will be habitable.

I find now that I need to begin building on the window that I will use to replace the older rotting one in the bedroom. ‘Butterfly joints’ are cut into what will be the window framing. I think I’m loosing command of the English language now that I’m thinking more in Swedish, as for the life of me I can’t recall what some of these terms are called in English.

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This will be a miniature of a three section window that I’ll also replace in the upper storey. Here I’ve cut and am joining all the individual pieces. As I don’t have a shop area, all this work is done in the barn with mostly hand tools, circle saw and small router. I really do need to build tables or something to work on someday, but seems I really want to spend all my time focused on building just on the house…. so much to do!

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Finally, the three window sections fit together. You can see how they open out to allow cleaning on the interior surfaces without removing the windows from the framing or hinges. The hinges here in Sweden also differ from most those I’ve witnessed in The States, as to remove windows and doors one just opens them and lifts up and off the hinge that remains fastened to the wall. I find this system so wonderful, as I seem to be lifting windows and doors off and on a lot. No screwdriver required.

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A primer and first coat of paint is spashed on, windows are set in the framing to test fit and how well they open. A little fidgeting and adjustment here and there and a smile is felt growing upon my face. Now I can move on to the house once again.

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So here we are with the old window and its new replacement. I need to remove the old window, cut the panes of handmade glass to fit the new windows, putty and paint them further…. while I get into some very serious ‘MUD’ work.

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This picture shows the sorrowful state of the facade, just days away from its last of greeting the morning sun. The window surrounds, in my opinion, are extremely boring in their drab, simplistic design. I’ll have to improve on that.

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Removing the old half rotten facade is quick business. Visible on the adobe brick surface, one can see that the window that I will be replacing was itself a different style replacement for what was originally located (narrow and vertical in size) on this wall. The small square towards the back corner of the wall was a small window from the old stairway area down into the cellar. I filled that with adobe bricks months prior while doing some work in the kitchen.

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The old window is removed from the wall in preparation to filling in with Adobe bricks and mud.

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Here is one happy ol’ fart playing in mud. The window box is mudded in so that the new window will be fitted in with more modern methods. This will allow for any future replacements without having to tear down the entire facade and adobe wall. All the windows in the house were mudded in directly, which meant replacement required removing them from the adobe walls which also had to be partially removed and remudded in. My solution was to remove each window and an additional amount of adobe bricks which allowed an oversized window box to be mudded in. All the new windows then could be fitted with regular window fasteners and in the future can be replaced (need be) in a much easier manner.

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The window box is now mudded in. Additionally I’ve replaced the rotting facade nailing boards, which are embedded into the walls. The window can now be hung and the facade can be added on.

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The interior view of the new window. I chose to build a smaller window as this is the bedroom and this is the eastern wall. At this latitude the summer sun rises at about 4 a.m. and being somewhat photosensitive, it greatly disturbs my early morning sleeping hours. The smaller, deeper window allows a decent outside view and sufficient light to enter without otherwise affecting this ol’ bear’s slumber period.

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While I’m playing in the mud, I decide the time is right to also fill in the old doorway between the bedroom and kitchen. This will insure that the bedroom remains a very quiet room, as the adobe walls are absolutely wonderful for insulating noise as well as moderating the temperatures.

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The walls have been rough-framed with exterior walls and window cavities additionally insulated with rock wool insulation and the windows are sealed off with plastic to hinder any possible drafts as well. I think the deep window wells will be very enjoyable to have as my wife and I both love to have lots of plants in the windows. Our cat also has an affinity for laying in the window areas, so she should be quite content also.

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Here is a closer detail of the interior of the window at this stage.

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The exterior facade is installed. These boards were cut to size and some shaped to pointed ends similar to the previous facade and painted the previous winter in preparation for this work. The battens were all additionally routed with edge profiles.
Building the window surrounds has been started with the drip ledges.

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On the interior, the window has been sanded and painted. I’ve already installed the wallboard, spackled, plastered and sanded the walls, prior to painting two layers of a base coat and lightly sponging a texture of a slightly darker tone, for more depth. The sponge was a souvenir from one of our trips to the Greek islands, where incidentally the two of us met 30 years ago.

The floor is a snap-loc ‘floating floor’ system of oak laid upon a vapor barrier and locked into place.

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Here’s a picture of the small more intimate yet deep-welled window finished (except for the molding that I need to make after the remaining windows in the house are finished).
The small ceramic figure on the right is of the famous Minoan snake goddess, my wife’s favorite. I made it from small lump of clay that we dug up in the garden of our previous property a few miles distant. It turned out to be a nice earthenware type of clay and fired beautifully. The ceramic ‘bird of paradise’ is an old sculpture from around the 1920’s, I believe, and was one of her mother’s favorite pieces.

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The exterior view of the new window is far different, more elegant while being a bit rustic at the same time. Also it’s design reflects back to an earlier age of carpentry and stronger style. I feel it’s strong geometric presence fits better with the horizontal element of the bottom part of the upper facade.

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So here we are! Three years later.
Left to do, when the weather is a bit more agreeable, is to finish the painting of the exterior part of the window and one last coat on the entire facade. Also a little more roof work, like pressure wash the moss off the roof tiles, and install a couple of ‘ballerinas’ on top of the chimney for better draft and rain protection and 101 other small weekend jobs to put the real ‘polish’ on the house. One job that I am really looking forward to is the designing and production of all the ceramic tiles that I’ll use for the border tiles and floor molding in the bathroom and kitchen. Two rooms now have antique terra-cotta tiles that I’ll be making terra-cotta floor molding for also. I just bought the ceramic kiln last week, so excitement for that aspect is presently overflowing!

I do hope that you’ve enjoyed my dialog in sharing this lengthy project. Hopefully, I’ll have more free time in a few months and put together some other blogs or project aspects of this ‘total house renovation’.

-- Above all, it is a matter of loving art, not understanding it. (Fernand Leger)



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rdlaurance

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7 comments so far

View dustygirl's profile

dustygirl

321 posts in 3666 days

posted 09-20-2010 04:02 PM

Wow that sure was a lot of work you did on your house.The end results look great.Nice job.

-- Dustygirl Hastings,Ont. Life is too short to sit around doing nothing

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rdlaurance

16 posts in 2999 days

posted 09-22-2010 07:25 AM

Thanks for the appreciative comment, dustygirl. We think its looking great as well and hopefully by this time next year all the fine finish additions will be completed. Things like profiling/painting and installing all the door and window molding (trim); design, production and installation of all the floor edging, backsplash and border tiles, which will be in both terra-cotta and stoneware; refinishing all the old (late 1700’s-early 1800’s) inner doors; and probably 101 small things that I’ve overlooked but will one day stick out like a hammer-struck thumb!

best regards,

—rick

-- Above all, it is a matter of loving art, not understanding it. (Fernand Leger)

View PaBull's profile

PaBull

701 posts in 3825 days

posted 09-24-2010 09:32 PM

Wow, very nice posting here. Thanks for letting us into your house. I like what you are doing to the place.

View rdlaurance's profile

rdlaurance

16 posts in 2999 days

posted 09-25-2010 09:12 AM

Thanks PaBull

with best regards,

—rick

-- Above all, it is a matter of loving art, not understanding it. (Fernand Leger)

View MsDebbieP's profile

MsDebbieP

629 posts in 3892 days

posted 10-02-2010 11:52 AM

oh my goodness!
First, thank you for taking the time to prepare this blog for the challenge.
Secondly.. oh my goodness… all the work, the transformation.. and those windows!
So beautiful

I also found it interesting to read about the Swedish hinges. I wonder why we don’t adopt them?

-- ~ Debbie, Ontario Canada

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rdlaurance

16 posts in 2999 days

posted 10-03-2010 08:47 AM

Thanks Debbie…

I’ve wondered also about the hinges and numerous other things I’ve seen as well. I’ve surmised that there exists two or more possibilities as to why these (and other things) are not used in the US/Canada.

One is that there probably exists no patent for these as they have literally been hand forged for hundreds of years prior to mass production. Modern industry seems so much to thrive on having their own unique patented products (to eliminate competition in a sense) and these designs, being so old would now exist in the public domain (non-patentable).

Second possibility that I see is possibly related more to ‘national pride.’ And this works in reverse as well. There are numerous wonderful little products in the US that just are not available here as well, though they have their own devises to fulfill the same need, though sometimes not as efficient or easy to use.

But in either case, my inkling is more in line with the first thought … using and maintaining private patent/copyrights for a product. This country, as so much of the Nordic countries, still maintains an abundance of ‘smithies’ so it’s not difficult to still get handmade forged items. I personally think this is wonderful. Even many of the chainstores here sell more common handforged items… ie, barn hinges, hanging hooks, etc. Being an artist/sculptor, I like the added knowledge/satisfaction of the handmade over the factory made. Direct employment of the skilled artisan over the corporate magnate ….lol …

-- Above all, it is a matter of loving art, not understanding it. (Fernand Leger)

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MsDebbieP

629 posts in 3892 days

posted 10-03-2010 12:02 PM

I didn’t think of that but you are right, that (patent) would definitely play a big role ..

talking about the pride thing.. my thoughts go to the debate on which screwdriver tip is the best.. Philips or Robertson… one of them being Canadian (I forget which) ..

anyway.. good conversation.. and isn’t it wonderful to see hand-forged items. We SO need to go back to this type of living – made locally.

-- ~ Debbie, Ontario Canada

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