Day 4 - expert advice

The boys and Michelle were pretty tired so they stayed in the apartment while I met with Emma Sides and Joseph Little, friends of Michelle and period property geeks, for some beers, pizza and expert advice.

Joseph is an architect who's currently Assistant Head of School at the Dublin School of Architecture in DIT. He also happens to be Ireland's leading expert on the insulation of period property. Which came in quite handy as we've got an insulation disaster in our hands.

We spent a great couple of hours checking out the house. Here are some highlights from the invaluable advice I received:

  • The plaster that looks like soil is probably just that: soil with a high clay content with some lime for binding.
  • If plaster has turned into powder (i.e. "has blown") and is falling off the walls or if it's wet, it’s of no use and should be removed. There's no need to remove plaster that's in good condition - the holes can be patched.
  • The walls in the front living room are very damp. This most likely is caused by the non-breathable wallpaper covering thin layers of polystyrene used for insulation. A disaster in a period property as it traps moisture in the walls. We must remove this immediately and allow the walls to dry.
  • The kitchen walls’ plaster is hopeless. Must be removed.
  • The gutter’s downpipe at both the front and back look damaged and are probably leaking. They're most likely the cause of the dampness problem. Must fix immediately.
  • We should stand outside in heavy rain or when someone is having a shower and see where the water is flowing. It's probably splashing or running into the walls.
  • The bricks are in suprisingly good condition even when there is damp damage.
  • There are simple and cost-effective ways to double-glaze our (not original but quite lovely) wooden windows that won't involve ripping them out and installing new ones.

There was tonnes more on insulation, damp, protecting period features and making the house's layout work for us. We'll be writing about this in future posts. But we're working with the headlines right now.

In retrospect the advice on the plaster might seem a little obvious, but we were in a state of confusion having been advised on one hand to conserve every last crumb of original plaster versus being told to knock it back to the brick and plaster with modern materials. Joseph's very pragmatic advice was rooted in deep knowledge and respect for traditional materials, and informed by his passion for the best of modern materials. What's absolutely invaluable is the confidence all this rich knowledge has given us to get started where we can.