Edging Closer

Mr Blue-Shirt’s parents had one for years at their converted barn in Wiltshire; we had one for some time at the cottage that was attached to our forge. And ever since we first moved in, we have had one here in Italy too: a west wall that bears the full force of the prevailing weather – and that as a result becomes a major pain in the backside. In the case of my in-laws’ place, moisture found its way in between the rough-hewn stones from which the house was built and was only cured by completely re-pointing the whole wall and spraying it with a waterproof film. At our funny little circular place in Lincolnshire, the rain was able to seep in through single-skin, curved brick wall because a cowboy builder in the 1980s had applied the wrong kind of render, so the whole lot had to come off and be replaced with the right kind. And here… Well, as we know all too well, there is never a simple answer with this house.

Our latest west wall, with no doors or windows, is at the short end of the house and faces directly into any rain, hail, sleet or snow sweeping in from the mountains. It was originally an outside wall, but sometime in the 1950s it became an inside wall when a crude, two-storey extension was thrown up. Then, while our predecessors were converting the place from a farmhouse with storage areas taking up the entire ground floor and all the living accommodation on the first floor, the whole extension collapsed. The resulting cloud of concrete dust had a silver lining, though, as the lost volume was moved to the other end of the house where it now forms the sitting room with the main bedroom above. The west wall became an outside wall once more and the space left by the old extension was cleared and levelled and turned into a carport, which for the last four years has served principally as a storage area for all Mr Blue-Shirt’s building materials and equipment. It is also where our latest west wall problems started.

The newly-revealed outside wall was repaired, rendered and painted from the apex of the roof to the ground; all fine and dandy, it appeared. In our first winter, however, a bloom of white, furry mould kept appearing inside along the lower portion of the wall in what is now the entrance hall, no matter how often or how hard we kept scrubbing it off with mould remover. So Mr Blue-Shirt dug a couple of investigatory holes outside at the base of the wall and these soon revealed that no form of below-ground waterproofing had been installed to take account of fact that the external ground level is a good 30cm higher than the internal floor level of the hallway. This is because the entire ground floor had to be dug out to achieve the headroom required by building regulations. Meanwhile, the new car parking space, which butts straight up against the outside wall, was created from just a mix of our heavy clay soil and smashed up building rubble rather than proper hardcore and gravel, meaning it drains very badly. And the combined effects of rain running off the west wall plus bad drainage minus waterproofing is that moisture from the densely-packed, wet mud has leached right through the solid 60cm-thick west wall into the hall, providing the perfect conditions for white mould to flourish.

So resolving all these issues has been Mr Blue-Shirt’s latest project. This started with digging a broad trench about 80cm deep along the full 7m length of the west wall and then adding a sturdy, concrete foundation – made from about a cubic metre of liquid concrete that was poured into the purpose-built timber formers during one of the heaviest downpours we’ve ever had here, almost resulting in a mini dam-burst and landslide, which through sheer adrenaline and brute force Mr Blue-Shirt just managed to avert. Once it was dry, he glued a heavy-duty waterproof membrane to all the vertical surfaces, covered the whole of the bottom of the trench with a plastic drainage membrane, installed a drain pipe which he connected to the rest of the drainage system he’s installed, and then backfilled the trench with pea gravel and hardcore to improve drainage further.

Then came the 80cm wide concrete path running from the front step to the far corner of the house that Mr Blue-Shirt had the foresight to ensure slopes away from the wall slightly, encouraging rainwater run-off to flow into the gutter he has also installed along the path’s outer edge. Once the concrete has dried, Mr Blue-Shirt can finish backfilling the trench, level the surface of the carport and finally, tile the path which will join up with the sections of terrace he has built around the other three sides of the house. And in addition to solving the damp problem in the hall, the new path will give us the extra bonus of bringing us an awful lot closer to the day when we can walk right around the house and finally dispense with the need to walk three sides of a square, which we currently have to do annoyingly frequently.

Mind you, in order to enjoy this seemingly simple luxury, there is the small matter of first adding a flight of three or four steps up from the back of the carport to the higher ground level at the back of the house, and then re-building the very leaky cruciform cantina/cellar that Mr Blue-Shirt excavated last year (https://wordpress.com/post/lemarche.life/610), covering the whole thing back over and then finally closing the circle by adding the last four or five metres of path and another couple of steps down towards the back door. As Mr Blue-Shirt always says, how difficult can it be…?

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