Inglenook fireplace restoration

Inglenook fireplace restoration.
Having uncovered the inglenook( see earlier posts) and carried out structural masonry repairs using lime mortar and hand made bricks,then fitted a new oak bressumer beam, the fireplace is about ready for an Aga range to be installed www.agaliving.com .
the hearth is of reclaimed pamments with a limecrete base where the Aga will sit.
the whole affect is not only structurally sound now, but is the key feature in the room,offering a feeling of warmth,texture and colour.
photo 1
In all a very successful operation,ensuring the stack is secure and making great use of the space, once the Aga is working-can’t wait to see it fired up!
Thanks to www.anglialime.com for the lime products!

Inglenook restoration

Inglenook fireplace restoration.
This second post relating to the discovery of an inglenook fireplace relates to the structural issues caused by the fireplace being bricked up with no vent for years and also the beam having been burnt right through at some stage.
The soft red bricks had suffered a great deal from the damp and flue salts,breaking them down to a ‘mush’ of soot and brick dust.
This severely affected the structural integrity of the flue and stack above ,as the bricks at the base had crumbled away, the weight above had pushed the base outwards,with some significant cracks to either side.
To add to the troubles the bressumer beam had burnt right through and needed to be replaced with another.Quite a state in all!
First job, add support using Acrow props and then begin to rebuild the masonry using of course a lime mortar and bricks to match in size,texture,colour and absorbency, these new, hand made by local crafstmen.
The cracks were repaired by building new masonry into the old where stable enough ,with the addition of stainless steel helical bars where we could to tie in both sides.
The beam took some sourcing, but eventually a suitable size and air dried age was found.with the fireplace propped, up the old beam could be carefully removed and the new one settled into place,leaving the Acrows to carry the load for awhile until the fresh mortar could take the weight alone.
The next installment reveal the restored fireplace ,ready for an Aga range to be fitted.

Discovery of an inglenook fireplace

We are often asked to investigate what appears to be an inglenook fireplace,one that has been ‘bricked up’ at some later stage.
With our extensive understanding of period properties and a bit of detective work we can usually inform the client that they do indeed have one under the modern infill.
The discovery of an inglenook fireplace is always an exciting one!

This was just the case on a recent investigation to a 16th C timber framed home,where the current kitchen clearly had all the right signs- see the image above to view the bricked up inglenook and later posts to see images of it during and after restoration.
The inglenook fireplace was certainly there and would have been a good size, but on opening it up the masonry and timbers had clearly suffered a great deal by being enclosed in cement render for many years.

Having removed the cement render and plaster,it soon became clear that the bressumer beam over the inglenook had also burnt right through at some time in the distant past and maybe that was the reason it was infilled.

The bressumer beam( the beam which spans the opening over the fireplace) could no longer carry the load of the flue above, but the clients really wanted to fit an Aga range ,so we needed to take out the burnt through beam and replace it- sounds easy, but see the pics and later updates to see how we managed it-quite a challenge………….

lime render and pargetting

photo 4 (4)One of our most recent projects was to restore an area of external brickwork to part of a barn.
The area looked onto a sun terrace and we must admit that the condition of the brickwork,plus the addition of concrete blocks did little to enhance the space!( see pics)
After further investigation the brickwork was deemed beyond economical restoration and so the idea of lime rendering over the bricks and the concrete wall was suggested.
You will see from the images that the lime really adds to the area,providing a soft contour and smooth texture which will work well with the adjoining flint wall and brickwork.
We enjoy pargetting very much and added our Green Man to the corner of the rendered wall,he seems to fit in well to the space and looks at home there as =well as adding more interest to the area.
The Green Man Pargetting seems to have inspired the owners to commission us to produce a panel in a similar style telling some of the story of the family,a great idea and we can see this area becoming quite a focal point in the garden once the restoration is completed.
Do contact us if you have similar pargetting projects in mind!

The patio before lime rendering
The patio before lime rendering

Barn conversions

The conversion of redundant,neglected period buildings such as barns can be a subject of much discussion and heated debate!
Our view is that if these buildings are to survive, they must have a useful role in order to be valued and maintained as they deserve.
Too often we see formerly beautiful( in their own way) vernacular buildings left to rot beyond economic repair, then demolished to make way for a new build or just left to decay.
However, any conversion MUST be approached with empathy for the structure and surroundings,or you may as well take it down and start again!
An empathetic approach does not mean that it becomes a pastiche of what was, but takes from the structure the elements that stand out as offering aesthetic and structural value,that all important ‘character’, and adding if required a contemporary twist and /or an update in terms of the structure’s performance in the 21st Century.
Enhancing the thermal,accoustic insulation,ensuring heating and power are thoughtfully installed and the use of resources such as water is as efficient as it can be,are all possible,whilst retaining the shape and form of the original building.
It takes knowledge and experience to achieve this of course, an understanding of how period buildings were constructed and how the materials best function is essential, as so much damage is done when materials are used that seem right for a modern structure ,but are clearly wrong for period constructions.
Take the floor for example:
The original barn floor may have been rammed earth, or at best brick laid on sand,fine for an agricultural building not very efficient ways to retain heat and keep out damp in what will be part of a home!
The ‘modern ‘ way to ‘solve ‘ this would be to dig out the soil ,insert hardcore, blinding,a waterproof membrane and insulation( usually the foam type), then cover that with concrete.
A waterproof barrier sounds so good- keep out the damp etc,etc, BUT the moisture in the ground will go somewhere and in the case of a period structure, that water will migrate from the floor,where it can no longer escape through the membrane, up and into the walls, making them soaking wet as the moisture ‘wicks’ up into the walls, thereby creating a greater problem!

Our experience informs us that a membrane is not required if you use a product such as foamed glass( recycled) ,with a limecrete slab poured over it( a Breathable membrane laid between the two).
The glass is very efficient in stopping water rising through capillary action and is a great insulator too, so you can achieve an efficient ,warm and dry floor without damaging the walls -it just takes experience and understanding that what you put into a building affects the structure holistically.
Ty-Mawr lime have really good info on limecrete floor systems,we use them for our projects where we can. www.lime.org.uk

We could say the same for the masonry,it probably needs re pointing or alteration,its essential to understand how the walls function to avoid more problems later on after the conversion is complete-see our other blogs on lime mortars etc.IMG_4520

An eye for detail is vital, nothing looks worse than an ugly conversion ill thought out and using poorly selected ‘cheap’ materials,it has nowhere to fit in the landscape and is always a let down,especially when the damp starts to seep in as soon as the heating goes on!( these buldings were never heated originally of course!)

So, if you have a building that you would like to make more useful, do take the time to appreciate what it is about the structure that appeals and should be retained, seek the advice of specialists (such as us) and of course, include Conservation Officers and other agencies like the SPAB,who will be pleased to offer their thoughts.
From that you will be in a better position to decide just what might work for your needs, be it an extension of your home, making use of an annexe, or a garden room, the plan will work better and fit with the landscape and surroundings if you can find ways to celebrate what is there and add a little of the 21st century too.

Do view our gallery for images of our sympathetic barn and outbuilding conversions, contact us for further information regarding how we could use our knowledge of period property to help bring that old and unused structure sympathetically into the 21st century and beyond!

white house farm before

Restoration of a Suffolk clay lump cottage

Suffolk clay lump buildings are an increasingly rare structure,all too often they have been patched up using inappropriate materials which over time contribute to their downfall( literally!).
It is a great credit to owners who realise the special nature and character of these vulnerable buildings and then make the commitment to restore them using traditional materials and methods.
One such is a lovely little cottage tucked away in mid Suffolk.
When found it had not been lived in for years, was in a very poor state generally and the clay lump had been patch repaired with concrete,brick, block and cement .
To make matters worse, the ground level to one side had been built up over the years so that it was now some 400 mm above the original,over the flint plinth course and drawing dampness into the lump.
Cement rendered inside and out, the poor cottage was not too far from collapse in places and in fact some professionals claimed it would be best to demolish it and start again.
Luckily the owners appreciated it’s special qualities and the real character that these buildings have and decided to restore and repair using the specialist experience of The Green Man Building Company.
First job ,to carefully reveal,all the bad repairs and assess the damage caused,this meant removing the increased ground level, the cement render and the many patch repairs in brick, concrete and modern block,while at the same time ensuring the cottage could still stand on its clay lump core.
Once stripped back a restoration plan was established and we began to put things back together using skills and materials appropriate to clay lump constructions.
We have now completed the inside, lime plastering the repaired walls and re pointing the flint plinth course.
Part of the investigations discovered that the floor was now a concrete one , that was driving moisture up into the walls, so that was removed and an insulated Glapor and lime Crete floor installed, so now the inside is sound, warm and dry!
The lime Crete and the Glapor were provided by Ty-Mawr lime www.lime.org.uk ,who were as always great with their specialist advice.
Next job will be to repair and lime render the outside,once it has had a chance to dry out and the weather to warm up .We will source our lime render from Anglia Lime Company,a Suffolk based specialist supplier.
More on this ,including images ,on the Green Man Building Company web site and an update on the external restoration to follow.

Restoration of clay lump buildings

Clay lump is a traditional form of construction, using earth with a high clay content,straw,animal dung,chalk/flint etc.
In some areas of the country the name and the form of the material is diferent- cob ,for example is well known as a building materials in the west country, but here in East Anglia, Clay Lump is the term, the mixture formed into blocks and used as a construction material.
Usually this has been used for vernacular buildings, barns, single storey workshops and workers cottages etc.
It is a great way to use what you have locally and a cheap source of building material,even the joints between the blocks of lump are made from

Clay lump buildings have been treated so poorly in the past and few survive without having had extensive patch repairs through the years,often with inclusions of the dreaded cement, breeze block, corregated iron, you name it!
So very often the walls have been cement rendered inside and out, which may hide the damage ,but for sure the problems are just begining under the render!( see the blog entry on cement renders).

Properly understood they can be repaired and brought back to a useful state and can add a great deal to the character of a building, even when lime washed over, the pattern of the blocks and the texture of the earth will to an extent show through.
If the clay lump is to an outside wall, it is best to LIME RENDER over, but with empathy for the subtle contours of the wall which give it the character that can be totally concealed under a modern approach to rendering.
Repairs to collapsed clay blocks and those that have been patched with cement, brick,tin and anything else thrown at it can be made using replacement clay lump blocks using traditional methods,so that the whole can be sound again.

The inclusion of materials other than clay lump can cause weathering and breathability issues,so best to take them out to ensure a consistent material throughout.
Structural issues can be addressed either by a rebuilding of the failed area,or the inclusion of stainless steel rods- the only time we would use other than the clay lump and only as a last resort.

In all this the key is to retain the structure as it is that which forms the character and allows the building to continue on as a useful building- when buildings have no use they become vunerable to demolition and another part of out architectural heritage is gone forever!

The Green Man Building Company LTD specialise in this type of repair and restoration, you will see on our web site a number of such buildings that have been given another lease of life thanks to owners who care about their property and have engaged us to bring out the best and celebrate the structure for what it is.

Our specialist materials are sourced as locally as we can achieve, we use Bulmer Brick and Tile www.bulmerbrickandtile.co.uk , Our lime products are often sourced from : Anglia Lime Company www.anglialime.com .
At times we need to source from futher afield such as Ty-Mawr lime www.lime.org.uk
or Mike Wye and Associates www.mikewye.co.uk

We are always happy to discuss the repair and restoration of period buildings, in particular those with a little quirkyness, those with structural issues and of course, the ones at risk.
We work WITH the building, using our extensive experience to bring out the character of the materials used be it clay lump,clunch , flint, brick or stone, we will work with that which the building presents and the client desires.

Cement render removal from period buildings


This is one of the most common requests that come in and a problem that if not dealt with can lead to some very serious issues.

All too often we see a period property with solid brick walls covered in a cement based render. The thinking used to be that the render would keep the water out and hence the inside dry, but far from it!

A cement based render unlike a lime mortar ,is not a breathable material and if you think about it, we produce a lot of moisture INSIDE the home-cooking showers,etc, even our breath creates moisture that has to go somewhere. If the home has sealed unit double glazing, draught proofing and all the good ,sensible elements of energy efficiency, then where does that moisture go to?-you can install trickle vents etc- good ventilation is essential, but some of that moisture will attempt to escape through the walls and if there is a cement render on the inside and or out side, that’s as far as it will go-just sit there as a damp patch either as condensation on the inside or in the brickwork.

As soon as most materials become damp they loose their energy efficiency and the problems begin.

Moving to the outside, a cement render is a strong, but suprisingly brittle substance- it does not like being moved!
Period brickwork ,especially with timber framing will move a good deal- enough to crack the cement render-you will often see this in a cement render of a few years old.Take a moment to view our ‘case study’ on one such timber framed building on the web site, it shows the damage that cement renders do to period homes!

These cracks become the enemy as they do the reverse of the intended purpose- they will let moisture in the form of rain INTO the wall through the cracks, the softer brick will then soak this up and the moisture then finds it difficult to escape out through the render barrier efficiently- wet walls and worse than this if you have timber framing, wet timber, with the risk then if wet or ‘dry’ rot setting in.
Even 19th Century homes can have timbers in the form of wall plates and window lintels built into the brickwork- these are then at great risk of undermining the structural integrity of the property.

Cement render was often the 20th Century ‘answer’ to all of the problems,fortunately most builders are more aware of the longer term issues these days.( though by no means all!)

Our approach is always to try to restore the brickwork if we can- we can carefully removed the cement render and once revealed we can assess the cost efficiency of restoration. In most cases the client will want the brickwork restored, after all it has done a good job for many years and with the damaged bricks replaced and the wall re pointed using an appropriate lime mortar there is no reason why it should not continue to do so.
The wall can then breathe as it should ,with no barriers the wind and sun can evaporate the moisture efficiently, the replaced bricks and the new lime mortar keep the inside of the walls dry.

A restored period brick wall is a joy to see and brings some of the original glory and that all important character back to the home.

There are times when restoration of the brickwork is beyond economic reaso, at this stage a LIME render might be the better option, check our web site for more detail on that issue, www.thegreenmanbuildingcompany.com

Removing render from period buildings- a GREEN MAN BUILDING COMPANY guide

Removing cement based render from brickwork:

One of our most frequently asked questions!
The answers depend upon many factors,such as the condition and type of brick, the reasons for the render in the first place, the type of render and how it was
applied ,etc ,etc.

Buildings are rendered for a reason- to hide ugly and failed brickwork, to keep out dampness,to ‘brighten up’ an area -cement based renders are and have been used as a ‘cheap’ solution to the problem-they turn out to be far more expensive in the long run due to the damage they cause.
In most cases we can do something about it,arriving at a cost effective solution that allows the wall to breathe again,thus helping considerably to reduce dampness and condensation issues.
Just as big a plus is the aesthetic consideration- the bricks,once restored will enhance the appearance of the building and in so doing add value too!

It takes experience and forethought to remove render effectively-just going at it with a hammer and chisel might get the render off, but in so doing a great number of the probably soft bricks, would also be damaged beyond restoration.
The key is to be able to remove the render with as little impact to the wall as possible-approach at a shallow angle to the wall and not too hard!This will lift the render away in sheets with luck and leave you with bricks hopefully whole, but if not ,then not completely shattered.

Keep a close eye out for those special features that may have been covered up -arches,doors etc are very common and once exposed they can be restored as part of the story of the building.
You may well come across timbers that were rendered over-they would have been set into the wall as lintels,plates etc and due to the cement render may well have rotted causing structural weaknesses that really must be addressed
So, the render is all off and you are faced with a patchy brick wall with holes here and there ,damaged bricks and hopefully a feature or two that you did not know existed-what now?
This is where our experience comes into play as we can advise you on the viability of restoration in terms of your budget and the condition of the bricks/stone etc.
restoration is not a cheap solution- that is probably why the wall was rendered in the first place, but look at the damage a cheap solution caused!!

There is no wall that cannot be restored, given it is structurally sound that is.
The issues are budget and function- these walls were meant to breathe- the guys that built them knew what they were up to and stopping the breathability by rendering over got you where you are!
Often there are three options :
1. full restoration of the brickwork,including a re point,replacement of damaged bricks with MATCHING ones of the period,restoration of features etc.
2. preparing the bricks and mortar for a lime washed finish.
The lime wash finish allows the wall to breathe, but the restoration process can be quicker as we are aiming to show the pattern of the bricks and mortar through the limewash,rather than the full colour of the brick.
Lime wash comes in a range of usually pastel shades and is relatively easy to apply, once you understand the way it works!
It can be cheaper than full restoration and can certainly brighten up a wall, but still allow it to function as it ought. Lime wash is reversible too,so restoration is possible at a later stage.
3.lime rendering:
Lime render is a breathable solution,replacing the cement render with lime presents the same or very similar final finish,providing it is left as a lime render finish or a lime wash pigment is applied,rather than a modern masonry paint.
Do ensure that any angle beads,drip beads and mesh to hold the render is stainless steel as the lime will quickly attack the cheaper galvanised versions.
The render should be applied in two to three coats with time to part cure in between-a slower process, but worth doing it right!

Should you want more info on our approach to removing render, or for a site visit and quote, please do contact us via the website :


repointing with lime mortars- a quick guide from THE GREEN MAN BUILDING COMPANY

A quick ‘Green Man Building Building Company’ guide to re pointing:

It is essential when working on period buildings, that the make up of the existing mortar is taken into account in terms of texture,ingredients and colour.
Take time to find out about your building, the texture ,size and colour of the brick,its age and the make up of the mortar.
Analysis of the existing mortar will provide information that will guide the mixture of the new lime mortar and help to achieve a close match,not only in colour,which is the obvious one, but strength absorbency and texture which will aid durability and the all important breath ability.

The new mortar does not want to be too strong,especially important when working with the traditional low fired period bricks as a strong mortar will lead to erosion of the brick,spalling and other issues such as cracks running through the brick, rather than the ‘sacrificial’ mortar.

Important too to ensure that the joints are raked out to the appropriate depth( at least 1 ½ times the width of the joint), flushed out with copious amounts of water to remove dust and the whole area to be re pointed dampened prior to staring work.
The re-pointing will cover a good area quite quickly,so an organised approach to dampening is essential,especially in the summer months.
After pointing and the subsequent jointing up of the mortar the wall needs to be kept moist by covering with hessian which can be lightly sprayed over to retain the moisture-rapid drying will ruin the results and the whole thing will have to be started again!
Keep it covered and damp( NOT wet) for a couple of days at least in the summer.

It all sounds simple and indeed, with preparation, practice and patience the novice can achieve a reasonable result, but do practice on an area that is not in full view first!

This is but a quick guide, more advice on request from :