A Farmhouse Reborn

While too many of our lovely vernacular houses fast disappear into ruin, there are a few happy exceptions. This is the story of a typical traditional farmhouse in Donegal – last modified in the 1990s with concrete chimneys and cement render.

With sweet and simple proportions it looks well – yet its unknown what lies beneath until cement is chopped away.

The restoration was undertaken by Sean Brogan and his team at Tir Chonaill Conservation 

It soon became clear the building had been weakened by the weight of oversized chimneys and other terrible ‘repair’ choices, such as block surrounds on windows which were not tied in.

Originally built in the early 1900s from what was available: volcanic rock taken from the nearby shore. Hard and slippery, this isn’t ideal stuff.  A hot lime mortar mix was made with earthy gravel. The gable shows itself to have cracked masonry.

Worse, it was discovered that redbrick repairs inside had rotted and simply fallen out when render was removed.

The team set about their work with patience. ”Old houses need happy workers” Sean says ”to coax them back to life.”

Brick chimneys of appropriate size and weight were built. Then a new roof of reclaimed slate, with lime barges and attic windows.

To prevent walls from bowing, the structure needed to be tied from front to back with steel-tie bars, which is an traditional method of strengthening buildings.  Helical bar stitches were applied to the gable..

Ten or more long bars were used to reinforce cracked gable masonry.

Using NHL 3.5 to re-point the exterior – a weaker NHL 2 was used for interior work

See this extremely interesting breathable floor system which uses several hundred empty glass bottles. This is an old technique which was used in piggeries to keep animals snug.

Beneath the bottles are layers of geo textile, perforated pipe, and rounded riverbed gravel

All is then covered by coarse sand. The stick markers are what shall be finished floor level. This clever and environmentally expedient system has a high insulation value.

100ml of limecrete NHL 3.5 completes the farmhouse lower floor

The original staircase was saved once treated for woodworm

A Douglas pine mantel for the kitchen fireplace – and a very fine single slab of Inishowen slate completes the hearth.

No Atlantic gales will disturb the warmth of this houseUpstairs you can see wall-plate tie-down straps, their swallow tails tucked into joints. These were individually crafted by blacksmith Michael Connolly in Kinlough, along with other works brackets.

Green builder Johnny Toner transforms bedrooms, now healthy living spaces with all natural, breathable materials.

Filled with light – and the air smells clean.

Note the cast iron anchor plates where the building is tied through with steel bars.

What a wonderful example of traditional skills and good conservation practice..

A credit to Tir Chonaill Conservation – and equally to the owners, who made a choice to properly protect this farmhouse for future generations.

We wish them many years of happiness beneath it’s roof.

 

14 thoughts on “A Farmhouse Reborn

  1. Nice to see you have kept integrity of the building intact as old buildings need some respect to bring them back to their ‘former glory’
    You were fortunate to have a Builder who respected that and knew what he was about. Well done!!

  2. What a lovely conservation project to match your equally lovely blog. Well done to you and all those involved with the project. May their roof never fall in and those beneath it never fall out!

  3. This is very heartening to see.
    And another excellent post showing the importance of the steps undertaken and explaining the reasons for each.
    That slate slab in front of the hearth is a joy to see – it can’t have been easy to transport and manipulate.

  4. Was there a reason for not using a hot-lime mix for internal plastering? From my recent reading and having been on a few courses it’s now considered the most vapour permeable/lime rich mix and best suited to conservation work.

    I’m planning a restoration of a not too dissimilar house in Co. Down, in far worse condition unfortunately, and was keen to use Hot-mix lime mortar throughout.

    1. Certainly Brian the hot lime mixes are enjoying a long deserved revival and I highly recommend Nigel Copsey’s book on the same:
      https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hot-Mixed-Lime-Traditional-Mortars-ebook/dp/B07NHF221C. I’m aware of surfacing research which has found NHL to be too hard for certain conservation jobs.Copsey has done excellent research on this.

      In terms of answering your question on behalf of this practitioner, Sean, he states that often the choice is based on practicalities such as bags being easily carried and stored, children being near the site, and safety while working – especially since he has only one eye.

      Wishing you the best of luck with your restoration – please let us know how it goes!.

  5. Louise this floor is a delight. The “received wisdom” is that NHL 5 is the best choice for the floor-screed and I have been reluctant as my instinct was for 3.5. Also I believe the weaker NHL 3.5 will be enough for the exterior. Difficulties in delivery of recycled glass bead to a difficult mountainside site has been another weight on my mind. Arranging with a local restaurant/pub/neighbours to take their empties resolves the “insulated lime floor”. As always, kudos and thanks to you Louise for generously sharing conservation information through your superb photography.

    1. Thank you – when you think of the energy consumed to melt down and reconstitute glass into insulation – it seems kinda daft when we can recycle it directly in it’s present form. Of course it is the spaces inside each bottle trapping air which makes the difference, as well as the glass itself. Green insulation materials are also v. expensive as well.
      I’m told that tests are currently being done in England on comparative values of various ‘green’ insulation and it will be interesting to see what results…

      In terms of the floor needing NHL5 we are becoming more aware of how overly strong mixes can effect buildings, and floors need flexibility.
      Having said that (please don’t quote me because I haven’t got the paper to hand to check detail) some recent research shows there may not be too much difference between NHL5 & NHL3!

  6. Hi Louise

    I am currently restoring an old cottage while adding a kitchen dining room, I am installing a heat pump and under floor heating, this will require good insulation and good air tightness, what insulation can I use on my external walls as these are 2ft wide, but insulation will be required

    Regards

    Brian

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