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So we’ve achieved a sort of milestone, we began painting yesterday. This marks the turning point between the destructive and constructive parts of the project. The upstairs bedroom has reached a point where, with some more filling and wiping down, the undercoat can now start to be applied to the plaster. Needless to say this feels like a huge psychological step forward as we can now see some positive results even though there’s still much destruction to be done.

This is the test wall, filled, sanded and washed with liquid soap.

The kid gets involved in painting her room…

The end result may appear almost identical however we painting with watered down paint which is the recommended first step with unskimmed plaster. Next step is to fill and sand the rest of the room and continue painting.

I’m happy to report that the upstairs bedroom is now wallpaper free (with the exception of a tiny are behind the heater). This feels like something of a milestone after the ongoing battle that was stripping it all. I can now see the state of the raw plaster – which is a bit variable as you can see. Some filling required but it’s not too bad.

Just posting some progress pics.

I stripped off the layer of painted lining paper in the kitchen. Discovered that this area has two different wall coverings: the easy to remove lining paper and painted plaster.

Removed the wood from the base of the living room bookshelf nook.

Made a start on demolishing the fireplace. Removed the terracotta tiles from the mantelpiece and hearth. The rest of it is concrete faced with thin bricks. This will need some serious tools to remove.

The battle against the wallpaper in the front bedroom continues. The end is in sight but the remaining bits are the toughest.

I’m at the stage where you have to keep going with each job regardless otherwise it just feels like it’s going nowhere. I had a useful discussion with a joiner this week which suggests my plan for the kitchen should work (more on that in future).

Upstairs, the kid’s room is just about free of wallpaper. I’ve come across a couple of tricky areas, specifically in the chipboard at the windows and on the ceiling. The latter is woodchip which is renowned for being impossible to remove. In this room, the ceiling paper definitely has to come off as it’s been badly patched in the past and looks rubbish. The good news is that the woodchip itself isn’t any more difficult to remove than the rest of the paper – it tends to come off in nice sheets. The difficulty is in using the steamer upside down. In addition to the steam there’s a lot of condensation build up in the plate which needs to be emptied frequently plus there’s quite a bit of sputtering and splashing of hot water which makes using it slow and hard going.

This looks like some kind of explosion has occurred but it’s just condensation.

Downstairs things are going more rapidly. I’ve managed to remove the wallpaper from all the walls right up to the glass door.

Unfortunately this revealed a couple of issues. First, in the kitchen area, the paper had been applied on top of a layer of what looks like skimmed surface plaster or paint. A section of this fell off (first pic at ceiling of kitchen) as I removed paper no doubt due to it’s age and the fact that the walls are quite uneven. I didn’t fancy removing the rest until further discussion with professionals. The whole lot may have to come off and I can imagine this will have to be skimmed or faced with something. The second issue was in the ceiling just above. I’ve been trying to avoid taking off the paper there in the hope I might get away with just painting it, however the area above the bare plaster pulled away by itself revealing multiple layers of paint, paper and other materials. I can’t see this being a stable surface to leave in place so I guess it’ll have to come down too.

For a change of pace I returned to demolishing the wooden shelves in the corner of the living room. As I’ve said before about the built-in elements in the house, they aren’t especially pretty but they were built to last. My previous attempt at this (with screwdrivers and a heavy masonry hammer) only resulted resulted in some barely loosened supports. I had a go at splitting the shelves and supports with the jigsaw, which worked very well and allowed me to batter the sliced pieces to bits with the big hammer. Very satisfying.

Ok, so I said there was nothing more to say about wallpaper stripping but it turns out there is. When I was researching the best tools for this I couldn’t find anything which conclusively said that a steamer was better than any other approach. Consequently I tried manually scoring the paper, soaking then scraping. When this proved to be too arduous I moved up to a borrowed hand-held steamer. This was better but still seemed to take too long and require too much effort – remember my house is only small but every surface is covered in wallpaper. So I concluded that it was time to graduate to a serious steamer.

I got the appropriately named Titan and the effect is incredible. The heat is way more intense than the hand held model so it only takes a minute or two of pressing to the wall and the paper melts off in large, soft sheets. Suddenly wallpaper stripping is almost a joy. There are still tricky aspects but now I can start a section of wall knowing that I’ll be able to get it done within a reasonably short time without arm wrestling with the paper and knackering the surface of the wall. It also makes short work of any stubborn lining paper and glue – frequently more trouble than the top layer of paper.

These walls and window were only an afternoon’s work, previously they would have taken double that and there would have been loads of tufts and glue leftover. The one wrinkle in this day’s work was the discovery that the window insets (what’s the correct term for those?) are lined with chipboard. Though I’d be quite happy to leave it on show, it’s extremely absorbent so gets very wet when steamer is applied. The glue also bonds more tightly with the wood fibre so is harder to remove and inevitably destroys some of the surface in the process. I’ll have to review this when dry. Might just have to paint this.

Pros and cons of heavy duty steamer

Pros

  • Large capacity of tank
  • Continuous boiling generates enormous amount of steam
  • Stubborn wallpaper and glue falls away in seconds
  • Very light hand-held plate attached by hose to boiler, saves having to lift the heating element and water while working
  • Kinder to the wall – the easier the paper comes off, the less effort required and therefore fewer nicks, scrapes and general damage will occur to the plaster surface

Cons

  • Takes around 10 mins for boiler to reach working temp
  • Boiler allows approximately an hour of steaming before it has to be turned off and refilled requiring cooling down and reheating time
  • Turns the room into a sauna
  • Very real possibility of scalding

In summary I’d say the cons are minor compared to the immense effectiveness of this kind of device. You obviously have to be careful working with hot steam but otherwise, it’s a no brainer for me. If you have lot of old, painted and layered paper to remove, go straight for a machine like this, you won’t regret it.

Finally I came across the plasterer’s signatures which date this work (and I assume the replacement windows) to what appears to be 1985 and 1990.

At the moment every task is about tearing down, demolishing and removing which can feel a bit negative. When I look at the pictures of entry day back in June, everything was at least whole and presentable, now it all feels a bit trashed and I wonder how long it will be before I can do something actually constructive? Having said that, nothing had been done in decades and there were a great many bodges, make-do’s and patches, all of which need proper attention to bring the place back to life, so I can at least be satisfied that I’m paying attention to it all.

I had a clear-out of the under stairs cupboard recently. The decor in here is a combination of the original, rather shiny plaster and a fair bit of patching. This is how it looked pre-purchase. There were a couple of old kitchen units stacked up and some old wall mounted shelves.

I carefully removed the units and discovered a hole in the plaster which had been carved out to accommodate the corner. You can see the bodged fix they used to cover the bulk of the hole. The shelves were straightforward to dismantle and may come in handy at some point in the future. There is a questionable looking cable sticking out and I guess it’s one of the original lead ones the electrician was trying to track down. I’ll get him to take it out next time he comes.

I plan to fit this out at some point into an efficient utility cupboard perhaps a bit like this one.

I also found this vintage AA badge in one of the cupboards. It’s a quality curio, I’ll find a place for it somewhere in the new design.

It might seem that all I go on about here is wallpaper and demolition but there is more to this project. There’s a neat little garden at the front of the property which I have lots of plans for.

Last weekend, during our shift with the big van, we were presented with some home grown Lupins and a pair of Sunflowers. Yesterday, me and the kid spent some time planting them.

I’m going to try and post more, shorter updates to keep on top of things.
Week three has started with a bit more wallpaper stripping, what else? I think we can all agree it’s a tedious and arduous job that doesn’t really require any more words. Here’s the recent progress.

Aside from the tedium of wallpaper the other major task is demolition. At the weekend I removed the breakfast bar and a couple of base units from the kitchen. This afternoon I took out the built-in shelving units.

I was intending to donate the units on the assumption that they were single pieces of furniture that could be reused, unfortunately this wasn’t the case. In fact they were multiple sections, screwed together very thoroughly and made to fit this space. The only way to take them out was to take them apart. Removing the upper one will be lots of fun…

The better news was that the lino was loose and hadn’t been glued down at all which will make laying a new material a lot easier.

I also made a start on removing the inset shelving. This was very old and had been modified, painted over and had been boxed in with assorted shims, facings and screws. It was a mess and took a bit of persuasion with the hammer to get it out. I can see multiple layers of tiles, hardboard, facing boards and other materials all quite carefully interlocked. This extends round to the sink are as well. It’ll all have to come out but I’m going to wait to consult a pro before I set about that job.

This week I’ve learned that it’s hard to stick to doing just one thing when everything needs done, however, to make effective progress, it’s better to pay attention to one area at a time so for now, downstairs is my main area of focus.

Wallpaper

Week two continued with more wallpaper stripping. The flock wallpaper comes off relatively easily, the surface layer mostly tears off without much effort and there’s just lining paper underneath, so repeated soaking makes that removable.

The built in cupboard is more of a problem. As well as a surface layer of wallpaper, this has many layers of paint and other materials.

I realised that some more substantial tools would be required so I made a trip to B&Q in Perth. I came away with a heat gun, a jigsaw (I reckon I’ll have to develop my wood working skills) and a workbench.

So far, the heat gun has not provided the super-effective removal process I was hoping for but this may be more due to the fact that I haven’t used one in about 25 years so need to develop my confidence and technique a bit.

The plan with this wall is to reline the cupboard with OSB board and demolish and replace the wooden shelving and fireplace.

Kitchen bits

Later in the week I was idly flicking through Gumtree (the upcycler’s best friend) when I came across a collection of Ikea Varde kitchen units located in Anstruther.

I’ve been thinking hard about what to do with the kitchen. It’s very small and U shaped. There’s no scope to expand the width though I can extend the length into the living area. A new, fitted kitchen was never going to be achievable on my limited budget and it didn’t feel like the right thing for me anyway. I’m going for a kind of eclectic/industrial look so free standing units seemed to be a better approach. Ikea’s Varde range are substantial, free standing units with a pro-kitchen look with hefty, butcher’s block surfaces and lots of stainless steel. They were made in the 90’s and early 2000’s but have since been discontinued. There’s a growing cult around these now and I’ve seen them on ebay for several hundred pounds per unit.

There was no doubt these were the right character for my kitchen so I immediately made an offer on them. The big issue was going to be logistics of getting them from Anstruther and into the house.

I rented the first available van which turned out to be a monster LWB Transit (2.5m tall, just under 6m in length!). I thought it was ludicrously oversized but it turned out be very useful indeed.

Having a van for 24 hours was going to be extremely useful in a variety of ways so, on Friday afternoon I set about removing the old kitchen breakfast bar and units so I could get the new unit in (nowhere else to store it) and get rid of some of the debris.

During this I discovered another hidden ‘feature’. An electric heater was situated under the old cooker-top right of pic 2. I had noticed a separate socket for it above the worktop but had assumed it was long removed. Lord knows how this was ever considered safe.

On Saturday morning we began the epic struggle of getting the main unit (hereafter The Beast) to the house. This involved taking the worktop off just to get it out the van. The Beast had to be shifted in small increments down the street. Two of us struggled with this for about 20 minutes before one of my new neighbours (whom I met that morning) took pity on us and offered to assist. The Beast was delivered to the house in a more or less straightforward fashion after that.

This is not the final location for The Beast but it gives some idea of the scale, it takes up an entire wall of the original kitchen.

More wallpaper

After further runs in the van to the dump and storage unit in Perth, it was time to turn my attention back to wallpaper. I mentioned in a previous post that I had resolved to get a steamer to assist with removing the wallpaper. I’ve done a fair bit of research online about the benefits and I’ve yet to find anything which conclusively says that a steamer is better than the manual approach. Luckily my fellow volunteer from Remake offered to lend me his to try out. Having tried it out on several different kinds of wallpaper I can report the following:

A steamer is heavy in the hand so can get a bit tiring to use over a large area.

It seems to be less effective where a fabric is involved – such as felty flock paper.

It is very effective on painted, textured paper. The latter comes off in large sections with very little effort. Good news for me as I have acres of this stuff to deal with.

My final conclusion is you need all the approaches to get wallpaper off particularly if you have a variety of types. Steaming works well on some kinds, others, perhaps those bonded with superglue, still require to be manually scored, soaked again and again and scraped repeatedly.

The second living room wall is now stripped. And the lurid orange colour is paint, so I have another layer to go if I want to see the original plaster!

Well the first week of ownership passed in a flash. In the spirit of keeping things up to date quickly, this is a quick overview of what happened.

Things I found out
The wiring is mostly ok, only a couple of dodgy lead cables and dubious earthing. My fear was that a complete rewire would be needed.
The floorboards upstairs are not great so no nice painted or stained boards. Downstairs has a chipboard subfloor so some kind of new floor covering will be required there.
The whole house is a wallpaper horror – it’s applied with enough glue to survive an explosion. Removing it will be arduous,.
The loft has an intriguingly Tudor feel.
The mad wet room not as bad as I first thought.
I have two original cast-iron fireplaces in the bedrooms. Unfortunately they are redundant due to chimneys having been removed and they take up a massive amount of wall space.

Picture of cast iron fireplace

Things I learned
Stripping wallpaper has a technique – mostly involving repeated soaking. Resolved to acquire a steamer.

100 yr old houses do not have hidden, immaculate floorboards or plaster walls. Both require fixing, patching, repairing and finally covering with something.

Things I did
Removed a lot of clutter.
Stripped one and a half walls of the living room. Made a start on the two bedrooms.

Had joiner and electrician on site for quotes
Assisted in chasing cables under floorboards all over the place. Had wiring and fuse box upgraded, new switches and sockets, smoke detectors installed.

Picture of living room on day one
Living room on day one…
Picture of living room after a few days
After a couple of days.
Picture of living room after a week
And after a week…
Second picture of living room after a week
Finally…