Thursday, 5 May 2011

Brickwork here we come

We have just spent the Easter break decorating a flat (we should get a life) so I am a bit late posting the next episode about our self build which narrates how we tackled  the brickwork and some of the details involved, but here goes. 

I had done a lot of brickwork beforehand but nothing on this scale (about 15,000 bricks) and it was a daunting task, but not being able to find a good brickie at the right price I had to have a go, after all how difficult can it be? Well in the end, not too bad really, long and slow but very rewarding and definitely something to be proud of. In keeping with the theme of traditional appearance we designed the house with a base of blue bricks which appear above ground level, originally these would have been as a DPC but now days regulations insist on a proper membrane as DPC. We had included them for appearance sake. Laying blues demands some experience as they tend to float on the mortar but its a case of laying them quickly and accurately and then leave them alone, the more input the less success. Anyway I had managed to lay the blues up to DPC and I made a start on the facing bricks. The first task was the fireplace as this formed part of the internal walls. I included lime in the mortar mix for flexibility and also for appearance as it gives a creamy colour to the finished product, however if the brickwork is not clean it does show up rather badly on the facings, you live and learn!! 

The fireplace forms part of the inner skin, the blues will show above finished ground level.

I then started raising the corners for about eight courses in the traditional way, (I know there are more efficient methods but that involves spending more valuable cash)
Admiring the first few?
Raising the corners

Raising a corner. Not pointed up yet I hasten to add.

My wife gets in on the act by planting piles of bricks all round the site. Just to keep me going you understand!

Of course as one raises the outer walls insulation must be included and in our case we had decided to use poly.. polyis.. polyisocy..polyisocyanurate, (PIR for short,thank god) partially for idealistic reasons but also it can stand up to wet weather, I never could understand how rockwool and the likes continued to insulate once it got wet.

Adding the insulation, the bottom course sits on the butterfly ties which were included between leaves below ground.
Demonstrating installing helical ties.(there was no insulation necessary at this point) Pictured at a much later stage you understand.
One of the features that we wished to include in our build was stone sills, well in our case reproduction concrete sills(a pretty good compromise)which we had made locally at our independent builders merchant(John Stephens of Nottingham). There is a technique to installing sills in that they should be wrapped in DPC on the underside and bedded on mortar at either end. The cavity is pointed up after all the remaining brickwork is completed. The idea is to stop the stresses and strains of the drying out process cracking the sills, simple! 

Cutting DPC ready for another sill

Sill in place but not yet pointed
 Once the corners are up and using a taut builders line brickwork can be infilled between. Normal rules apply, keeping perps in line, checking for verticals, maintaining a clean cavity and pointing up regularly. The method I used for pointing up was to apply a bucket handle, what!!! yes that's right a bucket handle(a steel one shaped to form a tool and which I happened to find in the loft of my original home many years ago) to the mortar joint, then brush with a stiff household hand brush to remove excess mortar finally giving a  finish with a soft household hand brush. Pointing tools are readily available from Merchants and DIY stores.

Brickwork well on the way

Other features which we wished to include in our build was that where ever possible to incorporate curved headers to the window openings and to install the windows behind the brickwork rather than in between which is the modern practice. These features both present complications so are generally not used in mass building schemes. The former involves making formers to support the bricks whilst they dry and also prevents the use of a conventional lintel as the internal and external leaves need support at different levels.The second feature involves the opening in the inner leaf being wider than the outer leaf to accommodate the window frame. 

Curved headers wherever possible

A completed window. The frame is behind the brickwork, a traditional feature found on many old buildings and designed to offer some protection to the window itself.
The garage doors were to be treated in a similar manner so that the reveal for the doors was on show, there would be curved headers and the character and appeal of the building would be enhanced. 

Curved formers were made to support the brickwork whilst drying. This technique involved a long piece of string, a stake in the ground and drawing an arc on a pieces of particle board. Some guesswork going on here!

Trestles and boards were used up to first floor level, beware health and safety.

Conventional Lintel to take the weight
From this much later picture you can see how the garage doors are set behind the brickwork which adds greatly to the character of the building.
Well that's about it for this post, the brickwork is up to first floor level and we will soon be ready for the next stage.

In my next post I will describe the installation of the first floor, much of the remaining masonry and getting ready for the roof.  

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