Did I say the next job was sorting out some gutters? Silly me, far too easy. Of course I meant that the next job was totally rebuilding the front lower elevation after a massive leak in the ground from the mains water pipe which carries God knows how many gallons per day up through the plasterwork of Rose Cottage’s living room, under the floor of both bedrooms and bathroom and then on into the neighbour’s house. Far from acceptable, unsafe, in fact just plain ridiculous!
Very late in the day, the boys had started to remove the plasterwork to the inside of the living room, ready for the damp proof course to be installed. Normally internal plaster is a couple of inches thick if that, but it soon became clear this stuff was about 5 inches thick. Curiouser and curiouser. When the guys got to the above corner, and started hammering the plaster off, whooosh, freezing cold mains pressure water suddenly started gushing out of the wall, absolutely not where it was not supposed to be! By the time they’d got a cap on it, everyone was soaked and the ground floor was flooded. Why on earth was the mains water pipe in the plaster of the living room, where was the external water main cut off and how come this always happens to us??! Major water brush out and clean down and everyone went home, chilled to the December bone and just a wee bit peed off.
It got worse. We finally gave up trying to find the street water turn off point and lost it a few days later with United Utilities, who reluctantly sent an engineer to locate it – buried under soil in the path outside the Rose Cottage gate and NOWHERE near where they said it was over the phone. We cut off the water to Rose Cottage temporarily and smugly thought ‘slap-hands problem-solved, now we can redirect the pipes to a better position – i.e. into the kitchen and not through the living room.’ That is until the neighbour called the client in a panic to say her water had gone off. Eh? The neighbour has no water?! Further investigation under the floor in the bedroom revealed that the incoming water mains pipe feeds not only Rose but also the house next door, not under the garden, oh no that would be far too easy, but through Rose Cottage itself, under the first floor floorboards!
So. What to do then? The client doesn’t particularly want next door’s mains water running under her bed, smart girl, but moving the pipes would mean digging up the garden, big trauma, extra cost…..
Then as more plaster came off, a strange hissing noise grew louder and louder. But we couldn’t see any water. Hmmmm. The realisation hit me like a sledge hammer. As you look at the image above to the left of the yellow buckets, that’s the gable wall of Rose Cottage, and it had, at some time in the past, been rebuilt by the previous owner. Without any council consent or building regs at all. The listed building team who visited went a sort of puce colour when they saw it. And the front elevation (the one with the window in) adjoining it was absolutely saturated, even before the leak, with the mortar between the bricks crumbling away to the touch. We’d reasonably assumed that the damp to the ground floor front elevation was a combination of penetrating damp from leaking gutters and poor facing brick, and a bridged damp proof course….. little did we know there was a swamp under the house.
Digging a hole outside revealed that the hissing was quite a powerful leak to the mains water pipe before it even reached the house, just below the gate a foot or so underground, and water had been gushing out, probably, for years. It’s testament to how well the brickwork was constructed 200 years ago that the whole lot hadn’t subsided, but it certainly explained the thickness of the internal plaster – previous owners hadn’t known about the leak and had just kept slapping on more and more sand and cement to try and stop the damp coming into the cottage – fools! Maybe it even explained why the gable had been rebuild, who knows.
So not only did we need to rebuild half of the front elevation (NOT in the original budget)….
But also digging up the garden thus became a necessity rather than a choice. You can see where the blue mains water pipe comes into the garden, then shoots off to surprise you in the living room. It was plastic linked to lead linked to copper. Badly.
Just great when this week it has started to chuck it down in Manchester – there’s a bloody great trench filling up with (more) water in the garden and the new windows have arrived to be fitted….