Restoring the Window Lintels

Our house is a museum to horse hair plaster. Horses must have run amok through this house in the 1930s; we know that is the last time the house was plastered because once upon a time an old man showed up on our doorstep to do work on some dodgy electrics - long before we had a rewire, and the money for a rewire - he demanded to know where our cellar had gone (to this day we don't know where it went but maybe it is somewhere warm and on a beach) and then remarked that his Dad had plastered the house when he was kid, some time around 1937. He was proud to see that back boiler was still in the house, and the tank, and the plaster, all done by his Dad. We didn't have the heart to tell him that the back boiler no longer worked, the tank barely filled a bath and the plaster would fall off as we all slept in one room each night. Half asleep you would shoot up in bed, yelling at some unknown break in, some falling child from a cot only to realise that more plaster had fallen somewhere in the house. Our first years at Pig Row where peppered with distant thuds and the unmistakable smell of horse hair plaster.

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For some unknown reason, our Methuselah electrician's Dad plastered in all the lintels around the windows, we suspect he also took the lintels and mullions in the front room to put in a picture window. J'accuse fashion. When we had new windows fitted in the bathroom we knew the plaster that still clung to the windows wasn't going to survive, the window fitters tried, the brought in beading and left happy, a few months later the beading remained but the plaster had fallen off. We knew it would, we just hoped it wouldn't. Hope is folly in an old house. Hope is folly with an old horse. They become horse hair plaster that falls off.

DIY, home, life on pig row

This is were Andrew coughs, shuffles his feet and looks at the bookcase. Falls off, in this case, is code for Andrew 'testing' the plaster with his 'fingers'. For 'fingers' see hammer. Suffice to say that those dull thuds in the middle of the night became loud crashes in the afternoon followed by muffled yells of, 'I'm alright'. You'd run upstairs to find Andrew stood in the bath, holding a hammer, and denying that he had anything to do with the plaster dust that was everywhere.

DIY, home, stone mullions, life on pig row

So, Andrew cleared the lintels, it literally peeled off, he sneezed once and a four foot section fell on the windowsill. The stone is an improvement. We noticed some mould under the plaster, locked in moisture led to black mould. For those of you who have black mould in your house it can and does cause respiratory problems, so get rid of it. The best way to get rid of it? White vinegar, 50:50 with water on walls, or 100% white vinegar on stone and the mould will die, just wipe off and then seal with 50:50 PVA glue and water.

DIY, home, life on pig row

We chased out all the joints, finding slivers of wood holding the lintels together which we had to gingerly cut back in case that was their job, but more than likely they were ties for the horse hair plaster. We filled from one window four rubble bags of plaster, dust and horse hair.

DIY, home, life on pig row

Then we mixed some mortar and started to point around the windows. For those of you who have never made mortar, it's three sand to one cement and one lime, and mix it to the consistency of play dough. We need to silicone around the new windows were there is building foam to finish the windows.

DIY, home, life on pig row

We have scraped all the paint off the stone windowsills and pointed the gaps between the stone and the window, the beading has gone and the results seem to bring in more light than before.

DIY, home, life on pig row

Now, we are not DIY experts but the right tools for the right job works every time. On this job we had a bag of cement, three of sand, one of lime and plenty left over to point the wall around the new herb garden. You will need a small trowel to mix the mortar, and a pointing trowel (it's long and thin like a pencil) to do the job. You will need a wire brush to clean the stone, a bucket and sponge to treat any mould, and a few rubble bags. A tip on rubble bags, don't over fill them, fill them halfway and they will be easier to carry, they'll also fit in your car boot, unlike a full bag.

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