Ceiling Thoughts


That is what the north end of the cottage looks like at the moment. Much of the block is simply stacked so I can look at how things go together and what the resulting spaces are like. It’s a lot like playing with 43 lb Lego bricks and a wonderful workout on a cold winter day.

I’m thinking a lot about ceilings these days. I’ve been reading about plastering, which I’ve never done aside from installing and fixing sheetrock. Sheetrock is something I’ve done a lot of before but I’m not going to be doing that for the tiny cottage project.

One of my goals is to not paint inside the house, although someone has recently told me about mineral paints so I’m looking into those. I do not want to be repainting paint walls, ceilings, trim, etc and then watching them peel. This is a health, aesthetics and maintenance issue. Thus I would like to go with stone, plaster, stucco and light colored concrete for surfaces.

I did the roof of the tiny cottage using a technique like MXSteve’s barrel vaults such that I have a very nice rough interior from the concrete that came through the expanded metal lath. I plan to do a light colored cement onto and then perhaps a coat of plaster.

I have three more areas to do that will produce a ceiling – front room, bathroom and bedroom. I’m about to pour those areas and I’m thinking of how I can do the ceiling plaster and cement pour all in one shot.

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First there is the bathroom which is about 30 sq-ft. I’m planning a flat ceiling in the bathroom. I have setup the scaffolding for this and when I pour the bathroom ceiling I’ll be also creating the floor of the utility space above the bathroom for the hot water heater and such. I’ve been wondering about using a white PVA fiber reinforced concrete for durability.

Finding white sand has been, shall we say, challenging. I’m in Vermont near Montpelier. Any ideas on sources? I’ve been looking around for local sources of marble dust but struck out so far. I have some very nice pieces of white marble I pulled out of the loads of junk rock piles but grinding it up is a challenge! Some of the pieces are 4″x4″x96″ – just think marble fence posts! Others are bench and step sized pieces as well as some huge ones (e.g., 10’x8″x4′). Unfortunately, my stashed granite and marble is currently buried under 4′ of snow.

Ideally I would like to buy a truck load of white sand if I can find it. That way I’ll have enough to do all of the plaster and parge work and it will be far cheaper than buying small quantities. Any excess can become the beach on the upper pond. The bathroom is small enough that if necessary I might buy bagged white sand ($$$!!!). I’ve also been experimenting with adding lime to whiten the grey cement. Finding reasonably priced white cement is difficult. I have found one source of white Portland cement (STGriswold) but it is expensive at $28.75 for a 94lb Bag and Lee white sand in a 50lb bag is $6.99. I may bite the bullet and get some of that to use sparingly. I had thought of doing plaster in the bathroom but fear it won’t be long lasting enough in the presence of the water from the shower and other wet room moisture. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who’s done this…

The next ceiling is the master bedroom which is about 43 sq-ft. Again I’m going to go with a flat ceiling and that is the floor of the storage attic. Here I was thinking of doing a 1/2″ layer of plaster on top of forms leaving the upper surface rough and then as soon as it stiffens a little I would like to pour PVA fiber reinforced concrete which will make the actual attic floor.

Lastly is the kids loft in the front which makes the 71 sq-ft ceiling of the entry and dining area. I’m thinking of doing that as possibly a lightly arched ceiling poured into a mold. Again I would like to do a plaster layer which will be slightly more tricky with the arch – the reason I’ll do that one last. Aside from the arch it would be the same technique as the bedroom.

I already have setup the scaffolding for each of these spaces. I’m planning to place 2″ pink foam board on top and join them together with PVC tape. Edges of the concrete will lock to the existing walls with #4 rebar pins and rest on top of the partition block walls forming the bond beam for the top of the partitions.

I have thought of doing a shrink wrap plastic layer on the top of the foam to get a perfectly smooth surface. The foam alone gives a pretty smooth surface and oiling the foam helps with release. My next step is to make up several test casts with layered plaster and concrete over various forms. Results will be coming in a bit.

Alternatively I’ve thought of doing shallow vaults on all three ceilings just like the roof leaving a rough surface for plastering. That means then doing a lot more plastering over my head. Doable but a pain in the neck. The reason I’m doing the various ceilings in different ways is in part because this house is highly experimental.

Our existing house is a >200 year old wooden farm house. Each winter I read about house fires in the newspaper. Not a pleasant thought. This morning’s story was a mobile home where they owner had been thawing pipes with a heat gun and burned down the house. Usually it is chimney fires. We heat with wood and will continue to do so since we are able to harvest our own wood. Having a very fireproof house is important as that is probably our highest risk factor. Concrete, stone, ferrocement, plaster are all appealing from that point of view – low flammability. That means a minimum of wood, fabric, canvas, burlap, plastic, paper, etc in both the structure and in the contents. I have a revulsion to the idea of my family being cooked in a fire of my own making.

While I’ve put up a lot of sheetrock over the years and am quite good at it I don’t want to do any in this new house if I can avoid it. I’ve seen too much mildew in many different houses. Besides, I am feeling like doing something more adventurous and new, thus plaster, stone and concrete finishes instead of sheetrock.

I’ve also done acoustic ceiling tiles. They went up well but look rather institutional. I would rather go with something more hand crafted. Since I’m doing such a small space I’ve got the opportunity to think different(ly).

Sooo… all of you plaster buffs out there… Any thoughts?

Outdoors: 20°F/10°F 1″ Snow lightly all day, Partially Sunny
Farm House: 60°F/48°F six log
Tiny Cottage: 53°F/45°F block work, plaster research

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About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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17 Responses to Ceiling Thoughts

  1. jessie says:

    For white marble dust, have you contacted OMYA? They have a quarry here in Middlebury and are always going back and forth to Pittsford. It would mean a trip over the mountain though.

  2. I would be interested in more of your ideas for your bathroom. (idea for a days blog??) It looks (I think anyways) as if you are “framing” the shower with blocks? We too thought of doing the lime plaster for the inside of the shower but have only seen a couple of magazine articles where people have that—and always done by a “professional”. They say it holds up really well and it is very common in south america. So what are your other options? We are serious “do it yourselfers” too AND we still have a gutted bathroom to finish. We are still debating options —lime plaster, tile, metal, poured in place cement tub etc….. so seeing/hearing what choices you are throwing around is interesting.
    Monica

  3. Jessie, thanks for the name! I have contacted them just now and am awaiting information. That might be ideal.

    Farmer, watch for an upcoming post very soon. I took photos yesterday for the article about the bathroom ideas. The blocks I’m using in there right now are just for thinking about the process. I’ll actually do the bathtub in ferrocement. If I can get the marble grindings then that is what I’ll probably go with mixed with the ever so expensive white Portland cement on a foam board and expanded metal lath armature. I’ll also be using some strategically placed pieces of granite I’ve been saving for just this project. Tune in next time and don’t change that dial! :)

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is truly a wonderful blog.
    I am known as Nosher of the north at http://www.Ethicurean.com and unfortunately I live in the city.
    Do you accept visits to the farm? Do you by any chance sell shares of your pigs and other farm bounty?
    Let me know. . . .
    thanks and keep it up!
    Nosher

  5. Nosher, Ethicurean.com is a blog I enjoy reading. Good stuff. We do occasionally have visitors come see our place although most people visit virtually via the web here on the blog. What city are you in?

    We do sell pig shares. A half pig share is $225 and comes to about 60 lbs or so of meat. The only catch is timing as we need to match it up with the half pig share of another person. Not a problem, just a matter of timing. See the article in the right sidebar about “What’s a Half Pig Share” in the Favorite Posts section and let me know if you have any questions.

  6. pablo says:

    I can’t really offer any help, but please, please, please tell me that you haven’t already installed the toilet. You’re not going to rely on a bucket, are you??????

  7. Sand made from crushed coral is white, At least I think it is. I don’t know where to find it other than the Bahamas though.

    We cobbers have a method something similar to sheet rock. We use the same board that is used as peg board, it comes in long rolls at the hardware store and we mush cob into it. It sticks because it files the holes and squeezes through the other side. There is also a thing called wattle and Daub that you might want to look at. No Sheet rock, no join compound, just wonder wonder dirt!

  8. Oh my, Pablo! That is just a stand-in so I could sit and think to see if the space works. :) Actually, that bucket contains PVA fibers which we use in the concrete and I had brought it over there to use as a stepping stool when I was screwing together the wooden scaffolding that will hold the ceiling forms.

  9. I have lots of crushed coral, but I use that in my marine aquariums. When I’m not doing other things I’m a marine biologist investigating oceanic mid-reef eco-systems. Holly says my habits are better than if I were out carousing… :)

  10. Anonymous says:

    Walter,
    I’m glad you read our blog – I am new to the site but I felt it needed some northern exposure, so those Californians would know how hard it is to go local up here in the winter.
    I am in Montreal, Canada and may be interested in a pig share, but more likely just information as there may be some restrictions on how much meat I can bring across the border. I am looking around this area but the network seems to be not quite so formed yet – I am working on developing a city/farmer network for Montrealers. Your website is providing me with some good info.
    Thanks,
    Nosher

  11. Aye, Nosher, you’re right that the climate makes for different ways of doing things. I read about people planting gardens but that is a long time from now for us. Still, I would not trade our climate. I like the mild summers, the colors, the deep snows.

    On the pig share, you are quite a fair haul from here and I suspect too that there may be issues with customs at the border. The ideal thing to do would be for you to start working on developing the Localvore network up your way. I’m sure there are small farmsteaders there who are looking to connect with folks in your area. I just had an email from one the other day and I’ll drop her a note with your name and web address so perhaps you can get in touch. It could be the beginning of a beautiful local slow food movement in your area! :)

  12. Patti says:

    Have you made snow angels with your sweet kids lately? All work and no play ya know.

  13. Patti, we not only have made snow angles, we made snow forts, snow balls and snow jumps. The big jump is 120′ long and 8′ high. I snow plowed the south field at one end for snowboard jumping. Pix coming soon…

  14. GrannyGardner says:

    I want to be a kid again and live at your house. That sounds like so much fun. Can’t wait to see the pics of the kids playing in the snow.

    By the way, when will we learn the answer about the red picture?

  15. And the winner is GrannyGardner!

    The mystery photo of red and white was created by the dripping blood as the carcass bled out into the 18″ of fresh powder snow we already had and then more snow drifted in. It was so cold (-1째F) that the warm blood (103째F) did not melt all the snow but rather left the interesting vertical patterns shown in the photo.

    Kita thought I was making a flavorful snow cone for her. Canids will be canids.

    You can collect your prize, a snow cone, if Kita will let go. :)

  16. Stormy says:

    Walter …have you ever heard of EIFS or Dryvit….We use it on the exterior of mostly commercial buildings.Comes in different colors and has a 25 year warranty for color fastness. It is a very thin system also. Maybe a 1/8 to 3/8 finished.

    http://tinyurl.com/yw3dk3

    http://www.dryvit.com/home.asp?country_id=1

    I think you will really like this.

    Regards,

    Stormy ~ UpState NY

  17. GrannyGardner says:

    Thanks for the prize but I think I’ll let Kita have it.

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