Thursday, November 05, 2009

The hidden costs of renovation in Fez

From time to time The View from Fez receives emails from readers wondering why we say that renovation of a riad can cost up to three times the purchase price. One of the reasons is that the actual amount of work required is often hidden - that is until you remove the plaster.

In many cases it is wise to strip the old plaster off so that you can inspect the state of the walls. You may find that they may well be solid and require nothing but a fresh coat of plaster. However the appearance of cracks, crumbling stone or brick work must be repaired. Other experts advise against stripping the plaster and say a good engineer can judge the condition of the wall in situ.

Here is a recent example of a wall that needed some extra work. In the photograph below, can be seen an old window which has been filled with stones. You can click on the image to enlarge it.

A simple re-plaster turned into a major re-bricking when it was discovered that an ancient window had been not bricked up but filled with a mixture of sand and lime mortar and stones. Over the years the mortar had crumbled and when the plaster was removed large sections of the wall began to collapse. In the worst case scenario such events can lead to injuries. So approach the removal of plaster with some caution! Directly above the old window is a section of wall where the stones also tumbled out the moment the plaster was removed.

By contrast the wall to the left is extremely solid and ready to accept new plaster.

Another thing to remember is that you should provide safe working conditions for your employees. In the case of plaster and stone work a safety mask is essential.


David A. said...

Dear View from Fez,

I respectfully beg to differ with your statement that it's wise to strip the walls of plaster as a general rule. An expert mason or engineer should check all the walls to make sure they're solid and stable, but there's no need to strip them bare to do this. If there are no cracks, and when you knock on the wall it's solid, and there's no sign of movement or settling, don't touch it. It's sort of like having open-heart surgery to make sure you're heart's ok...very expensive and can do quite a bit of damage in the process. And if a wall is less than ideally built (stone and lime mortar) but it's stable, there's no reason at all to replace it with brick....that's how many of the walls were built in the first place. I see people spending 50% to 100% more than they need to because they've been advised to strip all the plaster....

Sandy McCutcheon said...

Thanks David,

Fair comment.

Anonymous said...

This is a very helpful debate. Thank you

Kirsty said...

Not taking off the plaster is much cheaper in the short term. However after seeing a friend's dar which developed cracks it was good to take it off and repair the wall. Traditionally plaster is replaced (or at least repaired) from time to time.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...a very interesting debate...but how does one do electric and plumbing work if the old plaster isnt removed??

Anonymous said...

Kirsty - Active cracks should always be repaired. However, if cracks are dormant, which most are, then they should not appear through new plaster. In some cases, removing all the plaster and render (particularly all at once) can be very dangerous and detrimental to the stability of the house.

Anon - new electrics and plumbing can be installed with non-invasive tunnelling. The removal of ALL plaster is not required.

David said...

Thanks, Anon II!

In fact, if most of the plaster is still there the channels don't have to go very far into the masonry. It is a huge challenge getting the kids working for the craftsmen not to take out half the thickness of the wall. My neighbor's electrician recently took out so much he broke holes all the way into my house several times.

It is difficult getting good advice about which cracks are stable, and what the cause of the crack is if it's active.

I agree, Kirsty, with your point that it is traditional in Fes to add a thin layer of plaster, instead of paint, and then every few hundred years remove the ten layers of plaster and start again.