Many architectural features are “love it or loathe it“ — but not this one. Pebbledash is pretty much universally hated. So why is there so much of it covering our housing stock?
The coarse surface (usually sand and cement coated on walls, with buckets of small stones thrown onto the wet mortar by hand) was used extensively in the housing booms after both world wars, when materials were in short supply and homes needed to be built quickly. A low-cost weatherproofing material, it meant that poorer-quality bricks could be used; or, from the 1950s, that it could cover up blockwork construction.
Pebbledash enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s as a low-maintenance overlay for period houses, including our beloved Edwardian and Victorian brick homes. It can be removed, but it’s not easy and invariably involves renovating or covering whatever is underneath.
Can you DIY it?
It’s not a good idea to go it alone, because you risk damaging the brickwork or whatever else lies beneath. “It’s a job that can only be learnt through experience,” says Mohammed Ashraf, owner of Jigsaw Brickwork, in London, which specialises in pebbledash removal. “We see a lot of jobs that have been done badly when we get called in to repair damage to the bricks.”
Removal to expose original bricks
You need to know what the pebbledash is covering to work out how best to get rid of it. If your house is Victorian or Edwardian and you want to take it back to the original brick, the pebbledash will have to be removed by hand, using a wide-bladed bolster chisel at an angle to avoid cutting into the bricks. Using any form of machine tool would be quicker, but might damage what you are trying to reveal. The more firmly the pebbledash is stuck to the wall, the more carefully the job will need to be done.
Once it’s off, there may be residual cement attached to the walls that can be removed with abrasive pads or a brick-cleaning machine. Any damaged bricks will then need to be replaced with matching ones.
Getting your facade free of dash will be a relief, but it’s not over yet. If the house was built before 1919, the original mortar would have been lime-based, but the cement from the pebbledash is likely to have penetrated it — so the wall will need repointing with lime-based mortar.
Remove or cover up
If you plan to replace the surface with render or cladding, keeping the bricks pristine will be less important, although you don’t want to damage the bricks unnecessarily. Houses dating from the 1930s to the 1950s that were pebbledashed when built are likely to have low-quality bricks or blockwork underneath, and this will need to be rendered or clad once the surface has been removed.
If the pebbledash is stuck on firmly, with no signs of cracking, covering it might be a better option than removing it. Again, this isn’t recommended for properties built before 1919.
To gauge how firm it is, try the “tap test”: tap the surface with a mallet and listen for a hollow sound, which means the pebbledash is coming away from the structure underneath. “If it’s unstable, it needs to be taken off — you can’t just add render or cladding on top,” says Nick Miles, technical director at External Wall Insulation (EWI) Store.
Painting or rendering over the top is problematic because the surface is uneven, but you can use a levelling mortar to get a smooth finish (One Coat Dash Cover costs £23 for a 25kg bag; ewistore.co.uk) before rendering on top.
Alternatively, external insulation boards, which come in varying thicknesses and prices, can be fitted over the pebbledash, creating a smooth surface for render and improving the energy efficiency of the house at the same time.
Removing pebbledash is always going to be more expensive than covering it up, because of the time it takes — for a three-bedroom semi, it can be anything from two days if it comes off cleanly to a couple of weeks if it doesn’t. Ashraf says he has taken pebbledash back to brickwork and repointed semis for £5,000-£7,000, including scaffolding. Costs can rise if extensive repointing is needed.
It may not come cheap, but remember: a dramatic improvement to your house’s looks could add as much to its value as the cost of the facelift, or more.
Find someone to help
Look for companies that offer pebbledash removal and brick pointing. Many firms in this field are brick specialists and will include the repointing and replacing of any damaged bricks in their quote. There may be “before and after” examples of their work on their websites.
For rendering and cladding, you can find traders with relevant experience via the National Federation of Builders (builders.org.uk) and the Federation of Master Builders (fmb.org.uk), or by using review sites such as ratedpeople.com.
I guess the next question is, do you haveto get rid of pebbledash, but just don't have the funds available? In which case you maybe interested remortgaging your property to pay for it and many other improvements to your property.
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(Article from The Times newspaper}