Alternative to plaster wall finishing

The clean, white, boxy rooms of modern architecture are all very crisp and neat but the reality for the occupants can be that they make for clinical, boring and echoic spaces without much sense of warmth and homeliness. All too often money is spent on plastering which is then covered up. Think long and hard before plastering a kitchen wall before cupboards and splashbacks make that work redundant.

Similarly, there is no need to cover up plasterwork with a fitted bookshelf or cupboards especially double sided ones serving a room on the other side. Hey, you might not even build a wall here let alone plaster both sides, just leave a large opening.

The Original Twist integrated concrete beam system can make a beautifully lit ceiling with wooden beams and boards …. but what about the walls? You might be wondering how to finish the stack of Durisol blocks you built with. The usual plastering solution needs a certain amount of organisation; the first fix plumbing and wiring has to be done and then the plasterer booked for some slot later. From start to finish it could be at least a couple of weeks before the plaster has dried and been painted. Even then there are many things a plain plastered wall does not deliver, so let’s have a look at the Original Twist concept wall and see what extra benefits can be achieved. Here are some ideas incorporated into one picture – it doesn’t have to be this busy.

This or plaster?

Basically there are three or four transverse wooden beams fixed to the wall and then panels fit somewhat loosely and quickly onto them. Extra insulation can be particularly easily added at this stage.

The top beam section

This top beam has a rebate sawn at the back to allow the top panel to be held in place then dab bonded to the wall or a top batten. Pictured is a strip of plywood with vertical marks scratched to resemble boards; quick and inexpensive. Strip LEDs are then laid on top of and under the beam and hidden behind the pelmet board – an inverted strip of skirting board would be good for this. Note how lovely the panels will look when the lights go on.

The next beam down has a similar rebate and here the larger panels are pushed up first to hook under the top beam before dropping into place on the beam below. Our top picture shows an example of black ash faced panels with OSB panels fitted on top. The latter can be covered in anything from wallpaper to fabrics and give unlimited scope for decoration; they could even match a TV screen. If engineered floor boards are being used for this section remember that many of them come in 1.2m lengths so designing for that might save a bit of time and not leave any waste.

The lowest section takes on a colonial look with tongue and groove boards under a shelf. The point of this is that wires and pipes can be hidden as can tubes for integrated dust extraction. Fan coil units for heating and air-conditioning can be fitted into this space with the inlet and outlet vents facing down and hidden. If possible the height of this section should be like kitchen cupboards so that doors and hinges can be incorporated and some mini cupboards too. The underside of the lowest beam has a routed slot for another LED strip light which will highlight the lower panel which acts like a deep skirting board.

So there we have it; loads of character, good sound absorption, sensational lighting, lots of utility and all quite easily done by any DIYer.

Internal walls in blockwork can be visually tied in by using the same beams but leaving the blockwork as the finish. Blocks can be painted in different shades before they are laid to make an interesting textured look. Any other wall incorporating a fireplace can be made in exposed brickwork to give a structural element with exposed brickwork on the reverse side. By the time all the remaining areas are covered by glass doors and a bit of wood panelling there may be very little plastering to be done at all.

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‘Dream House – Down To The Details’ 101 things you should have thought of.      here:-

Heating for your eco-house

For another example of sensible thinking, this time on heating systems, have a look here.

You really should get this right and there are many wrong turns where multiple energy sources are integrated.

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Integrated Concrete Beam System

Integrated Concrete Beams

Building with Durisol, Quadlock or any other ICF blocks? Here’s how to tackle the floors.

If there’s one thing that adds character, and value, to your self build home it’s a row of massive wooden beams across the ceiling. The trouble is they can be expensive, very heavy and sourcing could slow down your project.

Another desirable thing is a solid concrete first floor; low noise transmission, high thermal mass and suitable for under-floor heating. The trouble is the shuttering required is elaborate and expensive both in materials and time and once the floor is poured there is usually more work involved in boarding, plastering or some other finishing. Concrete block and beam systems look easier but you do need to be very organised and get delivery of exactly the right beams and after paying for heavy lifting gear they won’t look like a cheap fix, and again there will be final finishing to do. Plastering and painting ceilings – no thanks.

Never fear, help is at hand. The Original Twist Integrated Concrete Beam system is so suitable for the self builder that it is hard to consider anything else.

Concrete floor system

Step 1/.

Make up the wooden beams as shown in this cross section. The blue and yellow bits are your choice of regular timber from your local supplier.  The slots sawn out of the yellow sections are for wiring channels and it makes sense to insert the wires while the beam is being assembled. The threaded studding stops the beam spreading when the concrete pours in and is part of the construction with the outside acorn nuts making a decorative feature. Use a spindle moulder or router to round off the edges and then apply your choice of finish after distressing with chain, hammer, belt sander etc. You will see that the yellow sections stick up by the thickness of your floor planks and make a perfectly curved transition between the concrete floor and the integral ‘I’ beams. The rebar at the bottom of the ‘I’ section needs to be held in position prior to the pour and this can be done easily and cheaply with pairs of cup hooks screwed into the bottom plank. Use cable ties across each pair to hold the rebars in. Finally, paint the inside of the beam to isolate it from the wet concrete. The beams are then ready to be placed in position, typically on a one metre pitch (Durisol blocks are half a metre wide) and each propped with one or two Acrow props.

Step 2/.

The floor planks can be cut and finished at ground level before fitting between adjacent beams. Now is the time to fit any pockets for spot lamps and take the wiring back towards the slots pre-cut in the main beams. The floor planks need to be strong enough to resist the weight of the concrete without sagging; they don’t need to be jointed together as a layer of building paper over the top will stop any leaks. Unlike concrete blocks they are light and easy to pass up to the man above.

Step 3/.

Now after putting mesh over the beams and planks the floor is ready to pour. If you are using ICFs like Durisol for your walls you should cut out large slots on the inside face to take the beam ends and then the pour for the walls and the floor can be done at the same time. Note that you can walk on the floor while you start pouring the wall so there is no need for scaffolding. The outside of the Durisol blocks sets the top level of the floor so you don’t even need any shuttering. Once the pour is done and set, the walls and floor are all integrated with the homogeneous ‘I’ sections in the beams giving enormous strength and stiffness. The ‘I’ section parts of the floor could be up to 360mm deep which makes them into a row of significant beams in their own right. At this point the lower part of the house is waterproof which makes for a good working environment from which to finish off the rest.

Step 4/.

Nothing much to do now. Just take down the props then go down to the pub to celebrate all the money and time you’ve saved. There is no ceiling finishing to do, no shuttering to take down, even the lights are fitted and wired. And all this was done with simple hand tools and without waiting for special parts to be delivered. And just look; lovely lovely beams.


A small spacer between the top of the beam and the floor joists will create a gap to house some LED strip lights. As you have a lovely wooden ceiling you might as well show it off.

In the same way that ICFs make wonderful poured supports for the beams don’t forget that support posts can be made really cheaply out of plastic drain pipes filled with rebar and concrete.

N.B. Wood shrinks. A tiny air gap could eventually appear between the concrete floor and the wood floor. A very thin elastic membrane between the floors (instead of the building paper) will prevent any ‘thwack’ as the upper floor is walked on.

While this system is great for under floor heating, I’m really not in favour of it for bedrooms as it is a big waste of money for an unwanted result. More on that in the eco-heating link below.

N.B. I just liked this idea so much that I had to share it but I am no builder so do your own evaluation for suitability.

Like what you’ve read? Find more essential reading on my e-book

‘Dream House – Down To The Details’ 101 things you should have thought of.      here:-

Heating for your eco-house

For another example of down to earth thinking, this time on heating systems, have a look here:

You really should get this right and there are many wrong turns where multiple energy sources are integrated.

I supply heat banks and stoves at good prices and give free advice. Transport is easily arranged for UK, France and Italy. If I can be of help please get in touch using the contact form below.

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