Silk purse from a sow's ear - How to tart up that block wall
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Grey and drab
All together now... repeat after me...
Block walls are wonderful.
Blocks walls are great.
Blocks walls are easy
And carry the weight….
Okay, okay – enough silly rhymes. Block walls are convenient, strong and durable but plain blocks sure as hell aren’t easy on the eye. Grey and drab is perhaps the most complimentary thing you can say. Faced blocks and decorative finishes are available in the UK – but are necessarily higher in price.
A coat of paint
In Spain, builders seem to favour plain concrete blocks. Whether blocks are lightweight and solid, or concrete with hollow structure, the result is similar – a dreary finish.
The builder’s merchants I’ve visited in Spain only stock plain blocks – forget decorative finishes - you're out of luck.
Unless you intend to add a further finish, your construction will be …dull, uninteresting, dreary - no romance there. We don’t like uninteresting … we don't do dull.
A coat of exterior paint will improve it – but not by much.
So, a way has to be found of making the walls ‘pretty’. Most block walls in Spain, especially house walls, are rendered with a sand and cement mix - which helps to waterproof the wall, especially after it is painted.
Rendering is frequently the ONLY finish they give – but the surface is often not true giving rise to a wavy surface that is very noticeable in certain lights. As far as I’m concerned, it needs to be taken one step further.
Okay, what do I suggest?
Enhance that wall
If you have a new block wall, stage one is certainly to render. If it's already rendered, I'm afraid you'll have to bite the bullet and render it again - give it second coat. You can only achieve the finish I suggest with 'green' rendering.
Before rendering, get rid of any dust or grime on the wall. The most effective way of doing this is washing with a strong jet of water or pressure washer. If there is any suggestion of mould, treat the area with fungicide before starting.
Use a mortar mix of cement and building sand in the ratio 1 : 4. Add a small amount of PVA bonding agent to improve the adhesion to the surface behind.
Render the wall, aiming for about ¼ inch (6mm) depth of material, or whatever it takes to give a reasonably flat surface. Don’t worry about your plastering/rendering skills. You don’t need to achieve an even surface; you’re not seeking perfection. I’d never done any before, so your attempts will be no worse than mine. Just press it on, smooth it out, and do your best
A unique textured finish
Now for the clever bit. When the render begins to dry slightly, so that it's NOT hard, but just a little firm, cut it back with a toothed tool (or an old saw blade).
Using a circular motion, apply just sufficient pressure to take away the top surface – be quite gentle. Amazingly, you’ll flatten the surface and remove all imperfections – there’ll be no wavy bits on your wall.
The result is a unique textured finish that is very pleasing to the eye, ‘pitted’ rather than stippled, an unusual surface that is sure to attract comments.
Give it that wow factor
Leave it a couple of days then gently sweep excess material from the surface. Hose it down before painting or your roller/brush will become clogged with fine dust.
And there's more
There are more things you can do to make your garden wall interesting.
- Top it with screen blocks, and you’ll transform your wall into a focal point.
- Build it in front of a hedge to make it really stand out.
- Top it with curved roof tiles for a one off feature that will be the envy of your neighbours.
- Cement a cladding of natural stone on the lower part, mount a lattice fence on the top, and generate an instant wow factor.
- Brushwood fence on a textured wall compliments it with natural good looks
Suddenly blocks are attractive after all.
All in all, block walls with a textured surface are the chic way to go. Economical, quick and easy.
If I can do it, anyone can. Just take your time with construction and use a spirit level to keep things straight. Rendering is simple. It worked first time for me, so it must be.
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