With the completion of the veranda railing at Yukuzasama, I have moved on to working on the most spacious of the rooms in the kominka. It is an 8-tatami room with a high ceiling.
This is the only room in the house without a second floor above it. Instead, there is an older wooden suspended ceiling made of thin, layered boards interlocked with bamboo flat pins.
The extra height means that this room, unlike the others, has earth walls from the door rails up. It also has a tokonoma space.
All of these earth walls are covered in a horrendous sparkly, somewhat clumpy, sprayed on covering that probably was applied 35+ years ago.
I knew from the start that this wall covering couldn’t stay the way it was, but as the time to actually do something about it drew near, I grew more and more concerned about how to deal with it.
The main problem? Asbestos.
The sparkly flecks in the material are vermiculite and this type of sprayed on wall covering apparently often contained asbestos. The use of asbestos in these applications stopped around 1988, but this was certainly applied earlier than that.
I knew I wanted to shikkui these walls, and generally I would prefer to get any wall coverings off before applying the plaster.
I did test how easily the clumpy covering would come off if I sprayed it with water and scraped with a trowel (while wearing a level 3 asbestos respirator). It did not readily come off, it was going to require a lot of scraping/agitating if I wanted to remove it cleanly. That is not what you want to be doing with a material that may possibly contain asbestos. Asbestos is harmful when inhaled, so you don’t want to disturb it and cause it to be airborne.
There are no asbestos remediation options on Ojika island, as far as people who deal with removal, or disposal. I determined my best option for the time being was to seal this potential asbestos containing layer by applying the plaster directly over the top. That way, the asbestos won’t be disturbed and get airborne, and if the walls are ever removed/disturbed at a later time, the trouble layer is sandwiched in and can be removed in larger sections with the surrounding wall, rather than scraping at the material itself.
So… I’ve now begun the plastering of the walls in the big room and am using a two layer approach. One thin layer is applied and allowed to firm and dry before coming back with a second, thicker layer. With only one layer, the material below can shoe through, and the shikkui itself will often pick up a dirty yellow color. The second thicker layer takes care of that nicely in this case.
I’ll also be re-doing a section of the bamboo framing and earth wall in the tokonoma. The earth and straw mixture had separated from the bamboo framework due to a previous water leak causing water to run down the wall from the roof. After the roof was replaced, the water leak was eliminated, but the wall had yet to be fixed. There are no craftsmen on Ojika who still work with traditional walls, so “fixing” it wouldn’t have been an option for most folks in recent years. These days everyone uses sheetrock where earth walls would have been. I’m going to give it a go and see if I can seamlessly blend the new framework and earth into the existing section. As I’ve only done a wall from scratch like this once before, it should be a fun test!