Lime is one of the most underused, yet versatile, enduring and elegant building materials out there. It's amazing stuff, and does almost everything Portland cement does but better. Yup, I said better.
Lime allows structures to breathe in a way Portland cement never can, significantly reducing the opportunities for damp in your building. It's softer and more malleable, and cures more slowly giving you time to work it beautifully before it sets. This softness is important in mortar work – especially in old buildings. Portland cement is too hard and non-porous, so it ultimately begins to 'eat away' at the stones. It's been banned by the English Heritage Society for this very reason. Lime is a fungicide and an insecticide, and in most places very inexpensive. Unless you're building a multi-story car park, lime is the way.
Lime generates roughly 25% of the carbon that Portland cement does in production,and then slowly reabsorbs that carbon as it cures. Seeing as Portland cement is currently the second largest emitter of CO2 into the atmosphere after fossil fuels, we could do with using a lot more lime and a lot less Portland.
Here are 8 gorgeous things you can make with lime:
Lime creates beautiful, breathable renders. It’s so much more suited to this job than Portland cement as it allows the house to air properly, creating a very different, drier atmosphere within. It’s anti-mold properties are also a boon if you are in a damp climate. Because it takes longer to set, you have time to work it into something of beauty.
If you have an old building, then lime mortar is a must really. Because it’s softer than the stone or brickwork, it doesn’t gradually eat away at them like Portland cement does.
I love lime paint (or lime wash) because it’s so absurdly easy to use. Most commercial paints come stuffed with chemicals, and create either an oily or plastic finish that doesn’t breathe.
Yes, you can use lime to grout tiles or flagstones (see above).
You can create limecrete from lime, which is durable and works perfectly well as a flooring. In ancient houses it’s the floor material of choice because once again, it doesn’t mess about with the self-airing characteristics of old buildings and allow damp to rise.
6. Sills and Worktops
With limecrete you can form beautiful sills, worktops, or steps. Lime takes longer to cure than Portland cement (about three weeks for adequate solidification) but is perfectly durable, and continues to harden over time.
7. Bubble Houses
You can mix lime, sand, and straw (or hemp) and make all kinds of structures with it. Have a look at this gorgeous bubble house in France by Kerterre (the video is in French).
8. The Taj Mahal
Okay I’m kidding, kind of. The Taj Mahal was rendered in a special kind of lime plaster called ‘araish’. It’s made by mixing burned clay with slaked lime, jaggery, and fenugreek seeds. It's held up pretty well, as you can see:)
Want to know how to use this stuff?
If you want to explore the Amazing World of Lime further, and learn how to use the white wonder, I have a popular course on it. It includes videos, slideshow lectures, and PDFs, and is completely downloadable.
I always update and add sections to my courses over time. Once you’ve enrolled in the course you’ll have access to all future updates.
The course includes:
Health and Safety
Lime is natural and non toxic, but it is caustic, so you need to wear the right protective gear when using it. Here's the full health and safety guide for lime.
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