The versatility of lime, and its environmental credentials, have been known for thousands of years, from construction to hygiene. Rising interest in the properties of lime via social media is increasing market demand for the material and spurring the potential for new well-paid employment opportunities.
Lime paste container | Photo John McKiernan
Beyond Digital: Material Opportunity
The new emerging global economy is not all concentrated on digital technology. Many of the crafts, trades, industries and art forms which had fallen into obscurity, particularly following the Industrial Revolution, are seeing a rebirth. In this Beyond Digital: Material Opportunity blog post series, we examine how the resurgence of seemingly dead crafts and industries offers good income and an escape from a corporate world of work.
What is lime?
Lime is a versatile mineral made from burning chalk or limestone to form quick lime and then slaking the quick lime with water. Different forms of lime are used in environmental, metallurgical, construction, chemical/industrial applications and more.
"Lime is a calcium-containing inorganic material composed primarily of oxides and hydroxides, usually calcium oxide and/or calcium hydroxide. Lime is also the name for calcium oxide that occurs as a product of coal-seam fires and within altered limestone xenoliths in volcanic ejecta."
Every person's dream
Building one's own house is a dream of many. When friends of Fourth Portal, Alex and his wife Antonia, decided to renovate an old farmhouse in Southern Spain, they knew the restoration must use traditional materials.
The ongoing restoration of Alex and Antonia's house in Mula, Southern Spain
Using lime as a material in housing and many other applications dates back before the Romans. Lime allows walls to breathe and maintain a constant temperature and is used around livestock for disinfectant purposes. Powdered lime swept over concrete floors offers general disinfection.
"Lime is the cheapest, most widely used alkali in the world. It is a key ingredient for many essential processes, such as purifying drinking water, making sugar, cleaning gases from power stations, producing iron and steel and treating contaminated land" (British Lime Association).
The lime process
Diego has been working with lime in building construction for 25 years. In this video, he explains the benefits of using lime over concrete, the lime-making process and methods employed in applying to houses. Alex, who commissioned Diageo, translates Diego's words from Spanish to English.
Video. Fourth Portal's John McKiernan discusses the value of using lime in a domestic setting with lime expert Diego and assistant Pedro, translated by the house owner, Alex.
Lime and Wine
As suggested in the video, the quality of the lime and its texture dictate the uses and the finish. The process can seem similar to winemaking, where time is the crucial factor and dictates the quality. Limestone melts in an oven that can reach up to 1000oC. Once cooled, the lime is sealed in containers for six months, as a minimum. The limestone finish used in Alex's house was approximately seven years in storage.
Alex had to wait ten months for Diego to be available to work on his house. Demand for people wishing to have lime in their houses outstrips the skilled workers. This is good for Diego from a work perspective, as he is in constant demand and can choose how much he charges and what jobs he agrees to take.
Yet Diego also wants to see more people using lime in their house renovations and new builds. The environmental benefits are crucial to why Diego believes lime should replace concrete and other polluting materials more often. Only from more people learning about lime and its applications can the world move away from using easier-to-use, but much more polluting materials, such as concrete. For such a shift will not only require people to learn how to work with lime but also offer a good wage for the work, and therein lies an opportunity.
Slideshow of applying lime in a domestic house. Swipe left.
Many of the skills involved in working with lime are not unlike those needed in crafts that work with materials, such as pottery or stonemasonry. Diego's assistant, Pedro, also in the video, is a plasterer by trade and wished to work with less environmentally damaging materials. He found the move to working with lime reasonably straightforward, although understanding the material will take time.
Pedro (left) has a background in general building and plastering and Alex (right) trying his hand at applying a lime finish
Understanding materials are the most common trait among artisans. With the rise of AI, digital communication and online libraries, it is now easier to learn about lime and find masterclasses on how to work with it. For craft workers and those who enjoy working with materials, moving towards working with lime provides many advantages, not least a good living. More people working with lime will help the overall market to grow, allowing more householders to renovate using lime. This makes their homes more healthy while causing less environmental damage. As more workers enter the workplace, the market will find a balance that makes lime more affordable for more people.
More importantly, possibly, is how advancing communication connects people with the right skills to those with a demand for those skills. More artisans will become aware of the opportunities with lime so more will pivot their income earning work to using it. The more potential customers can find skilled workers the more the demand for lime will grow, creating a positive loop cycle.
Moving away from environmentally damaging materials and processes is essential if there is any hope of averting climate catastrophe. Lime is one example of a material that has been around for a long time that can help the transition to more sustainable housing. It also provides good opportunities for people who work with their hands to earn a good living.
Digital communication allows for greater awareness and training and for skilled workers and customers to find each other. AI can assist in helping understand the processes better and learn new techniques. A growing market for domestic lime use can develop without the need for major corporates to take over the marketplace.
For people who like working with their hands but are feeling stuck in unsatisfying jobs to pay their bills, lime could offer a way out and pivot their lifestyle to one that is more fulfilling.
Finished rooms with various layers of limestone with the finest for kitchen surfaces and traditional Spanish waxed flooring
More on the business model and processes are available at www.haphazard.business and the Fourth Portal blog, www.fourthportal.com