This section is from the book "Spons' Mechanics' Own Book: A Manual For Handicraftsmen And Amateurs", by Edward Spon. Also available from Amazon: Spons' Mechanics' Own Book.
Owing to there being no internal brick walls, each floor can be arranged without of necessity following the plan of the floor below; this gives endless facility in planning, and the consequence is that 8-roomed houses here are infinitely more comfortable than in the old country. In the first place, the system of stoves does away with the necessity of fireplaces, although 1 or 2 are constantly introduced, for nothing is equal to an open fire for cheerfulness. To heat an ordinary house, a large stove stands in the entrance hall, and the iron flue wanders half over the house at a distance of 1 1/2 ft. from the ceiling, suspended by wire fastened to screws or hooks, in the joists above. Holes are left in floors and partitions for the pipe to pass through, fitted with iron collars, air spaces being left to prevent the probability of fire, which otherwise would certainly be the result. The cooking-stove pipe conducts the hot air over another part of the house, and other rooms or passages are heated by smaller stoves, as the case may require. These stove pipes are taken to the brick chimney-stacks just where most convenient, and thus every room and passage is kept comfortably warm through the whole winter, for the fires are left in day and night.
Large stoves necessitate wide halls, which are generally wisely avoided in our " tight little island " as a source of cold air and a trouble generally. Some houses have no doors to the sitting-rooms, arches being left, which are hung with curtains or left altogether open to suit the taste of the tenant. Every bedroom is allowed its hanging-closet, about 3 ft. square, and of a height equal to that of the room; and every house has its bathroom. Internal or external blinds are fitted to all the windows, made with movable slats, in small panels, hung folding in narrow leaves, and then, with a good wide verandah and a cellar to act as cool larder, the house is complete, and very comfortable it may be too. As the summer draws on, all the stove pipes are taken down and cleaned, and they and the stoves are all stowed away out of sight until the cold weather begins to set in. Glass frames are put into the window spaces in winter to form a "double" window - a very important factor in the comfort of a house.
The natives in the country districts of Ceylon generally build their houses (huts) of mud (wattle and daub), the uprights and roof timbers being common jungle wood, and thatched with the dried leaf of the coconut tree (locally known as cadjans). In the mountain districts of Ceylon, coffee planters' bungalows are nearly all built of wood, and of what is locally known as wattle and daub, that is, wooden uprights crossed on both sides with small bamboos (or what is better known by the name of waratchies) and filled in with clay made into the consistency of mortar, and plastered on both sides. They are put up very cheaply, and are well adapted to the climate. Other materials, such as bricks, would be too expensive, on account of the distance and difficulty of transport. The mode of building is to put in a stone foundation up to the floor level, and then a wooden framing all round to receive the ends of the uprights, the other ends of the uprights being tenoned into the wall plates, the window and door frames fixed between the uprights, with horizontal ties to stiffen the framing, and then filled in between the framing with wattle and daub as before stated.
The ordinary rules for ventilation are often inapplicable in India, owing to the extreme heat of the external atmosphere, which renders it necessary to exclude it entirely during the day, unless previously cooled by some artificial process. The ordinary method of doing this is by means of tatties, or grass screens, placed in the doorways to windward, and kept constantly wetted. In general, the air inside the house is cooled temporarily by agitating it with punkahs. To secure a thorough draught through the rooms, numerous doors or windows are provided, and placed opposite to each other.
In the Punjab, the roof usually consists of a course of bricks or flat tiles, or slabs of stone, united by lime mortar, completely closing all the seams, and above the bricks a layer of earth, 3-6 in. thick, well beaten down. A good brick-earth should be used for this covering, but it will require frequent beating to consolidate it. This is termed a kucha-terrace roof. As a bed for the covering of earth, a layer of the reeds called surkunda, or the small twigs of a common jungle-shrub called sambhaloo or samaloo, or branches of the jhao (tamarisk) laid down over the horizontal rafters in small bundles, tightly bound and closely packed, may be used instead of bricks. Sometimes earth is dispensed with for these roofs, and the whole upper surface is plastered. The prevention of leakage may be further secured, and the coolness of the building promoted (at the expense of additional weight on the beams) by a second course of bricks or tiles laid over, and breaking joint with, the lower course. This roof is known as a, pucka-terrace roof, and its construction is very similar to that of the terraced floor; 3 layers of tiles laid to break joint, the upper layer being covered with a thin coating of plaster, well polished and oiled, forms a very durable flat roof, and possesses the advantages of being more quickly made and lighter than a terrace roof.
Sloping or pitched roofs are generally covered with thatch or tiles. A good thatch forms the coolest and driest roof. The thatch in India is generally formed of a long grass laid on a framework (jafari) of small bamboos placed over the woodwork of the roof. The jafari is made on the ground, of whole bamboos laid in a lattice form like trellis-work, with intervals of about 6 in., over which split bamboos are fastened about 2 in. apart, the whole being tightly secured with string. Over this jafari is laid the grass in layers 3 in. thick, the first layer being generally attached before the jafari is placed on the roof. Thatch ought to be at least 9 in. thick. It requires a thick coat of 3-4 in. thick every 3 years. The grass is brought in bundles called poolas, which are broken up and spread flat between 2 pieces of split bamboo. The thicker or lower ends of the grass are dressed evenly to one line, and the grass in its position on the roof lies with these ends towards the eaves. These bundles are then fastened to the bamboo-framework, beginning from the eaves upwards, and so overlapping each other that the small pieces of bamboo which keep them in position are not seen from the outside. All along the eaves, larger but round bundles of grass are placed the full thickness of the thatch.
The ridge of a flat roof is generally bound with a roll of sirkee laid horizontally; and the same is occasionally done under the eaves.
Tiles are sometimes laid over the thatch, but this combination is not recommended. A terrace roof may also be laid over a truss as well as over flat beams, when the pitch is not too great. Planking, with tarred seams, is a very common roof-covering in the Himalayan hill stations, but it requires to be made with great care, and only the best-seasoned timber should be employed, as it is exposed to very trying alternations of temperature. Shingles, which are rectangular pieces of plank applied in the same manner as slates, are likewise much used in the hills for roofing. English deal packing-cases, beer-chests, etc, are not uncommonly cut up for this purpose, the wood being well seasoned, and the boxes seldom fit for other use. Another material used for the roof-covering of hill houses is the composition called "oropholite." It is made of sharp river or pit sand and chalk, with an admixture of litharge, all finely sifted and made into a paste with linseed oil. This is spread on one or both sides of any kind of common coarse cloth, so as to form, when dry, a sheet about 3/8 in. thick.
These sheets, when prepared, are hung up to dry, and are then applied in pieces of such size as may be found convenient.
Besides the above, roofs are covered with slates where they are obtainable, or with tiles, lead, zinc, or corrugated iron. The last-named material is daily coming into use in India, especially for coverings for godowns, open sheds, etc.