for People with a Passion for Period Property
Ask an Agony Uncle!
Stephen Boniface - Stephen Boniface specialises in building conservation providing multi-disciplinary consulting services. He is Chairman of the Building Surveying Faculty and member of the Residential faculty. He serves on the RICS Building Conservation Forum Board and is the 'Agony Uncle' on the Period Property UK website (www.periodproperty.co.uk).

Ask our Agony Uncles ...

You can write to our panel of experts free of charge on any subject, providing it's got something to do with Period Properties.

Our experts are all specialists in matters directly involved with older properties. So, if you have a problem with an older building - or if you think you might have a problem - ask an Agony Uncle...

 

SUBJECT: Elm floorboards look too dry
FROM: Anna Erken (Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire)
Our house dates from the 1770's and used to be a pub. After living here for 4 years we are now in the process of looking under the carpets and have discovered that the floors of the attic rooms plus the staircases are made of lovely dark elm. We would like to remove the carpets and expose the wood but the problem is that although they seem to be waxed in a dark colour they appear dull and dirty. When I cleaned them with a damp rag the beautiful colour reappeared but then when the water had dried off they became dull and discoloured again. All the advice I have received so far have been to sand them down and then to stain them. This, to me, seems rather harsh and I was wondering whether there was an alternative? many thanks

Anna Erken

Anna, I'm sure you have watched the BBC's Antiques Road Show when antique bronze statues are exhibited. Time after time the resident experts compliment those which have maintained their patina and expressing their disapproval of using various techniques to clean bronze to give a 'like new' look. The same goes for the floors. The colour your boards exhibit are through a combination of wax, natural ageing and ware. Indeed, it is things such as the natural colour of your boards which gives your property that 'old world' look. On the cleaning front firstly use a damp mop to remove any loose dust or dirt. The mop must not be wet as this may lead to the grain of the wood being lifted. Then apply a traditional floor wax made from beeswax and turpentine. This will allow your floor to breathe but also provide a slight sheen following buffing. Please try a trial area first before attempting to wax the whole floor.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: To plaster or not to plaster
FROM: Osian Rees (Haverfordwest, Dyfed)
The question concerns an old farm house. For many years the house was plastered on the outside, however approximately 5 years ago the plastering was removed to reveal the stone work underneath. This proved to increase the aesthetics of the house however a dampness problem arose. We have been told that the stones of the house walls are particularly porous, and were advised to re-plaster the house. Do you have any other possibilities or suggestions on how to either retain the stone work and solve the dampness or on the best practices used to solve dampness in old buildings.

Osian Rees

Osian, because you have been unable to identify the type of stone used in the construction of your property answering the question accurately is difficult. If, indeed the property did have a rendered external walls, and they were of lime, it stands to reason that the lime was used to protect the stone walls. Alternatively, if the render was a modern day cement render covering a traditional stone farmhouse your problem may relate to the type of mortar used to point between the stones. If cement is used you are likely to suffer from rain penetration leading to damp. In this case can I suggest you contact CADW (Welsh Historic Monuments) Tel. 029 2050 0300. They should be able to supply you with a local contact who will be able to advise on the options open to you. TY-Mawr Lime Ltd based in Brecon are a supplier of lime in your region and run a range of courses . They can be contacted on 01874 658 249 or visit www.lime.org.uk. Finally, you have checked your external ground levels are lower than your internal floors and both your downpipes and guttering are discharging water without letting it overflow and cascade down your property's walls.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Sourcing Lime
FROM: Alison Burleigh (North Chailey, East Sussex)
How can we repoint our old flint cottage? The original mortar is lime. If we need to use lime mortar, can you suggest where we can buy it ready made?

Alison Burleigh

Alison, contact Chalk Down Lime on 01424 443 301 or chalkdownlime@supanet.com. They are based in Hastings and supply a range of specialist traditional building materials including lime putty and ready mixed mortars. To ensure a perfect lime match they run a mortar analysis service.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Specialist brass work required
FROM: Vanessa Rowland (Reading)
We have just moved into a period property which has a beautiful fireplace which looks a bit worn and tatty. I am looking to find a made to size fireframe (preferably brass) for it can you point me in the right direction?

Vanessa Rowland

Contact Brassart Ltd in Stourbridge on 01384 894 814. They have a bespoke products division who may be able to help you, although I fear they may only deal with larger scale projects. Alternatively they may be able to put you in contact with someone locally who deals with smaller scale brasswork projects.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: There's holes in my house, my House
FROM: Mike Sharp (Coggeshall, Essex)
I've recently moved into a period home (timber framed) that was previously a shop. Now that the shop sign has been removed I have approximately 50 raw plugged holes. My problem is how do I repair the holes and ensure that this winter's worst doesn't breach the wall?

Mike Sharp

Mike, personally I would ensure any paint on the wood was removed using a poultice. Then using a lathe turn a batch of 50 wooden pegs - made from well seasoned wood of the same type as the property - which could then be driven into the holes. Over time the new pegs will weather and merge into the body of the timber. An alternative would be to limewash the timber - just like the Guildhalls in Lavenham or Thaxted - resulting in a grainy white appearance which would camouflage the pegs.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Natural methods capture Deathwatch Beetle
FROM: Corinna Hatton (Etchingham, East Sussex)
I am desperate to find a water based death watch beetle killer, our 400 yr. old house is still 'ticking' in the spring! Unfortunately, I am allergic to the Spirit based fluids and don't relish weeks of agonising sinus pain from using the stuff in the room timbers! Malcolm, please help!!!

Corinna Hatton

Corinna, when faced with a serious wood boring beetle problem see the use of chemical treatments as the only effective solution. But, this is not the case. Contact Ridout Associates on 01562 885 135 or visit www.ridoutassociates.co.uk where they provide some interesting research on exterminating the Death Watch Beetle. They also supply a so-called 'Beetle Screen' at 195.00 which uses light to attract beetles during the emergence season - late March/April until late July - and replaceable sticky sheets of paper. Well worth a try if your allergy is, unfortunately, very serious.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Surveyor refuses alternative explanations of damp!!
FROM: Jeremy Percy (Haverfordwest, Dyfed)
Having read with great interest your previous answers to queries regarding 'rising damp' as well as other comments and reports questioning its very existence I was disappointed to receive an extremely curt reply from the FRICS Surveyor that I recently employed to conduct a survey on a Georgian property that I intend purchasing. He asserted that a DPC must be injected as a condition of the mortgage and to "be able to wave a piece of paper in front of any future prospective purchasers". Apart from the fact that I am purchasing the property as a family home and not to resell, I have inspected the property carefully and I believe objectively that the damp certainly fits with your explanation of leaks etc. rather than 'rising damp'. The query that I have is how do I proceed in the face of such aggressive disagreement and total disdain for the views held by yourself and other professionals. The surveyor will not even discuss the matter, insisting that the counter view is bunkum.

Jeremy Percy

As a Chartered Surveyor and Chair of the RICS Building Conservation Group this infuriates me. If you need to take the matter further write to me (Stephen Boniface - Chair of the RICS Building Conservation Group) at the RICS - 12 Great George Street, Parliament Square, London SW1. In the meantime I would answer as follows. For your information, it is likely that the surveyor has failed to comply with the RICS Valuation and Appraisal Manual (the 'Red Book'), assuming that your surveyor also undertook the mortgage valuation. There is an Appendix in the document specifically advising surveyors how to deal with damp and other typical defects that may be found in historic buildings. This advice whilst relevant to valuers is also useful to any surveyor inspecting an historic building. If the condition is merely that you should get the work done in a given time with no retention, I suggest you agree and then ignore it. If ever questioned you can say that subsequent specialist advice was to tackle the problem in another way. Of course, this assumes that you are to tackle the problem in an appropriate manner to deal with whatever damp presently exists. Your statement would therefore be true. If there is a retention it is more difficult. You would need to find a surveyor and/or damp specialist who properly understood the issues and gave appropriate independent advice. You could then show that report to the mortgage company to see if they then accept the independent advice and release the retention. I have had some success in such situations but it is not possible to guarantee that the Mortgage company will accept the independent report - especially as they may refer it back to the original surveyor for his views! If you really have problems, write to me via the RICS as suggested above and I will formally try to help. Most Councils would regard modern damp treatment as an alteration to character if the building is listed. It is unlikely they would give consent for such work. You may therefore be able to use the argument that to undertake the work advised would require consent, which would not be given. The mortgage company cannot make you undertake work for which you cannot get consent! Finally, most purchasers of older buildings have a better understanding of the problem of dampness than many surveyors. It is therefore not true to say that having a piece of paper to show a future purchaser would be of any benefit whatsoever.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 500

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Possible tanking required following work by neighbours
FROM: Dr S Learmount (Cambridgeshire)
I am about to buy a Regency terraced townhouse, with a fairly damp basement. The floor has unglazed tiles underneath layers of plastic, underlay and plastic backed carpet, and the walls are coated in several layers of wallpaper and paint. Moreover, the external doors and windows to the basement have been sealed, and the airbricks blocked, apparently for 15 years or more. I am fairly sure that improving the ventilation and removing the floor and wall coverings will resolve the damp problem, in spite of advice from the Estate Agent that I should have the basement tanked by a local company. However I have also learned that both neighbours have recently taken up the original basement floors, replaced with concrete, and sealed the walls of their basements with damp-proof chemicals. My question is, are the actions of the neighbours likely to have a deleterious effect on this property?

Dr S Learmount

Tanking a basement is something I would suggest as a last resort. You should seek advice from a surveyor or architect with particular understanding of how damp affects older buildings. However, from your comments there could be a problem in that the neighbours have had treatment undertaken. The result could well be that the ground moisture, etc. is driven towards your building. It might therefore be necessary to tank the basement in this instance. You really do need to seek advice from an independent professional. Should the advice be to tank the basement I recommend that you look at using a ventilated/drained system. This involves using a proprietary material that has 'dimples' in it to hold the surface away from the wall whilst creating a cavity behind. The surface can be plastered. The cavity drains away and/or is ventilated so that the moisture moves away without causing problems. This leaves you with a dry plastered surface.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 500

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: You can any colour as long as its...........
FROM: Meg Rawlins (Ashford, Kent)
What colours are allowed painting the outside of a Grade II listed building? I wish to change the outside of our house from white to a dark sand colour (as it would have been originally) are Kent County Council sticky about this. Also as we have a small amount of Kentish weatherboarding on a relatively new extension - would that have to stay white?

Meg Rawlins

It is now known that many buildings were more colourful than we previously understood. Whilst I cannot comment on what Kent CC would accept or not, many Councils now accept coloured limewash or other traditional finishes. It will depend upon the context and the precise colour. For example, a bright red finish to a Georgian terraced house would be unacceptable! Many cottages can look nice with 'earth' colours (e.g. ochre, 'sand', etc.). You will need to speak with the Local Conservation Officer about what will be acceptable to your particular building. Similar comment applies to the weatherboard, but the range of colours that might be acceptable would be more limited. You need to research the history of colours schemes for your type of property in Ashford and district, decide what you would like and discuss it with the Conservation Officer.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 500