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: Possible erection of extension leads to move to list property
FROM: Bryony Elliott (Caldecott, Rutland)
We were lucky enough to find an untouched end of a Georgian house which was extended in the 1800s to create a row of four cottages. Our house has been restored to show all the original Georgian features, including floors, beams and chimneys. The Victorian extension involved taking the thatch off to raise the roof and we have proof off the dates of the work. We are part of a row of cottages that have not been sympathetically restored although the exteriors are unaffected. We understand that one house built an extension before it became a matter of importance and the other house had to follow planners advice. We are somewhat alarmed by proposals to build an extension on the house next door. Apparently they have been advised that they can build a glass structure across the most of the front of the house without seeking planning permission. They are not being open with us and we have learned about this through other channels. We do not know how to challenge this if they do not submit plans to the council. We wondered if seeking listed building status would help us. I would be grateful for any information you could give us. We wish to protect the integrity of the property.

Bryony Elliott

In short the answer is yes. If your property is listed the impact of the neighbouring extension on your property has to be taken into account. Whilst they might not require Planning Permission you should speak to the Conservation Officer about whether they will need to apply for listed building consent if your building is listed and the neighbouring proposal has an aesthetic impact on it. If their building is listed they will most certainly require listed building consent even if not full Planning Permission. The other issues to consider are Building Control and Party Wall matters. The proposed structure might need Building Regulation approval even if Planning is not needed. If the property is against the party boundary and/or within 3m - 6m the Party Wall Act might be relevant. This all depends upon the specific proposals. I suggest you arrange to speak with the Council officers - Conservation, Planning and Building Control. One or more of them should be able to give some guidance on the Party Wall issues as well. Alternatively, the RICS (020 7222 7000) can provide details of surveyors in your area with experience in Party Wall matters. Through the Party Wall system you will have an opportunity to object to their proposals to get them modified, etc. as appropriate. If the proposal does not fall within the scope of the Party Wall Act and the structure does not need Building Regulation approval you will need to rely on the Conservation Officer to assist you in protecting the integrity of the property.In short the answer is yes. If your property is listed the impact of the neighbouring extension on your property has to be taken into account. Whilst they might not require Planning Permission you should speak to the Conservation Officer about whether they will need to apply for listed building consent if your building is listed and the neighbouring proposal has an aesthetic impact on it. If their building is listed they will most certainly require listed building consent even if not full Planning Permission. The other issues to consider are Building Control and Party Wall matters. The proposed structure might need Building Regulation approval even if Planning is not needed. If the property is against the party boundary and/or within 3m - 6m the Party Wall Act might be relevant. This all depends upon the specific proposals. I suggest you arrange to speak with the Council officers - Conservation, Planning and Building Control. One or more of them should be able to give some guidance on the Party Wall issues as well. Alternatively, the RICS (020 7222 7000) can provide details of surveyors in your area with experience in Party Wall matters. Through the Party Wall system you will have an opportunity to object to their proposals to get them modified, etc. as appropriate. If the proposal does not fall within the scope of the Party Wall Act and the structure does not need Building Regulation approval you will need to rely on the Conservation Officer to assist you in protecting the integrity of the property.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Alleged damp walls lead to mortgage retention
FROM: Wendy Dennis (Oxford)
I am currently in the process of buying a stone cottage in Oxfordshire which I believe is around 250 - 300 years old. Our mortgage company insisted on a retention and a "specialist contractor" exploring the supposed damp in the walls. I have read through the many questions on damp on this site and Jeff Howells site and am very reluctant to do what this "specialist" is recommending. Which of course is a chemical DPC and internal tanking. I know that there are problems with the gutters which are blocked and that some of the ground levels are higher externally than internally (in one case this cannot be changed because it is a pavement). The house is rendered I do not know with what although I have seen a picture of the house 100 years ago and it was rendered then. Do you have any suggestions as to what we can do to avoid having to have this work carried out? Could we get someone to look at the problem and then challenge the mortgage company?

Wendy Dennis

A simple answer is yes. Get an independent surveyor who properly understands this type of structure and is prepared to properly assess the damp problems. He can then prepare a brief report advising what is required in terms of building works to resolve the problems. I doubt if any 'specialist' treatment is required. You can then refer the mortgage company to the RICS Appraisal and Valuation Manual and particularly Guidance Notes Appendix 2 - 'Recommendation for works in respect of buildings of architectural or historical interest in conservation areas or of unusual construction'. The thrust of this is to obtain advice from someone who properly understands the nature of the building and has no vested financial interest in the outcome of their recommendations. Remind the mortgage company that when inspecting the building the mortgage valuer should have taken account the guidance manual. I hope you are successful in persuading the mortgage company that simply injecting an old building can often cause more harm than good. Failing this, if it is merely a condition to get a report and no retention, you could get the report, show it to them and then ignore it. They are unlikely to ever check whether you did the work and if they do you simply tell them that you followed subsequent professional advice. A surveyor in your area who may be able to help is Richard Oxley of Oxley Conservation (see the listing of surveyors on this site).

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Alien creatures in our thatch
FROM: Marilyn Godwyn (West Sussex)
We had our thatch done roughly 9 months ago and now have noticed white insects throughout the house. The thatching material is from Turkey. They are very small but we have noticed they have 6 legs, 2 feelers and have 2 distinctive parts to their bodies. We mainly find them on window sills near where the thatch is. There are three of us in the house and one of us has been bitten 5 times on the feet. Are these mysterious bugs anything to do with the bites. We have tried spraying repellent on the window sills and leaving the windows open but have not had much luck. Can you help or suggest where we can get some advice as our thatcher does not think it is to do with the thatch.

Marilyn Godwyn

I have heard that some imported thatch carries the risk of unusual insects being brought in on the thatch. You need advice from someone who can identify the insects such as an entomologist (not a thatcher!). You then need to find out the usual environmental conditions for the insects, because it might be that they die out naturally over the winter. Subject to what you are told about the insects you can then decide what to do about the thatch. I would not normally advise treating the thatch as the introduction of liquid could result in a faster rate of degradation for the thatch. I am dealing with one instance of imported Reed and insects where we are going to strip the roof and start again! However, the problem was not only the insects. This might be the solution for you, but it would probably be resolved only after a lengthy legal battle with the thatcher. The first thing to do is to identify the insects and their normal habitat, from which you can then assess whether the thatch is the culprit. At this stage I would not wish to rule out the imported thatch.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Pebbledash requires analysis for seamless finish
FROM: Alicia Aras (Ealing, London)
I have an Edwardian house with decorative plasterwork/pebbledash elevations. In small spots the pebbledash has come off due to weathering over the years. What materials should I use to repair this seamlessly please?

Alicia Aras

Have the original material properly analysed. I suspect that it is a mortar made from sand, lime and perhaps some cement. The mortar should be fairly straightforward to replicate. However, perhaps the most important thing in replicating the finish is to get aggregate of the same size and grading as the original. This is more difficult, but an analysis of the original is important if the repair is to be 'invisible'. It is not only the size but general shape (rounded or sharp?) that makes all the difference in successful replication for patch repair. Ideally, you should try to identify where the aggregate came from, but I doubt if this will be possible. In any event, a proper analysis of the existing material and use of the same basic materials will help to ensure that the repair is 'invisible'.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Bubbling paint due to damp
FROM: Rebecca Avis (Coggeshall, Essex)
We live in a terraced cottage which was built in the mid 1800's. Before we moved in, we had the property surveyed and were told by two surveyors that we needed to have a damp course injected in literally every wall. Having read many questioning articles on this subject, we decided not to do this. We have however had some problems with the wall by the back door and the window, also by the back door. The paint on the walls is 'bubbly' and crumbles away easily, taking the plaster with it. We have made a plan to address this and I wondered if you might offer any other thoughts - we plan to check the gutter and drain pipes are working properly (as we don't think they are, this is clear when it rains and the water pours down the outside wall), lower the patio level to below the kitchen floor level and maybe gravel it, hack off the old plaster on the wall and apply lime plaster instead. We would really appreciate your comments / suggestions - we at least want to try and solve the root cause of this problem before resorting to damp proofing.

Rebecca Avis

Yes I agree 100% with your plan of action. In addition, make sure that the external surfaces of the walls are able to breathe and that impermeable material is removed.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Professional Groups provide extension to formal training
FROM: Khalid Rashid (Birmingham, West Midlands)
I am training to become a general surveyor. I have found 'period property' most interesting, but what I am not fully clear on as yet is, when there will be an occasion that I may have to value/survey such an animal, other than obtaining info from the relevant local council, how could I make sure that I can determine the true age and the period that it belongs to?

Khalid Rashid

If you are a member of the RICS I suggest you join the RICS Building Conservation Group/Forum (details from the RICS). There are many CPD events given that deal with identifying the age of properties. There are numerous books written on the subject. As a fellow surveyor I would warn you that your basic training does not equip you to deal with historic buildings. Much of what you have probably learnt has been related to modern buildings and cannot be readily transferred to older buildings. There are post-qualification courses that you could follow if you want to deal with historic buildings. Otherwise it is a matter of self-education by reading the many books that are around. Some local authorities run day courses for owners/professionals. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) run occasional courses. There are also other training centres (such as the lime centre at Winchester or the Weald and Downland Museum). You can get more information from the Building Conservation Directory (www.buildingconservation.com).

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Dry Winters & damp Summers
FROM: Rachel Woods (Wedmore, Somerset)
We have damp, I want to say rising damp, but having read Jeff Howell's piece concerning damp on on-the-levels I can't say that any more. The damp areas are on internal walls i.e. dividing walls that are solidly built of stone. Two of the areas are next to chimney breasts. It is definitely a lot more noticeable in the summer months. The wet winter months do not appear to cause any problems, though we do have heating on then.

Rachel Woods

When considering damp problems you have to ask yourself what has changed in recent years that might have brought about the dampness? Very few buildings would have been noticeably damp from when they were built. Dampness 'problems' can usually be traced back to a change. Sometimes this is a change in materials used for repair, alterations to the building and perhaps even simply changes in the way the building is used/occupied. Without more information your problem is difficult to answer specifically. However, I suspect that part of the problem may be water coming down the chimney (you do not say if it is used). You should consider having a form of ventilated cap installed that will prevent water getting down the flue but will allow ventilation. Has your neighbour had works undertaken that could have diverted the passage of moisture through the structure into your property? You could have a condensation problem that is not so apparent in the winter because the air movement around the building is different (because of the heating). In the first instance you should consider these matters and see if there is an obvious cause (water penetration or moisture having been diverted). Otherwise you must find a local surveyor or architect who properly understands this type of building and can advise you.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Local builder murders chimney with grinder & injected cement
FROM: Dave Sadler (Newton Abbot, Devon)
We have just had an estimate for re-roofing our 1900 Victorian semi, included in this estimate is work for the main chimney which entails mechanically grinding out all brick joints to a depth of 25mm and re-pointing brickwork using a 4/1 sand cement mortar forcibly pumped into joints by a pointing gun? Firstly I don't understand how this roofer knows that the chimney needs such drastic re-pointing as he never left ground level!, secondly I've heard that the use of cement mortars can be damaging to older properties, is this also true for chimneys? I know the chimney does need attention but I want to be sure I don't do any further damage through ignorance.

Dave Sadler

I often shudder when I hear of a grinder being used. This creates a very uniform gap and changes the appearance of the brickwork. Quite often a careless workman will cut into bricks in the wrong place and leave various scars. I would far rather see hand removal of the defective pointing as it does less damage. Further, the use of a hard cement mortar could be very damaging if the bricks are soft Victorian bricks. I suggest you ask for hand removal of the pointing and a hydraulic lime mortar mix to be used for the repointing. It sounds like your roofer wants to do a quick and easy job for him, but one that could be potentially damaging to the chimney.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Damp Welsh farmhouse built into a hill
FROM: Ian Muir (Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire)
We are in the process of purchasing a 19th Century Welsh stone farmhouse. The property needs some considerable renovation including the resolution of a damp problem. A large part of the damp has been caused as a consequence of a leaky roof (which will be fixed!). However some of the damp does (I assume) originates from the walls/ground. Given that the walls are substantial and effectively laid straight onto the hillside is there much that one can do/would want do, other than keeping the property warm and air. (It has been unoccupied for some time).

Ian Muir

What you suggest is sensible. To keep breathable internal wall surfaces and good ventilation in the property will help ensure that the moisture does not become trapped. You may find that the amount of moisture is not significant and that you need do no more. However, if you find the moisture is excessive, you could consider an internal ventilated/drained dry-lining system. This is a situation where you really need someone to go and look at the building and consider a holistic solution. I would not advise injecting walls or coating them to dry to stop the damp. Can the ground levels be lowered? It sounds like a problem that a bit of careful consideration and common sense could resolve. Take the matter one step at a time, deal with the obvious defects first and you may be pleasantly surprised to find that the problems are resolved without too much work or expense.

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

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Do I need listed building planning permission to build a garage
FROM: Gaynor Steer (Slough, Berkshire)
My husband and I are thinking of purchasing a grade two listed thatched cottage in Berkshire near Wokingham. At the moment there is no garage and we were wondering, if we had a garage built would it have to have a thatched ? The cottage is not in a conservation area. One other question some of the thatch is 25 years old and to an untrained eye it looks OK! The owners have said that the thatcher is sure that the ridge could be renewed and make it last for a few more years. What should we do to assess the state of the thatch and its potential lifespan.

Gaynor Steer

As the garage would be within the grounds of the listed building you would need listed building consent and a full planning application. The materials used would be a matter of negotiation with the Local Authority. Building Control might argue against thatch on the garage due to its proximity to the main house and the risk of fire. I suggest that thatch will not have to be used and it might be argued that another material (such as tile) would be preferable. The state of the thatch is another matter entirely. You do not say what type of thatch (Long Straw, Combed Wheat Reed, or Water Reed) and it is therefore difficult to give positive guidance. Whatever the main coat of thatch might be the ridge would normally require renewal every 12-15 years (subject to several factors). The thatcher could be correct and it is often appropriate to have some general patch repair undertaken when the ridge is dealt with. Regarding an assessment of the roof, you should get an independent thatcher (one who you pay for his advice and who will therefore have no vested interest in his recommendations) who is skilled in the particular type of thatch (this is particularly important if it is Long Straw). You should contact the local branch of the Master Thatchers Associations for the name of a suitable thatcher.

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