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 (

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: Sources of information for renovation projects in Scotland
FROM: Gary Burr (Aberdeen)
We are thinking of buying a public house in Banff Scotland which is an A listed property. can you advise us of where we can access information /guidelines on what we can and cannot do to this property.

Gary Burr

The most appropriate starting point would be Historic Scotland. Historic Scotland are the equivalent of English Heritage. They have a large number of conservation officers working across Scotland who I am sure would be pleased to provide informal advice. Historic Scotland produce a large number of publications that you might find of interest. The contact details for Historic Scotland are: telephone: 0131 668 8600; address: Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1SH. Generally, the rules for Scotland are very similar to those for England. Any work that is deemed to be an alteration to the character of the building will require listed building consent. Although like-for-like repairs would not normally require consent it will depend upon the extent of the repair and the precise nature of the repair itself. I always advise clients to seek an informal meeting with the local conservation officer in the first instance to discuss ideas for the property and to identify those matters that might be contentious, where they may be acceptable but formal applications are required and those matters when no application is required and you can simply proceed. By involving the conservation officer at an early stage you usually creates a good starting point for a good working relationship in future.

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


SUBJECT: Noisy Neighbours shatter period dream
FROM: Christine Walker (Bedford)
I have moved into a terraced Duke of Bedford cottage built 1853. Single brick between the neighbours, one of whose noise comes straight into our house, mainly from the stairs, which run side by side with the party wall in between. Noise through the walls too. Apart from asking them to be a little more thoughtful, what domestic products are there that we can lay our hands on to cut down this thunderous racket.

Christine Walker

Noise is a common problem in all houses regardless of type and age. There are regulations that relate to the building of new structures and the conversion of structures but these are not retrospective. Where an existing building has noise problems there are a number of considerations. The first is to consider whether the noise being heard is that of normal occupation. If so then it indicates a real problem with the sound insulation between the properties. However, if the noise being heard is primarily due to excessive noise created by the neighbours, you might even find that good sound insulation would not solve the problem. There are various laws that relate to nuisance created by neighbours and if you feel that the noise is due to the neighbours themselves you should speak to your local environmental health officer who would normally deal with such sound nuisance problems. If there seems to be a problem with the sound insulation itself there are a number of possible solutions that include the infilling voids, putting sound deadening materials on surfaces, etc. etc. The Building Research Establishment (based in Watford) publishes a number of guidelines relating to sound insulation. However, you often find that the manufacturers of sound proofing materials will provide good guidance. For example, one manufacturer of sound insulation product is Owens Corning. Their website is You may find some useful information on this site or they would send you their technical details and this includes guidance on upgrading existing buildings. However, in all of this you must remember that if upgrading works are to be considered you will need to liaise very closely with the local conservation officer. You would be well advised to find an architect or surveyor sympathetic to dealing with historic buildings but also experienced in dealing with sound insulation matters.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 509


SUBJECT: Traditional materials & techniques meet resistance in form of Building Regulations
FROM: Tamara Jones (Bishops Castle, Shropshire)
As part of the process of restoring a derelict period cottage and barn, I would like to be able to convert the barn using traditional materials and techniques (viz. lime etc.) however Building Regs are getting in the way. (The cottage is not a problem.) Any ideas on alternatives to modern materials (e.g. for insulation, to avoid having to damp proof everything and especially to avoid double glazing) and any info on alternative materials' comparative efficacy in meeting Building Regs criteria?

Tamara Jones

Unfortunately, you appear to be dealing with building control officers that are not particularly enlightened with regard to conservation issues. The clash between building control and conservation is something that does occur occasionally. Most of these issues can be dealt with by careful negotiation provided your professional advisors understand the issues from both points of view and a suitable compromise solution can be reached. This is really a matter whereby the conservation officer should also become involved. Unfortunately, in your region there are relatively few specialist professionals although many good conservation officers do operate in the area. You should also understand that the building regulations provide a standard that has to be complied with. It does not necessarily specify how that compliance is to be achieved. There are guidelines on what is commonly called "deemed to comply" methods but these strictly apply to modern buildings not conversion of older buildings.

I think your starting point should be with the local or county conservation officer. There are a couple of specialist companies in the Liverpool and Manchester area that maybe able to assist you (by specialist I refer to architects and/or surveyors who have special knowledge in dealing with historic buildings). Contact the RICS Conservation Forum administrator (Kieron Higgs) for details of surveyors that may be in your area (telephone number 0207 222 7000). You could also contact the RICS Building Control Forum (previously the Institute of Building Control) who are the professional body for building control officers.

In general terms, the cottage is not a problem because by the sounds of it you are not undertaking structural works that would require building control involvement and as already mentioned the building regulations cannot be applied retrospectively. The difference between this and the barn is that the barn is being converted and therefore requires structural alterations hence the involvement of building control. Unfortunately, with traditional materials there can be a problem of proving performance. Traditional materials by their very nature are more variable than modern materials and uniformity of performance is more difficult to prove. There are various projects and pieces of research looking into this at present. It is one of the reasons that traditional materials fell out of use for many years during the mid 20th century. Modern materials can easily be assessed, graded etc. as they are very uniform and consistent. Traditional materials tend to be less uniform and consistent. That said, there should be no reason why you would experience any major problems.

In the home counties there are a number of developers specialising in barn conversion who use traditional techniques and materials with no problems that I am aware of in complying with building control requirements. I am sorry I cannot give you more positive guidance but it is a matter upon which you will need professional assistance from those specialising in such matters in your locality.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 509


SUBJECT: Basement tanking causes bricks to crumble
FROM: Nic Davies (Essex)
I have recently bought a Victorian terrace house. The basement has been tanked to about four feet high round the walls leaving the brickwork above exposed. Some of the brick is starting to delaminate and I have noticed some small beads of water in some of these. The previous owner had the room shotblasted and I suspect have doused the place with some sort of PVA sealer. Instead of rushing into anything I've got a dehumidifier going to help dry it out a bit. The question is do I need to replace all of the delaminated bricks? The bricks are red and have a whitish mortar with bits of flint in it.

Nic Davies

Without looking at the building it is difficult to be specific but it sounds to me as if the tanking is the problem. The red bricks are porous and the white mortar with bits of flint in it is a traditional lime mortar. The intention is that the wall should be breathable. Tanking prevents this and traps moisture behind it thus forcing moisture to find other routes out. In this instance it is forcing the moisture upwards. Where it appears through the brickwork above the tanking the brickwork simply cannot cope as is falling apart. To resolve this problem your first course of action is probably to remove the tanking. This will of course cause damage to the existing brick behind the tanking and you have to accept that these will probably be damaged to the point that they will not be visually pleasing. There are a number of methods of dealing with basement walls in historic buildings that do not force the moisture to find other routes out, thus causing the problem you are experiencing. One method I prefer to use if dampness at basement level is a serious problem would be the use of a ventilated/drained cavity dry lining system. Anything that seals the brick faces will eventually result in a problem of delaminating of the bricks themselves. Old red bricks are particularly susceptible to this problem and should always be allowed to breath. You do not say how you wish to use the basement in future. It could be that simply removing the tanking, etc. resolves the problem. If the basement is well ventilated then the fact that moisture may penetrate through the walls below ground level should not be a problem as the ventilation will remove the moist air. Without more detail it is difficult to be more specific but I hope this general guidance is of some assistance. There are other answers to questions on this web site that may assist 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: To line or not to line our chimney
FROM: John Campey (Norwich)
We are taking a wood burner out of an inglenook so that we can put it back to what it was and use it as an open fire with a dog grate. Do I need a liner for the chimney. The height to the top of the chimney is 15 feet. Its is pantiled and thatched. What advice can you give?

John Campey

Your question raises a couple of issues. The first is simply regarding the performance of the chimney. You will need to have the chimney tested to ensure that it does draw properly. Some chimneys with inglenooks at the base do not draw very well unless there is a very large fire utilising the inglenook. Quite often if there if a small dog grate installed the flue has to be lengthened by bringing down a metal section with a hood over the dog grate within the inglenook. On these matters you will need to be advised by a flue specialist. The other issue is the question of thatch and the fire risks, etc. The main problem of fire in thatch near chimneys is caused by heat transference to the brickwork or perhaps sparks through gaps in pointing. Although much is said about sparks coming out of the top of the chimney and landing on the thatch this is rarely a cause of a thatch fire. The very dry underside of the thatch in the roof space is usually where a thatch fire will start especially if it is near a very hot chimney flue.

My advice with regard to flues through thatch is that you should always ensure that the pointing to the brickwork around the thatch area, within the roof space, etc. is in good condition. Whenever re-thatching is undertaken the pointing of the chimney should be very carefully checked and dealt with. However, it may not be possible to check these areas if they are now completely covered with thatch in generally sound condition. It is therefore normally necessary to consider lining the flue. This is not necessarily to enhance performance but simply to ensure that there is no transference of heat or sparks through to the thatch. In lining the flue an insulated liner should be used as this again helps to reduce the transference of heat. Some people and thatchers in particular seem to think that fitting spark arrestors at the top of the flue is helpful. These quickly become clogged and can actually be more problematic than helpful.

I do not recommend the use of spark arrestors. Some years ago the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service together with the local Building Control Department came up with a scheme for thatching new-build property that would comply with building regulations. At the same time they published a paper looking at the question of fire in thatched buildings ("A Guide to Fire Safety and Thatch Dwellings"). You should be able to purchase a copy of this document from the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service via Safety Department, Service Headquarters, Colliton Park, Dorchester, Dorset, DT1 1FB.

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


SUBJECT: No dpc what do I do?
FROM: Ian Murray (Consett, Durham)
We have recently moved into a stone built Victorian villa (circa 1840) and are busy restoring it to its original state. The next major step we intend to take is to put the kitchen back in the basement where we still have the original range surround. The house has no dpc and I therefore have two questions. Firstly I need to install a drain from the intended location for the new sink to the existing drain run about 10 metres away. Should we dampproof the area we will be digging out to lay the pipe or not? Secondly, we intend to lay slate tiles to the total floor area. Do we need to place any damp proofing underneath or will the slate act as a dpc? If so is this likely to give us any future damp problems in the walls instead? Ventilation will be via extractor to an open chimney and door vents.

Ian Murray

In short you need good local professional advice. You raise a number of issues that can only be dealt with generally in this answer. If the basement was not built with damp proof coursing and you have not already put damp proofing of any form in then I would suggest that you keep with the traditional breathable structure and the way it functions at present. I therefore do not necessarily recommend that you "damp proof" the area in which you will be laying a drain. Similar comment applies with regards to the floor coverings. I would not recommend the installation of a damp proof membrane under the floor. The slate itself will to some extent act as a damp proof course but the pointing between the slate tiles will allow the floor to breath. However, these comments do depend upon what else you do in the basement area. You should remember that if you go down the route of damp proofing the basement the moisture will have to find a route out somewhere. Generally speaking damp proofing a basement forces the moisture further up the building and can lead to problems higher up. It is often better to look at a scheme that allows the basement to breath and function traditionally without diverting the moisture elsewhere. This might involve a ventilated/drained cavity dry lining system. There are other answers on this website and links to other sites where you find other useful information on these matters.

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


SUBJECT: Chimney Sweeps have contrasting views on chimney lining
FROM: Christine Roslaniec (London)
How important is it to have a chimney re-lined? Mine has remnants of lime plaster on it but this is obviously damaged in places; one chimney sweep said it wouldn't be necessary to re-line it, another said it did and recommended some fireproof render instead of lime plaster. Finally, should I have a cowl fitted, as again one sweep says I should, the other not.

Christine Roslaniec

The answer perhaps depends largely upon how well the chimney is performing at present. The insides of chimneys often had a lime plaster and this helped to reduce the heat and sparks transferring through open pointing, etc into floor and roof voids. There is a practical reason for having the lime plaster or a lining. However, if there are no leaks from the flue and it is functioning perfectly adequately it is questionable as to whether a lining is strictly necessary. I suggest you contact the National Association of Chimney Engineers for further advice on 01773 599 095. There is also the National Fireplace Association based in Birmingham (telephone 0121 200 1310).

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 509


SUBJECT: Should I re-point my flint wall with Lime ?
FROM: Heather Griffin (Dullingham, Suffolk)
A few years ago I repointed the flints on our cottage with a mixture recommended by several books which included 1 part cement 1 part lime to 3 parts sand. Having looked further into this I'm concerned that the cement will exasperate damp problems although I'm reluctant to remove the mix in view of further damage to the flints. What would you advise?

Heather Griffin

It is correct that you should be concerned about the specific mix. However, the flints are hard and durable and less susceptible to the problems that would be associated with, for example, soft red bricks. They can therefore withstand a denser mortar mix with less of risk of an adverse affect. If you're not experiencing any problems at present I would suggest that you leave well alone.

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


SUBJECT: Improved drainage offers solution to damp
FROM: Keir Thomas (Derbyshire)
I've recently moved into a renovated stone barn (the renovation was done 9 years ago). The house is built into an incline, meaning that the right-hand gable wall is around 1.5 metres below ground. The original renovators used Sika-impregnated cement render as a barrier against penetrating damp on this gable wall. This is now failing. The question is how to fix it! I've had various quotes from people offering to use various membrane and drainage systems, most of which are expensive (largely because of the length of the wall). I'm therefore considering reapplying render but I have some questions which I'd be very grateful if you could answer. The first is if the stone itself is transmitting moisture to the render, or if its just the pointing between each brick. If so, would it be possible to inject between each brick with silicone in the way that people usually stop rising damp. The second question is how long Sika-impregnated render can be expected to last. The house was renovated nine years ago and the render is now failing. How long can I expect any new render I apply to last?

Keir Thomas

This raises a number of issues and I have to be very careful in my answer to avoid being sued by Sika! In my experience the tanking systems that incorporate chemical additives will often start to break down at around ten years and I rarely find them remaining satisfactory once they reach twenty years old. You could of course simply patch repair the system but I have a horrible feeling that you will be forever patch repairing it from now on. Even if you completely renew it I suspect that in ten to twenty years time you will have to face the same problems again.

You will note from other replies on this site that a drained/ ventilated cavity dry lining system is often the most appropriate for dealing with walls that are below ground level. The simple problem of damp proofing a wall below ground is that the moisture will seek another route and this means you may simply transfer the moisture to another part of the building. This is particularly the case if the wall is at the bottom of an incline where ground moisture will be running down the slope towards the wall and the wall if damp proofed will act as a dam. However, you may be able to alleviate the problem by installing some form of land drainage between the wall and the sloping site. Therefore when ground moisture comes down the site towards to wall it is taken around the building before it can penetrate too far into the wall. Although this will not stop all of the moisture it will take away a large amount of it. That said, any land drainage system must have access points for rodding out and cleaning through occasionally or it simply becomes blocked. You will gather from above that I would not recommend any attempt at trying to inject the wall. This is bound to fail and cause more problems than it resolves. You asked the question whether the dampness is through the stone or the pointing. The answer is probably through both as the wall structure is probably quite porous and breathable in the traditional sense.

You really ought to seek specialist professional advice. My initial view is that you need to look at providing something to the outer face of the wall that will divert water before it gets into the wall (such as some form of land drainage) and internally you should have some form of cavity drained/ventilated system to give you a dry inner face but allowing the moisture to breath through the wall and escape before it causes any damage, etc.

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


SUBJECT: Decaying timber frame needs sensitive repair
FROM: Chris Triggs (Sevenoaks, Kent)
We are just about to exchange on our "perfect" cottage. It is a 250 year old Grade II listed timber framed cottage in the heart of one of the most picturesque villages in Kent. My problem is to one of the external timbers on the corner of the property. Due to years of neglect the timber is rotten to the core. There is brickwork to both sides and the timber is full height. Are there any best practice methods of replacing the timber and what treatments are available that will prevent further rot occurring to other timbers within the house.

Chris Triggs

It should be possible to replace the damage section. Whether this involves replacement of the full length of timber will depend upon the extent of damage. This really needs to be assessed by someone who understands the nature of the problem, how to repair it, etc. The presence of the brickwork either side could be a contributory factor to the problem. Of course if it is historic brick infill it cannot be easily removed but there are ways of dealing with this sort of situation. I can do no better than refer you to an accredited RICS surveyor in Sevenoaks who is very experienced in dealing with the repair of this type of building. His name is Steven Rickards and he can be contacted on 01732 741 677.

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