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 (

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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: Render on crumbling bricks may make the problem worse
FROM: Simon Crump (Norwich, Norfolk)
About two years ago we bought an old Norfolk red brick cottage. We are now injecting the damp proof course. Two walls on the house are in very bad repair. The bricks are breaking up due to water then frost etc. We are looking to possibly render the wall then use a good quality paint to preserve the integrity of the walls before it is too late! Do you have any other suggestions because we have heard that render on old walls can cause damp! Any thoughts on what we have to do?

Simon Crump

The information you provide is too little to provide any definitive answer. The first thing to remember is that the cottage would not always have been damp. You should try to assess when the dampness became a problem and what might have been the cause. Most buildings start their life and survive for many years being perfectly dry with no problems whether or not they have damp proof courses. It is usually a change in some way that leads to a dampness problem whether this be the use of an inappropriate material, raising ground levels, reduction of sub floor ventilation, etc. etc. I would not usually advise injecting a damp proof course, as I am extremely sceptical as to the effectiveness of such work. In any event, if the damp proof course is effective the damp brickwork below it will remain excessively damp and if there is a serious problem leading to the brickwork crumbling the problem will accelerate below the injected damp proof course. You will still have a problem of residual dampness in the brickwork above the damp proof course. Generally, I would look to lowering ground levels if high, improving sub floor ventilation if appropriate and dealing with all obvious problems externally and internally that might lead to water ingress or trapped moisture. It would not usually be advisable to render or paint the walls as this simply conceals the problem and traps the moisture where it can cause more problems. Where bricks are significantly perished they may need to be cut out and replaced. The ultimate intention would be to try to get the walls functioning as they once did without dampness, etc. You should seek advice from a suitable professional in your district who has experience of dealing with dampness in such a cottage and properly understands how old buildings function. The local conservation officers should also be able to provide further guidance.

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


SUBJECT: Should I treat exposed timbers with a preservative?
FROM: Sara Bateman (Newark)
I have recently taken possession of an old property comprising of 3 cottages. The cottages have been altered and renovated over a period of time however the basic wooden structure remains clearly visible both inside and out. The original construction beams are oak and probably around 200 years old . In addition, 3 of the ceilings/floors are of beam construction but this wood is pine. My question is, should I be treating the beams with any type of preserver to ensure their health and well-being for the next 200 years?

Sara Bateman

The simple is answer is no. Spring is the time when beetle infestation is normally active. If you find recent holes and frass from beetle activity then localised/targeted treatment might be appropriate. However, widespread surface treatments or application of some form of preservative is not normally advantageous and is usually a waste of money. Where timbers are likely to remain in contact with damp surfaces and/or in conditions that are conducive to beetle infestation it might be of some assistance to treat the timbers and in particular timbers in direct contact with damp surfaces should have an isolating membrane separating them from such surfaces. If there is an active problem its suggests you have an area where there is some dampness, if this is the case you need to look at dealing with the dampness in the first instance. Eliminating the damp problems and providing reasonable background heating normally deals with most infestations. When suggesting that you deal with dampness I refer here to allowing the building to breath so that moisture passes through the property and evaporates normally rather than becoming trapped, etc. There are many other sections on this site and answers to other questions that provide more advice regarding dampness 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: Building Regs cause for concern in replacing windows in farmhouse
FROM: Dominic Heppenstall (Greenwich, London)
I am in the process of buying period Kent farmhouse which sadly had its windows replaced (very badly) in the 1980s. I have been in contact with a traditional joinery company and also the local council but there is a problem with some new building regulations which control all replacement windows. I think the new regulations are referred to by the council as 'new build'. The joiner tells me that this makes any cottage style replacements very expensive and just about impossible for him to do. This is due to tight controls over openings, glazing depths and thermo efficient glass types. Do you think I have been informed correctly? And if all of this is true, do you think an cheaper alternative is finding a larger / national window manufacturer which is more imaginative/sympathetic towards older buildings?

Dominic Heppenstall

The new regulations referred to are in fact changes in the building regulations that came into force on the 1st April 2002. This basically states that any new window unit has to meet certain thermal standards. This is a simplistic overview but it means that when a new window is installed it ought to be double-glazed or a standard window with secondary glazing may have to be installed. As the regulations are relatively new there is still some debate on how to implement the new regulations in connection with listed and older properties. When replacing windows you will of course need to get listed building consent (assuming the building is listed) or perhaps conservation area consent (if the property is in a conservation area). In doing so this will trigger a debate between the conservation officer and the building control officer. I suggest that you ask the two of them to resolve the problem before you order any new windows. If the property is not listed and is not in a conservation area the problem is slightly different. It is possible to get new timber windows manufactured with a deep enough recess for a double-glazed sealed pane. If your joiner is incapable of dealing with this you need to find another joiner. The alternative is to have single glazing with separate secondary glazing internally. In any event, when dealing with such a major replacement project you should always obtain several quotes for the work.

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


SUBJECT: Should we remove exterior paint in bid to alleviate damp?
FROM: Keith Mulcahy (Somerset)
We have just purchased a 450 yr. old school house - Timber & render construction. The outside render has been coated in Sandtex. The property has some issues with damp in some rooms, from our survey this is due to rising damp. Should we remove the Sandtex and apply limewash, if so how?

Keith Mulcahy

Quite simply - Yes. If the Sandtex is already live and coming away you should simply scrape it off. Otherwise you might need to use mechanical/abrasive methods. The alternative would be to use a chemical removal system. In any event, I always suggest using different methods in a trial area to see which is most effective before embarking on the whole project. There are a number of companies that supply suitable chemicals if this approach is appropriate. One for example is "Strippers" - see the 'Seeking Specialists' section the site. Once the Sandtex is removed you need to establish whether the render is a cement based material or traditional lime render. If the former you will need to consider whether this ought to be removed at the same time. If there is superficial evidence of a problem to the timber frame then removal of the render is necessary. If there is no such evidence of a problem then removal of the render should be undertaken but perhaps not quite so urgently. In any event I always advise clients to undertake such removal systematically and in sections that are easily manageable (both from a practical and financial point of view). Dealing with a section of the building will then help educate regarding how to deal with the rest of the building when it is eventually stripped. Once stripped, the frame can be dealt with and then re-rendering and application of a suitable surface finish can be undertaken. Once you have a lime render finish to the building lime wash can be applied. There are several sources of information on this site and concerning lime renders and lime wash.

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


SUBJECT: Dampness leads to possible beetle attack
FROM: Mary Humphries (Crediton, Devon)
I have noticed a number of new holes in a couple of timber window sills in my thatched cottage (approx. 300 yrs old) The holes are about 3mm in diameter and perfectly round. I am worried that they may be due to deathwatch beetle and even more worried about what action I should take if any. How best can I get reliable and impartial advice about identifying and then rectifying the problem please.

Mary Humphries

This is the time of year when beetle infestation will become apparent. You do not say what timber the sills are made from. If of oak then the holes could be the result of Death Watch Beetle but unlikely if they are softwood. If House Longhorn Beetle is suspected this will need careful analysis and treatment and the Timber Division of the BRE at Garston (Watford) should be informed. Regardless of the nature of the beetle itself it is unlikely that simple surface treatment will resolve the problem. The fact that you have beetle infestation suggests that there may be a dampness problem. It could be that the sills are beginning to rot in concealed areas. It may be sensible to open up and investigate further. Targeted treatment may be necessary where you have an active problem but this is only going to be effective if you deal with all other maintenance issues that could be leading to water ingress and therefore rot. You will also need to inspect areas around the sill such as any surrounding timber frame for signs that the infestation has spread. The matter needs to be looked at very carefully by a suitably qualified professional with experience in dealing with historic buildings. It may be that specific treatment is required but for the initial inspection and impartial advice I would not normally recommend that you go to a high street specialist treatment company. Independent advice is best taken from a professional as mentioned above. In any event, it seems that you will have other repairs to deal with rather than simply treating the infestation.

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


SUBJECT: Specialist suggests pouring concrete down chimney to seal flue!
FROM: Tamara Jones (Bishops Castle, Shropshire)
We have a stone chimney with three flues, all of which leak into each other, and a large amount of soot which has come through the stone almost to the outside of the breast. After speaking to a 'specialist', who recommended pouring a concrete mix down the flues around a rubber tube to seal them (something which would substantially narrow the flues and make the inglenook unworkable as an open fireplace) I am now concerned about how best to repair the chimney. I am extremely loathe to use cement in any form as the chimney is mortared in lime (as is the rest of the cottage and all the repairs we are doing), and am equally reluctant to lose the use of the inglenook. My question is, do you know of any other method of repairing stone chimneys that will be more sympathetic to the traditional build of the cottage, and that will hopefully also allow us to use the inglenook? Many thanks for your help.

Tamara Jones

It seems that the wiffs between the chimney flues have deteriorated or perhaps never existed. Pointing within the chimney has deteriorated and is now allowing leakage between the flues and from the flues into the building. This is not an uncommon problem. The installation of a concrete flue is something that has been undertaken in historic chimneys but is something I would regard as a last result. It is a permanent method and if it fails to work it is impossible to remove. There is a risk in pouring the concrete the pressure could destroy the chimney or cause further damage and there is no guarantee that it would necessarily work. I suggest that you initially try to use a flexible double skinned stainless steel flue liner, which can be carefully passed down through the flue and linked to a hood over the inglenook fireplace. This leaves the original chimney intact but provides a sealed flue specifically for the fireplace in question. There are many chimney flue-lining specialists that can provide this service and advise further. Of course, this does not resolve the problem of deterioration within the chimney itself. Unless it is large enough for someone to climb up the chimney, there is very little option other than to let it gradually deteriorate unless you go down the route of having a poured concrete flue liner. In my opinion the first option would be to use a flexible steel flue liner to see if this works, as it is a cheaper option and can be removed if necessary without detrimentally affecting the original 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: Linseed oil coating on brickwork leads to staining on bricks
FROM: Mike McNerney (Ormskirk, Lancashire)
Last autumn a local builder "re-grouted" the "pressed brick" walls on our Edwardian house using sand and cement (4:1)with a red dye. He then coated the whole wall with boiled linseed oil. There is quite extensive white staining on much of the new mortar jointing and running over the face of the bricks but it is evidently trapped under the linseed oil coating which has dried quite hard. How can I remove the linseed oil coating? How should I remove the white staining? Should I then leave the brickwork uncoated?

Mike McNerney

The removal of the linseed oil coating is something that others will have to advise upon and perhaps the builder should be asked to remove it in any event. It seems that it is sealing the brickwork and joints. The white material is possibly the efflorescence of salts from within the pointing. This is where moisture draws salts in solution to the surface and as the moisture evaporates the salts are left as a deposit. Normally one would brush these off with a dry brush and the problem would eventually cease. In this instance the salts are trapped behind the linseed oil coating. I would generally suggest that brickwork should be left exposed and not sealed. The sealing of brickwork is rarely 100% successful and if there is any area where moisture can then get behind the sealant it becomes trapped and causes accelerated damage to the brickwork. My general advice is that the coating should be removed and the efflorescence carefully brushed away. I am concerned that a cement mix was used for repointing and from what you describe it seems that a coloured cement mix was also used to reface deteriorated bricks. This is a practice I do not recommend as it simply leads to moisture becoming trapped behind and in my experience it accelerates the deterioration. As a rule of thumb pointing should always be a sacrificial element of an elevation whether it be stone or brick. The pointing should therefore always be weaker than the surrounding material and generally I would suggest using a lime mortar. If brickwork or stone has deteriorated and requires repair it depends upon circumstances but I would normally suggest cutting out and replacement rather than trying to re-face with coloured cement.

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


SUBJECT: Second quality bricks on gable wall lead to penertating damp
FROM: Philip Branchflower (Bristol)
I am about to purchase a Victorian property but have concerns about penetrating damp through the side wall. The property used to be a middle terrace, but the end property has been demolished at some point leaving the old internal wall as an external wall. This has been assessed structurally and is not a problem, however the external rendering is badly cracked and penetrating damp has been indicated. Would re-rendering solve the problem? Or should I be looking to erect an additional cavity wall externally?

Philip Branchflower

With many Victorian properties the party wall is solid 9-inch brickwork and the fact that a wall originally intended as a party wall is now an external wall should not necessarily pose any major problems. That said, for party walls second quality bricks were often used rather than first quality facing bricks. It could be that the brickwork used has a softer less durable face and is more prone to direct water penetration. It is probably for this reason that the brickwork was originally rendered. The render is a dense impermeable mix and inflexible. Any slight movement in the structure (thermal movement if nothing else is quite common to Victorian brickwork) will lead to cracking of the render. The cracks then allow water to penetrate, which cannot then escape. If the render is generally deteriorating it might be sensible to consider its complete removal. I suspect that the brickwork is second quality and it would be sensible to re-clad the brickwork to provide additional weathering protection. If a traditional lime render is used with a lime wash finish this will act as a sacrificial protective coat. It will absorb moisture and allow it to evaporate away without necessarily resulting in the brickwork becoming excessively damp. The lime mortar will tend to be flexible and this will result in less cracking. The alternative will of course be to construct an additional external skin to the building using good quality facing bricks. However, there is the question of how these will be tied to the original wall and there will be the problem of weathering details at the perimeters of the new brickwork. I therefore suggest that you try replacing the render with a more suitable render in the first instance. However, you should perhaps obtain advice from a professional with suitable experience in dealing with historic buildings and with local knowledge of the type of property in question.

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


SUBJECT: Can I remove staircase in listed farmhouse?
FROM: Paul Rosenfeld (London)
I am considering the purchase of a glorious Grade II listed former vicarage in Gloucester, built 1810. The house has undergone numerous alterations over the years, though retains much of its original character (and I would assume features). The largest alteration is a 2 storey extension to the rear which looks to be dated about 1930. This extension comprises the kitchen on the ground floor and bathroom on the first floor, and is linked at both levels to the main building. In addition, this extension has its own, very tight second staircase leading to the bathroom upstairs, which is also served by the main staircase. Overall the extension has been tastefully matched on the outside with the original building, though not so well internally. We are keen to buy the house but would only do so if we could remove the second staircase. Can you please advise as to the likelihood that we would be able to get consent to remove the staircase - it does not in itself hold any character of special note, though presumably could be considered to represent the evolution of the property?

Paul Rosenfeld

Your concluding assessment is accurate. When alterations are undertaken to a listed building those alterations become a part of the listed building. However, as the work in question is relatively modern, if an alternative is put forward that is considered acceptable there should be no reason to find objection to the work. However, the alteration needs to be carefully thought through. It might be sensible to employ a suitably qualified professional (an architect in this instance) with experience in dealing with historic buildings of this nature in the vicinity. Sketch schemes can be prepared for presentation to the conservation officer on an informal basis. This is probably best undertaken by inviting the conservation officer to meet you on site for a brief walk around and presentation of the sketch scheme in order to get an informal reaction. If this is positive then you can proceed further. I appreciate that you are presently purchasing the property and do not yet own it. You will therefore need to seek the vendor's approval for this. If you are unable to follow this route it might be appropriate to simply visit the conservation officer at his/her office and discuss the matter off site. The other matter to consider is whether this alteration is crucial to your decision to purchase. If not then the purchase can proceed and you can deal with these matters after you have purchased the property. If the alterations are crucial you need to resolve this before proceeding further. In general terms, if your proposed alteration is well thought through it is unlikely that it would receive objections if all you are altering is itself a relatively modern alteration.

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


SUBJECT: Are the rules for renovating a Grade II* property more onerous than a Grade II listed property?
FROM: Peter Connon (Plaxtol, Kent)
I am considering purchasing a Grade II* listed house which has come to the market for the first time in many years. However, it requires substantial renovation (re-wiring, re-plumbing, no central heating, virtually no kitchen, very basic bathroom etc.). I am aware that whilst renovation of a Grade II listed house requires the involvement of the Local Authority Conservation Officer sympathetic renovation is not generally a problem. Are the restriction applied to a Grade II* listed building similar or are they more onerous and do they require involvement from persons other than the Local Authority Conservation Officer ?

Peter Connon

This is an opportunity to deal with several myths. The first is that the legislation governing listed buildings does not specifically mentioned grades. Section 7 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 states

". no person should execute or cause to be executed any works for the demolition of a listed building or for its alteration or extension in any manner which would affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest, unless the works are authorised".

As you will see this does not refer to the grade neither does it refer to the interior or exterior. However, the clause does require interpretation in each and every circumstance. What might be regarded as an alteration to character in one instance might not be elsewhere. For example, changing the colour of render to a single house within a terrace of Georgian town houses could significantly alter the character not only of the building but also of the whole terrace. Changing the colour of the paint on a cottage in the middle of the countryside may not be regarded as an alteration to character. In your situation it is best to have a fully thought through and prepared scheme ready. You should then invite the conservation office to the site and discuss the scheme with the officer. The officer can then highlight those parts of the scheme for which consent might be necessary, those parts that might be contentious and those parts that he/she feels should not go ahead. The matters can then be sensibly discussed and perhaps resolved on site. The scheme can be amended as necessary and the appropriate applications made. Being a grade II* listed building will mean that a more sensitive approach will be expected than if the property were simply grade II. This does not prevent you undertaking alterations or works etc. (subject to consent), but it does mean that they have to be sympathetically and sensitively handled. In such instances I always advise clients to have early meetings with the conservation officer to ensure that where necessary the applications are submitted in plenty of time before the work takes place. It is rather too simplistic to say that like-for-like repair and sympathetic handling of the work does not require consent. It is true to say that repairs are not necessarily regarded as an alteration to character but this is not always the case. It does depend upon the extent of the repair and the nature of the repair being undertaken. If the property requires extensive work then I strongly recommend that you have an early meeting with the conservation officer to establish the ground rules if nothing else.

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


SUBJECT: De-humidifier or fresh air & extractor fan to solve dampness?
FROM: Andrew McGovern (Swadlincote, Derbyshire)
We are about to complete on an 1890 Victorian Semi, which has a number of damp and wet rot problems. Most of these problems can be explained by the cast iron guttering which is now, unfortunately, worse than useless. Obviously with replacement of this guttering, most of the problems will cease. However, we have been advised by the damp surveyors that we will need a 'Drymaster' unit in the kitchen to extract excess humidity. Not only have I not heard of one of these before, but the price of 600 they are quoting seems excessive. My question is why would I need it? Would a normal extractor fan suffice?

Andrew McGovern

Without knowing the extent of the problem it is difficult to advise in detail. However, if the property requires ventilation to remove moisture why not simply open windows and doors when you are in occupation and turn on the heating to achieve a circulation of air. This should be adequate to ventilate the property. If the property is vacant and cannot yet be occupied it might be slightly more difficult but again you should look to leaving windows ajar (perhaps with appropriate security bolts, etc.) and with the heating on to again create a circulation of air and ventilation. The cost you have been quoted does seem high and I am not convinced that a dehumidifier is necessarily the best way of drying out the property. This is particularly the case if the dehumidifier simply collects the water within itself, as it is not taking the moisture away. Dehumidifiers are more effective if they have an external duct outlet. In any event, if you need a permanent method of ventilating the kitchen I would suggest an extractor fan would be more appropriate and some can be provided with a humidity control switch.

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


SUBJECT: How should a surveyor test for rising damp?
FROM: Tony McGuinness (Dukinfield, Cheshire)
How should a surveyor test for rising damp? Our house has just been surveyed by a quick visual inspection and a few (surface) readings by a damp meter.

Tony McGuinness

Your description is basic but generally how most surveyors and even high street specialists test for dampness. The hand held moisture meters are a quick method of identifying areas where there may be a dampness problem. They should not be taken as a definitive guide to the presence of dampness or otherwise. There are many possible causes of dampness and eventually due to gravity all forms of moisture migrate to the bases of walls. Just because there is a high moisture reading at the base of the wall does not necessarily indicate a rising damp problem. Here is not the place to discuss in detail the matter of rising damp but in my experience most dampness problems in properties can be resolved by simple building works and looking to the various causes rather than by injecting walls or applying damp proofing renders. If there is a genuine suspicion of true rising damp there is only one way to find out and that is to drill and take core samples of the wall to establish the moisture content within the wall itself. There are companies that would be prepared to undertake such work but it will cost. I suggest that you look around the property to establish why there might be dampness and eliminate all obvious signs of damp problems. For example, leaks, rotting window sills, high ground levels, inappropriate surface finishes, lack of sub floor ventilation, etc. etc. are all possible causes that should be dealt with before considering anything else. Finally, if there is no surface evidence of a problem of dampness and no other manifestation of a dampness problem then the likelihood is that you do not have a rising damp problem.

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


SUBJECT: Should I have the underside of my slate roof sprayed with foam?
FROM: Bob Harding (Tiverton, Devon)
Due to Nail Sickness I am considering refurbishing the slate roof of our 300 year old cottage. Have you any experience of the underside spraying of the roof slates with urethane foam. What do you reckon on the suitability and effectiveness?

Bob Harding

Quite simply I would suggest you don't do it. The building regulations require various works to be undertaken when you install insulation in a roof space. These relate to the provision of appropriate vapour barriers, ventilation, etc. The reason for this is quite simply to try to deal with the condensation problem on the cold side of the insulation. Where the foam is applied to the underside of the roof it provides an insulating layer but it does not allow for the necessary ventilation, etc. etc. There is serious concern about the long-term risk of problems on the outer face of the foam at its interface with the battens, tiles and rafters. This is an issue that is presently hotly debated. My concerns with the use of foam relate to its long-term impact on the maintenance of the roof. If, after application of the foam, further slates deteriorate and require further replacement the presence of the foam makes repair and maintenance work much more difficult, if not impossible. At some point the roof may need to be stripped and recovered. At present without foam, the slates are salvageable and many of them will be re-useable. Once the foam has been applied it will be useless for any future use. If owners of modern houses want to spray the underside of their roof slopes with the foam that is there decision. With regard to listed buildings I am not convinced that the foam has been around long enough and is sufficiently proven to be used on important listed buildings. It would be a tragedy if the foam were to be used and the roof unnecessarily damaged. It is not only the covering that is affected but the foam sticks to the rafters etc. and is very difficult to remove. My advice is that you take a deep breath and budget for complete stripping and re-covering of the roof. You will probably be presently surprised to find that much of the slate could be re-used thus reducing the cost of new material required. In the meantime, where slates are slipping and coming loose the use of tingles is an acceptable method of repair. Seek further advice on repair and future re-covering from a competent roofer experienced in dealing with slate.

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 specialists suggest injected dpc or are their other solutions?
FROM: Colin Hussey (Peterborough, Cambridgeshire)
We are preparing for a purchase of a Grade II listed detached house. The RICS survey shows damp in an internal wall which I thought was unusual. A damp specialist company recommended the usual damp injecting and hacking off 1 metre of plaster and replace with sand/cement/waterproofer mix with 1 coat of skim on top. I am sceptical of this as this application hasn't been 100% successful in other old properties we have moved into. Is the above the best way to tackle this or should we try another method. The exterior is built of stone so I assume the internal walls are the same.

Colin Hussey

Unfortunately, the problem you face here is common in that the surveyor has used a moisture meter, obtained a reading and recommended further inspection by a high street specialist. They have done exactly the same and obtained a reading therefore recommended their usual solution. It seems that no one involved so far has attempted to identify precisely why the walls are damp (if indeed the readings are due to moisture) and if so what general works are required. I have provided answers to several other questions regarding dampness where I have suggested looking at the possible causes of damp and dealing with these in the first instance. You should aim to allow the building to breath. You should remember that the building was not intentionally constructed to be damp. Something has happened or changed over the years to now result in dampness. Look to the reason for this and you will be a long way down the road to solving the problem. It would be sensible to seek advice from a suitably qualified professional experienced in dealing with historic buildings, who is prepared to spend some time looking at the possible causes rather than simply relying upon a moisture meter.

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


SUBJECT: How should we protect weatherboarding?
FROM: Paul Humberstone (Benfleet, Essex)
I own a Essex weatherboarded cottage, it is semi detached and was built in around 1780. Some of the board on the front of the houses looks a little scruffy, as it has been painted over and over again for a period of over two hundred years. The layers of paint are in fact quite substantial. Last year I decided to Paint it, I use a wire brush to take of the flaky paint and scruff up the paint, I then proceed to paint it with weathersill paint. My next door neighbour has been enquiring about striping the front of the house down to bare wood, before re painting. I'm a little concerned that the many layers of paint are the main protection for the wood. What are your thoughts?

Paul Humberstone

This question raises a couple of issues. It is correct to say that the many layers of paint do provide protection for the wood. However, it is also true to say that a build up of paint can provide a layer that traps moisture behind and if the timber behind is clearly rotting then to remove the paint can allow the timber to dry out etc. One has to judge the matter very carefully. Generally speaking I would recommend careful rubbing down and removal of loose and defective material and then carefully re-coating with a traditional paint finish that would allow breathability. There are a number of manufacturers now bringing forward what they call traditional paints. Perhaps more important is the issue of lead paint. If there are many layers of paint on the boarding the likelihood is that some of the historic layers are lead based materials. If so, the removal of the paint brings forth the problem of the health hazard of lead paint removal. I suggest you seek specialist advice regarding how to deal with lead paint and its preparation or indeed removal in readiness for preparation. I suggest you speak carefully to your neighbour and suggest that complete stripping of the timber is not necessarily the best course of action.

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