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: Can I covert the attic in my listed property into a living space?
FROM: Pauline Marne (Liverpool)
We have a Grade II semi in a conservation area. Is it possible to convert the attic into a living space and still keep the character of the property i.e. get listed building consent? Of particular worry is the access to the loft as I believe building regs. require something more permanent than a pull down ladder!

Pauline Marne

Without knowing the precise style and nature of the building it impossible for me to know whether converting the attic of the building is likely to detrimentally affect the character of the building. If the roof space is a particularly historic and important feature then conversion might be regarded as detrimental and would therefore be resisted. Whether conversion would be acceptable may also depend upon how much of the roof structure you would need to alter.

Regarding the conversion itself, there are various ways of upgrading roof spaces to create habitable rooms. You will of course need engineering advice and architectural advice regarding whether the windows should be of a skylight variety or dormer windows. If the latter they need to be sensibly designed and if the former they will need to be of the conservation style skylight that are increasingly popular. Of most concern is your comment regarding the access. For a loft space to be converted to a habitable room there must be a proper stairway complying with building regulations. This means that building regulations will apply to the rest of the property in terms of fire precautions and protection. Some upgrading in the rest of the property may be necessary. These are matters that can only be resolved by negotiation between you, your professional advisors and the council officers (conservation officer and building control officer).

Of course one possibility is that you merely wish to board out the roof space and put in a skylight with pull down ladder of some description. You would need listed building consent for the skylight and perhaps for creating a large enough access hatch for the ladder. Otherwise provided no physical changes are proposed and you merely board out the roof space you could create an area that might be useable for lightweight storage. When boarding out any roof I always recommend using plywood and screwing the boards carefully to joists as this helps stiffen the structure generally and avoids unnecessary damage to the ceilings below. However, such a roof space cannot be referred to as a habitable area and is really only suitable for lightweight storage. Further I would recommend the storage of non-flammable items to reduce the risk of fire. This is a case where good professional advice should be sought from a local surveyor or architect experienced in such 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: Whose chimney is it anyway?
FROM: Peter Martin (Bideford, Devon)
We live in a Victorian terraced house. Upstairs we have noticed dampness on the chimney breast wall. On closer inspection of the chimney stack outside it is quite obvious why we are getting the dampness as it is badly in need of repointing and some of the flashing is non-existent. This actually got me to think, "Whose chimney is it anyway?" We have no fireplaces on that side of the house but our neighbour does. Also the boundary wall on that side belongs to our neighbour. So are they responsible for the whole stack or only their side of it?

Peter Martin

You will need to consult your deeds etc to establish whether the chimneybreast is within the neighbouring property, straddling the party wall line or within your property. The documentation may be ambiguous in which case common sense will prevail. If the face of the wall is on the boundary line or over the neighbouring property it is likely that your neighbour is responsible for its maintenance. If it appears to straddle the boundary then the maintenance of the side overlooking your property will probably be your responsibility. It is important that you seek further professional advice. A local surveyor should inspect and you might have to involve your solicitors as well. From your description it seems likely that your neighbour is responsible, but the matter needs further investigation. If it is your neighbour's responsibility you should ask your neighbour to deal with the work on the basis that it is causing damage to your building. If the neighbour refuses it would be sensible to have the work undertaken and then pursue your neighbour for recovery of the costs. At present I cannot say whether the matter is one that also falls within the Party Wall Act but a local surveyor and your solicitor should be able to advise further on this. .

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 Victorian or Edwardian properties have firewalls in their loftspaces?
FROM: Wendy Kneissl (Cambridge)
I'm about to buy an Edwardian terraced house, which has no fire partition with a neighbouring house. Is this common in houses of this period, and can it be corrected (the house is in a conservation area but is not, to my knowledge, listed)? Also, in the dining room of the house there is a large chimneybreast, the brickwork of which has been plastered over. Would exposing the brickwork of the chimney - for visual effect- be inadvisable for any reason? And would this be more authentic to the period or not?

Wendy Kneissl

Yes it is common for Victorian and Edwardian houses to have been built without a firewall in the roof space. Yes it can be corrected. Depending upon the precise circumstances a timber frame structure clad with fireboard or suitable layers of plasterboard could be formed, or a blockwork wall, or even a brick wall. If the building is merely in a conservation area then consent will not be necessary, whereas if it is listed consent should be sought. You will of course need to liase with your neighbour as you will be building a party wall and the Party Wall Act will apply and a Party Wall surveyor should be appointed. Without seeing the chimneybreast itself it is difficult to say whether exposed brickwork would be authentic but it is unlikely. Most chimneys would have been plastered. The exception might be if the house is of an arts and crafts style and the brickwork is clearly decorative and is intended to be viewed.

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


SUBJECT: Who do I contact to help me match limewash with the buildings original stone colour?
FROM: Colin Brown (Suffolk)
I will soon be lime washing a Suffolk church and need to match lime wash as close as possible to original stone colour but do not know which pigments and quantities to use. Can you advise me or do you know someone that can.

Colin Brown

I would suggest contacting Earth & Reed (01449 722 255). There is also the county conservation officer who could provide such advice.

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 install a concrete chimney liner?
FROM: Simon Massey (York, Yorkshire)
We have a property built around 1850 with, we believe, one of the gable walls dating from 1750 (as advised by the surveyor when purchasing) We have an open fireplace which is against the old gable wall. The chimney leaks (smell of smoke in upstairs bedroom and smoke from three pots instead of one when smoke tested) and our chimney expert recommends a concrete liner. My concern is will the concrete used as part of the lining process conflict with the traditional softer mortars used in the original construction? In solving one problem, am I potentially creating a much larger one at a later stage?

Simon Massey

From your description it would seem that the chimney flue needs to be lined. There are various methods of lining one of which involves a concrete liner. However, such work is irreversible and if the chimney flue then fails to work it is almost impossible to rectify. I usually prefer in the first instance to use a flexible stainless steel flue liner and establish that lining the flue results in a chimney that can still be used. Regarding the use of a concrete liner, it is increasingly popular and in some instances it may be the only or the best solution. I would not rule it out simply because it involves the use of concrete. Nevertheless, it is irreversible and I have heard of rare situations where the pressure of the concrete on weak brickwork has caused the brickwork to fall apart and major damage therefore occur to the chimney. I would therefore generally suggest a concrete liner as a last solution only.

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


SUBJECT: Party Wall Act provides structure to reaching solution concerning dodgy scullery extension.
FROM: Penny Thomas (Cardigan, Dyfed)
I am renovating a Victorian terraced property, and the adjoining terraced house in a very poor state of repair, especially the party wall. The problem is the neighbours scullery extension which has barely any foundation and is only a single course of brick, forms the boundary to my back yard. The neighbour has told me that I am not to place anything against this wall, do anything to it e.g paint it. We recently had to put a new inspection pit in and he complained that the wall shook and his paint work fell off, and his gas pipe shuddered. He is now telling me that any dampness in his scullery will be a result of any work that I do, ideally I need to lower my rear yard to ease the dampness into my property this is now proving an impossibility by the liability of his dodgy extension, what do you suggest I do and how to come to a reasonable solution?

Penny Thomas

This is clearly a matter where the Party Wall Act applies and will help resolve problems between neighbours and help reduce the risk of major fallout. In simple terms, your neighbour cannot stop you repairing or finishing the face of the wall on the boundary line. However, you must ensure that you do not cause any damage. Any work that is likely to involve excavation below the foundation of the neighbouring wall (no matter how poorly built) and within 3 metres of that wall needs to be dealt with under the Party Wall Act. The purpose of the Party Wall Act is not to prevent you undertaking work but to facilitate work being undertaken in a way that both parties can move forward. You need to appoint a surveyor to act and liase with your neighbour. Your neighbour has the right to appoint an independent surveyor or use the same surveyor and it might be sensible to agree in advance on the use of one surveyor. You, as the owner doing the work, would normally be responsible for all reasonable fees involved. This therefore adds to the cost. However, it does ensure that you are able to proceed with the work, where deemed reasonable, and it ensures that an unreasonable neighbour cannot prevent you from undertaking the work. By following the procedures of the Party Wall Act it also helps reduce the risk of any malicious claim by the neighbour for damage that might not be the result of the work you undertake. The RICS (020 7222 7000) can provide names of party wall surveyors in your area, or you could refer to the Pyramus & Thisby club (a specialist society) on

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


SUBJECT: Successive re-laying of road surface leads to penetrative damp on my front wall.
FROM: Penny Curtis (Fishguard)
Our Welsh stone cottage suffers from rising damp on the front wall. The cottage fronts directly on to the road, and it seems that over the years successive re-laying of the road surface has raised the external ground level above the internal floor levels. The cottage is Grade II listed. Do we have a case to raise with the local roads authority?

Penny Curtis

You can but try. I have recently dealt with a similar situation in Cambridge where the authority has agreed to lower the paving. If you fail to persuade them to lower the surface permanently it might be possible to persuade them to allow the surface to be excavated and an external damp proofing material applied to the face of the wall as this is usually more effective than any internal system. However, if an internal system has to be applied you will need professional advice on whether a conventional tanking method or a form of dry lining with a drained cavity etc would be more effective in your specific situation.

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 have cavity wall insulation in our Victorian property?
FROM: Harry Manley (Manchester)
We are considering having injected cavity wall insulation in our 3-storey red brick 1890's semi but are concerned about it possibly conducting damp up the cavity. At present the house is quite dry above ground and but the basements are musty in parts. Outside, the first 3 brick courses visible above ground show crusty white deposits and here and there these bricks are deteriorating. Higher up is fine. Contractors have used a boroscope to look inside the cavity for evidence of a proper dpc but that was inconclusive. What do you think about the condition of such bricks and would you go ahead with the insulation?

Harry Manley

Quite simply I would recommend that you do not insulate the cavity. This does increase the risk of dampness transferring across from the exterior. The fact that the basement is musty is no surprise as basements usually are damp areas, being below ground. The best way to deal with the basement is to ensure it is well ventilated. The white deposits seen externally are probably hygroscopic salts that have crystallised as the dampness has evaporated. Over the years they would indeed cause some damage to the brickwork. This is inevitable. The problem can be exacerbated if the wall has had an injected damp proof course. The reason is that the dampness is then trapped to the lower courses of the wall and the large amount of moisture then trying to escape causes the damage. Quite simply the greater the area of wall exposed at low level the easier dampness would escape and the less likelihood of damage occurring. You may have to lower the ground levels to expose more of the brickwork. If the deteriorating brickwork is significant you may have to cut out bricks and replace them, but remember to use matching bricks set in a lime mortar that matches the original as closely as possible. The key to your problem is probably to ensure that dampness can escape as low as possible and from as large an areas as possible. Without knowing the detail of how extensive your problem is, etc, I cannot be specific. You should seek advice from a local surveyor or architect experienced in dealing with older buildings.

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 do I enhance my flagstones?
FROM: Claire Trickey (Ringwood, Hampshire)
My hall floor is made of Purbeck marble flagstones. They are very worn and look grubby most of the time although they come up beautifully when scrubbed. Is there a product I can apply that will bring up their colour and give them a hard wearing sheen?

Claire Trickey

Purbeck marble is not a true marble, and should always be treated as limestone. Many products are suitable for both, but always check to be on the safe side.

If the flagstones are as clean as you want them to be, and you are confident that there is a damp barrier below the slabs, use a coating for limestone such as HG Marble Shine Finish. This is very easy to apply and self shines without buffing, helps to prevent staining and is even resistant to alcohol spills. Other makes of natural stone sealers are available - check out your local tile or fireplace shop. It's always wise to do a test patch first to be certain you like the result and that no clouding occurs (a symptom of damp in the floor).

If the flagstones need an intensive clean before sealing, try Lithofin MN Power Clean, which is acid free.

Period Property UK would like to thank Original Features ( Restorations) Ltd for answering this question. They can be contacted by Telephone on 020 834 85155 or Please also note if your floor tiles are laid directly on earth they should be sealed & finished with breathing materials such as limewater with pasteurised milk or beeswax and turpentine.