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: How do I remove a bitumen based adhesive/damp barrier on my tiles?
FROM: Mark Wardell (Hertfordshire) and Linda Jardine (Westcliff on Sea)
We've recently moved into an Edwardian house and have begun the process of restoration. One of things that we have discovered in the kitchen under two layers of vinyl tiles and lino (!) is the original quarry tiles. Problem is some of the black adhesive from the vinyl tiles is stuck firmly onto the quarry tiles. Any thoughts on how to remove this without damaging their surface - we've already tried steaming and scrubbing but to no avail?

Mark Wardell

I have started to renovate an original Victorian quarry tile floor (black/red 9" tiles). However, at some point previous occupiers have laid some type of incredibly sticky damp proof stuff, latex or bitumen/oil based substance on the tiles which is topped with what looks like a butyl liner. It is extremely difficult to remove! It takes forever to scrape it off and is so messy. Is there an easier method at all? Can I apply heat in any form to loosen it more? The house was built in 1897 and it would be great to restore what was once the scullery floor. Please help, my hands and knees can't take much more scraping!

Linda Jardine

Unfortunately this is probably bitumen based adhesive and whichever way you tackle it, it's hard work to remove. As much as possible should be scraped off first - as long as the surface of the tiles is not overly worn, you are unlikely to damage them. It is worth using a hot air gun (especially in cold weather), but be careful, as the bitumen is very inflammable - never use a blowlamp or other flame heated appliance. Once you have mechanically removed the bulk of the bitumen, use rags and white spirit to remove the residue. Plenty of ventilation is needed here.

The most frustrating thing about bitumen adhesives is that, after all this work, some tiles may be indelibly stained, as the natural clay tiles are slightly absorbent. Try wetting the surface with more white spirit, them use blotting paper (or even brown paper) and rub it with a warm household iron to draw out as much of the staining as possible.

Finally use a good intensive cleaner such as Lithofin Victorian Tiled Floor Restorer. Several cleans may be needed for the best result - it may be work hiring a scrubbing machine. I'm afraid that the only way to help the strain on the knees is to use a good kneeling pad!

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 sales@originalfeatures.co.uk. 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.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Use the tile cleaning & sealing guide in the Finding Out section to enhance tiles
FROM: Sheila Cartwright (Alnwick, Northumberland)
Late Victorian (18920 house with tiled hallway - lovely colours of terracotta, peach etc but was covered by foam underlay and fitted carpet for many years - floor has signs of diagonal stripes of underlay even after last resort - Nitromors! Have now started sealing floor and will touch up missing tiles and holes with black grout missing areas painted with acrylic. Question is - how do I finish this floor so I can retouch finish as necessary but also not have build up? This floor is he main selling point and I want to do a good job.

Sheila Cartwright

A cleaning and sealing guide can be found on the 'Finding Out' section of this site. To avoid a finish build up, do not use waxes - a modern clear acrylic sealer (e.g. HG Golvpolish) will not discolour with many coats and is easy to strip back if required.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Sealing flagstones in Church could lead to dampness.
FROM: Robert Allen (Reading, Berkshire)
I have an old church which I am converting, it has an entrance hall of 16 meters x 1.4m meters with old large flagstones that are light grey. How can I clean, then colour enhance, and seal them. I want a hard wearing, low maintenance finish that brings out the best in them. The colour is a bit wishy washy at the moment.

Robert Allen

Use a good natural stone cleaner (personally I prefer to use acid free cleaners as there is little risk of damage) - try Lithofin MN Power Clean for very dirty floors or Lithofin Easy Care for a regular clean up. You should be very cautious about sealing stone flags like these - very often there is no damp barrier beneath the flags and the only thing that stops damp showing is the ability of the stone to breath. Sealing the stone prevents breathing and can cause a cloudy stain to form beneath the sealer. In extreme cases, damp has been forced sideways into the walls.

Best to just clean regularly and leave unsealed. There are stone colour intensifiers available (e.g. Lithofin MN Colour Intensifier). These are generally very expensive - and because they are "impregnators" may cause a certain amount of reduction in the "breathability" - try a small area first and leave it for a couple of weeks.

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 sales@originalfeatures.co.uk. 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.

 

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: How do get rid of the discoloured areas on my slate work surfaces in the kitchen?
FROM: Rebecca Rux-Burton (Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire)
We have slate tiles in several parts of the house. The ones in the kitchen were laid before we moved there. They are very discoloured with a whitish tinge, particularly on the areas near the sink and oven. We have tried cleaning them with different products, and finally really scrubbing them but cant get rid of the discoloration. I think they had not been sealed properly before the floor was used. We have a similar problem round a sink in a bathroom where jade slate has been laid and the bathroom used before it was sealed. It was scrubbed and now has a whitish hue where it was scrubbed. Can anything be done to these slates, the other areas were the slate has been sealed properly first looks great, it would be a real pain to have to re-lay the kitchen.

Rebecca Rux-Burton

Unfortunately this is not uncommon with slate, especially in wet rooms - areas that frequently get wet can build up a water mark - especially in hard water areas. If you have cleaned really well, then a stone colour enhancer may work (e.g. Lithofin MN Colour Intensifier), although these products tend to be pricey. As a simple test, you could try some slate dressing (from a fireplace shop) - this is an oil, is non permanent and pretty cheap - it may put the richness back. Needs re-doing regularly though.

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 sales@originalfeatures.co.uk. 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.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: How can I match & enhance the Shellac finish on my interior joinery?
FROM: Peter Prescott (Sherwood, Nottingham)
We live in an 'Arts and Crafts' style detached house in a Nottingham suburb, built 1924, and altered little since then. The picture rails, skirtings and other internal joinery are finished in the original brown stain-varnish [I have heard it referred to as 'shellac', although I don't suppose it really is]. As it is an original feature and suits the character of the house, we would like to retain this, but there are areas where it looks rather shabby and dull, and other areas where I have had to replace some of the mouldings and need ideally to match the finish. Can you suggest what it might be, and how I could bring it back to life and touch-in the bare bits?

Peter Prescott

Contact a French polisher - he/she will be able to identify the finish and match it - and they are not as expensive as you might think.