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: Traditional finish for oak windows to create silvery finish
FROM: Adrian Scott (Derbyshire)
I have just made some oak window frames for an old farmhouse. I want to achieve the silver finish that you get from weathering, but want to protect the wood at the same time. What products would you recommend? Ideally I require something that is not going to need regular attention.

Adrian Scott

The only way I know of that avoids the use of modern stains, etc would be to apply limewash. This is perhaps not as free from regular attention that you desire, but would not harm the timber and would eventually give you the appearance you want. You would need to apply the limewash one coat per day with a minimum of three coats, possibly four. At first the reaction of lime on new oak results in a purple colour, but this soon changes to a silvery white. Once applied you could carefully brush back to the depth of colour you want. It should then only need attention every few years, by the application of a fresh coat (usually only one).

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Buyers put off property by surveyor's report claiming roof needs replacing.
FROM: Jennie Kelly (Yorkshire)
Propective buyers of our 1886 terrace have been put off after being told by a surveyor that a roof is required. We have no leaks anc can't believe a re-roof is necessary. Should be use foam insulation to get round the problem?

Jennie Kelly

No. Did the surveyor really say that - have you seen his/her comments in a report? Simply get a reputable roofer to take a close look and advise on what is really necessary, if anything. If you are prepared to pay for this report you will have greater assurance that the report is truly independent and that there is no risk of the roofer having a vested interest in the advice given. Once you have the report submit it to the purchasers for them to take to their surveyor (in rare circumstances you may know who the surveyor is and may be able to contact direct). Ultimately this is a matter for negotiation. If you are told there are no problems and the purchaser does not accept it - do not budge. Why accept a reduced price on a false assessment? It is then their problem not yours - they either pay the price or you withdraw and sell to someone else. Of course, as with all negotiations it depends on the negotiating strengths of the parties. If you are desperate to sell, have had the property on the market for a while and have no other offers in line then you may have to negotiate the price regardless of the reason why. Returning to the matter of foam insulation, in my opinion it is not a good idea and has more drawbacks than advantages. There are several postings on the discussion forum regarding this.

 

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Lower groundlevels surrounding property help alleviate damp.
FROM: Edmund O'Shaughnessy (Cambridgeshire)


I've recently started tackling the problem of damp in my timber-framed house. Your Q&As have been very helpful and I think I've now got a fair understanding of the correct approach to take (i.e. remove source of water ingress, clear away banked soil, cut back inappropriate rendering) I'm now left though with wondering what's best to do to complete the work. The back wall of my house has suffered from a heavy quantity of water flowing through the soil. I've dug the soil away and exposed the brick foundations. I plan to cut back the rendering (a mix of concrete, bitumen, etc) to allow the wall to dry out. What I need to decide now is what to do next, should I leave the bricks exposed or fill in with gravel or even use a plastic membrane to keep the water away from the bricks, for example. The foundations are about 2 feet deep and rest on concrete underpinnings, the structure of the house appears to be sound, i.e. there are no indications of subsidence. I also need to route the water away from the building and it is not clear how best to do this, as there are no obvious drains nearby to use. A further complication is that I don't own the land behind so I need to persuade the owner to carry out some work to stop my property being adversely affected.

Edmund O'Shaughnessy

Without seeing the precise situation it is difficult to advise, but some general ideas to consider. I would not completely back-fill with gravel, I would prefer to see an area of brickwork left exposed so that moisture can evaporate directly from the surface (gravel allows water to drain through, but restricts evaporation). The area of brickwork exposed should extend down to about 150mm below the internal floor level (or bottom of any timbers bedded in the wall. If you need to direct water around the building I suggest you install a proper land drain at the base of the excavation and ensure it has a gradient to take water around and then away from the building. Back-fill with gravel (subject to above comment). Without knowing the depths involved I cannot say whether you will need to build a retaining wall beside the excavation. Regarding the neighbouring land, will the owner allow you to undertake work subject to putting it all back neatly? When putting it back you could leave a small gap at ground level covered with a grille (the void beneath could be wider with a cantilevered slab/cover and grille to hide it. Contact me directly if you need more info (see WCP - Essex office).

 

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Builder provides inaccurate advice regarding lime plastering.
FROM: Michael Venus (Cumbria)

The previous owner put "Sandtex" on the Lime render on the front of our 18th century farmhouse. This has trapped all the moisture in and the render has deteriorated so much that we now need to take it off and re-render.

It is very difficult to find a professional to do this work but we have received a quote we are happy with from someone that works locally.

Our concern is that he intends to put on a coat of cement "to seal the walls" before applying the Lime render. Although he says that this is "standard practice" it seems to go against everything we have read about allowing the stones to "breath".

Should we be concerned?

Michael Venus

Yes. It is not standard practice and you will find the lime render will not usually stay in place. His idea of lime render may actually be a cement render with some lime in it. Find someone who properly understands the use of lime. The reason the quote is reasonable is probably because he is not using traditional materials and he is not a specialist. That said, there are lime mixes and lime mixes. If you are in an exposed location you may need to use a naturally hydraulic lime (NHL) rather than lime putty, etc. It sounds as if you really need proper professional advice from someone who really understands traditional materials. Try contacting the Northern office of SPAB and/or the Scottish Lime Centre who may know of specialists close to you.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Should I use a sealant on my 3ft thick stone walls to help alleviate damp?
FROM: David Stokes (Yorkshire)
We have an old house with thick (3 feet or more) stone walls. At the rear of the house part of the wall is below ground level. This leads to damp penetration in winter which in turn gives rise to patches of efflorescence and fungus on the inside of the wall. The problem is not widespread and only occurs in winter, so it is not a huge inconvenience, but naturally we would prefer it to be cured! It is not possible to access the outside of the wall to treat it so we need to deal with it from inside the house. Do you have any suggestions as our architect is stumped? I have found a product on the Internet called Moxie 1500 concrete. Do you think this would help? Is there an equivalent available in the UK?

David Stokes

Anything that seals the surface will drive the moisture elsewhere and you could end up with more problems than you cure. If you are to cover the wall anyway, why not look at a form of lining that leaves a ventilated/drained gap behind. This would not seal the wall and you would simply lose a few inches of space (the wall will be slightly further forward). There are various postings on the discussion forum about dry-lining, etc. There are proprietary materials (Newtonlath, Proton, Delta membrane, etc) you could purchase or use a battening and then finish material (foil backed plasterboard, lime plaster on EML, etc). There is plenty of discussion regarding methods on the discussion forum.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Should I follow survey's advice and tank my cellar?
FROM: Paul Griffiths (Cheshire)
I am about to purchase a Grade II listed building built about 1640. A survey recommends that I have the cellar tanked because of damp. The property has lay empty aprox. 6 mths. and when we have viewed it I have never seen or smelt any damp / wet. The only thing I can see in the cellar is the paint on the wall seems to be flaking the render or plaster beneath seems solid is there any form of coating that can be applied to the walls first before going to the expense of tanking.

Paul Griffiths

Ask yourself whether there is an active problem? From what you say it seems not. In any event, tanking would simply drive the moisture elsewhere and lead to other problems that could be harder to deal with. Leave the cellar as a breathable area, ensure it is well ventilated and use breathable finishes, etc. I assume it is merely a cellar and you have no intention to use it as a room. I would usually advise against trying to turn old cellars into rooms, because of the damaging effect this can have with regard to moisture management. However, there are some postings on the discussion forum about rather unusual ways of creating a useable cellar whilst allow a large degree of breathability. However, if this is to remain a cellar, do not tank it, but use traditional breathable finishes and keep the area well ventilated. Save yourself some money and do less not more.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: How do I match my bricks?
FROM: Gary Smallbone (Hampshire)
I am extending my house, built in 1912. Although it is not old compared to many of the homes discussed, I am having terrible trouble brick matching. The house was built using a red brick from the Binfield Brick Co. (no longer around) They are smooth faced and have quite a bit of variation - orange / red / pink. Any suggestions on where I might find. I have been to a reclamation yard, but they were more Old Stock and had blacks & whites mixed in. Also the bricks at my house have perfect edges, not the old stock type with corners missing etc.

Gary Smallbone

There are companies that attempt to locate bricks for you. Otherwise find a local traditional brickmaker and consider having some made. I am afraid that matching bricks is not easy and will take time. Going to one reclamation yard is only the beginning!

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.

 
 
 
 

SUBJECT: Survey says damproofing work needs to be re-done by professionals. Is this good advice?
FROM: Anne Wright (Hertfordshire)
We are in the midst of buying a Victorian terraced cottage in Bishops Stortford, which is around 100 yrs old. The survey came out quite positive except for high moisture readings in the walls. The surveyor says that damp proofing has been carried out in the past but has not been done very well, and therefore we must get experts in to redo the work.

This is not bad enough to affect our mortgage but I am unsure as to how serious a problem this might be, or how expensive it could be to remedy.

I am hesitant to get in more specialists who will undoubtedly tell us it definitely needs redoing and may just make a mess of it as the previous 'specialists' have done.

Are high moisture levels not normal for a property of this age - or should we be concerned?

Anne Wright

Is there visible damage? What investigation has really been carried out? This could be salts or other materials that give a false reading. Hand held moisture meters are very limited in what they can tell the surveyor and should never be used to make an absolute diagnosis. They can eliminate whether there is a problem (no reading usually means no problem), but if readings are obtained they do not then go on to say what the readings are caused by. There are many other postings on this site (Agony Uncle and Discussion Forum) on the causes of damp and how to deal with them. The principles are simple. If moisture can evaporate and escape the wall at low level it will not rise high enough up the wall to cause damage to décor, hidden timbers, etc. If there are materials, high ground levels, etc that prevent breathability there is an increased likelihood of a damp problem. I always regard damp treatment as the last resort and should rarely be undertaken. More often than not the problems can be resolved by carefully considered conventional building works. The first thing to do is establish what is really causing the problem, before you tackle it.

On the matter of the purchase, you suggest that this matter is not affecting the mortgage and whether you therefore try to negotiate a reduction in price (due to uncertainty over what will eventually be necessary) is up to you. The vendors may wish to get the specialist company back in under the guarantee. As it has already been treated this can do no further harm than may or may not have already been caused.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at the The Whitworth Co-Partnership with Boniface Associates for responding to this question.