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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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: Cracking plaster blamed on poor bricks by plasterers
FROM: Michael Lavin (Cheshire)
We have a cellar replastered and the plaster is cracking badly although it was redone twice subsequently again the plaster is cracking again. I read somewhere that this happens when the walls were originally lime washed. The plasterers blame the poor quality of the bricks.

1. If it is due to the lime washed walls - what do we do next?

2. Are the plasterers correct and if so what should we do.

The cellar is actually on ground level on one side and below ground on one side and the other two walls are internal. None of the other walls in the cellar suffer from the same problem although there are a few hairline cracks which would be expected on new plaster.

Michael Lavin

Your explanation is not very clear and my comments must therefore be taken as general guidance, rather than specific to your problem.

A cellar is generally partly or fully below ground and will naturally suffer from ground water penetrating laterally through the walls. This is NOT rising damp and injecting the walls dopes not solve the problem.

Any finish applied to the walls will suffer from the effects of the dampness trying to escape. If the finish is permeable the dampness should gradual permeate through and evaporate away without causing too much (if any) damage. However, if impermeable finishes are applied the dampness will try to force them off. With paint this might result in flaking, etc. With plaster it may crumble, crack and fall off. With render it might last longer (especially if it has 'damp proofing' additives in it) but it will eventually fail.

My general advice with cellars is to either leave them alone if there is no problem, or to have permeable (traditional) finishes such as lime wash, lime plaster, etc. A well-ventilated traditional cellar is not usually a problem area.

In this case you do not say what type of plaster they are using, but I suspect it s a modern plaster. If applied directly onto old limewash onto the walls I would expect it to fail quite quickly.

As a general rule if a new finish is being applied to the wall the old finish should be completely removed first. In this case the limewash should have been stripped off. Although some builders/plasterers will apply PVA to 'seal' the surface, this generally fails quite quickly when applied to limewash. It is far better to remove the limewash. That said, I would suggest the best option is to brush off the flaking/defective limewash and apply new coats of traditional limewash. Limewash can be applied over old limewash provided the old surface is prepared so that there is no loose surface. If you wish to plaster the walls I would prefer to see the limewash removed completely and a traditional lime plaster applied.

If you insist on wanting a 'dry' wall, I would suggest that the limewash be completely removed and a 'tanking' mix of a cement render with waterproof additive is applied and then a suitable finishing plaster. [Note: for proper conversions of cellars I prefer to use a proprietary drained/cavity membrane system, rather than a tanking render, but this can depend on circumstances].

To answer your specific questions:

1 - quite possibly. Why didn't the plasterers remove the limewash fist?

2 - I doubt it and I believe their comments on poor quality bricks to be rubbish. I suggest you find some new plasterers/builders who understand what they are doing with period properties.

By the way, if the building is listed you may have to obtain listed building consent for tanking, or anything other than simply replacing the limewash.

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: No it's not listed. But, it is now.
FROM: Alan England (Leamington Spa)
I've just been informed that the property I purchased is listed because it's in a conservation area. When I asked the question on purchasing I was told the property wasn't listed by the council selling it, which was Coventry Council. Now Rugby Council tells me different as it's now falls under their jurisdiction and I have to get permission to sneeze now! How can I appeal against this decision? Vandals had broken into the property and smashed all my windows and put holes in my lathe & plaster walls, which I now have to put right, but only with special permission. I agree that certain buildings should be protected but mine definitely doesn't deserve the grade 2* listing it has received. It's an old fisherman's cottage built in the late nineteenth century but apart from that it's nothing out of the ordinary.

Alan England

I think you need to speak with a solicitor. But, let us start at the beginning. A building is NEVER listed BECAUSE it is in a Conservation Area. A building is EITHER listed AND/OR in a conservation area. Listing and Conservation Area status are two different classifications. Some buildings are both listed and in a Conservation Area. From your later comments it seems your building has been listed Grade II*. This is high status listing and would only be given if the building is very special. Please before all else find out precisely whether the building is listed and/or in a conservation area. If it is listed find out what grade it is. During the process of buying the property the solicitor would have conducted local searches and sent a questionnaire to the vendor. One or both of these should have shown up that the building was listed and/or in a conservation area. There is a possibility that the building was being considered during your purchase and listed towards the end. In any event, the vendor or Council (through the local searches) should have highlighted this. If not you may have an action against one or more of the parties involved (including your conveyancing solicitor if he/she did not do the job properly).

When was the building listed? If very recently, you may have a case against the vendor for not disclosing relevant information. If it was listed some time ago, you may have a case against the vendor and/or Council for not revealing this during the process. However, be warned, you will normally only be able to take a case forward if you can show a loss. You will need to seek specialist advice on various issues before taking a case further. Now let us get back to some of your other comments. Most people will pay a premium to own a listed building. Yes, they can be a burden, can be more expensive to maintain, etc and there are restrictions. Nonetheless, research etc shows that listed buildings generally attract a premium price. Most people are only too glad to buy a listed building. As for your total misunderstanding of the legislation and what listing means, I suggest you read up on it. A good starting point will be the English Heritage web site and that of The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).

In a nutshell, listing does not prevent works, it is merely a control. It is intended to permit works to be undertaken provided they are appropriate, etc. Repairs using appropriate traditional or like-for-like materials will usually not attract the need for consent. Alterations or works that are deemed to affect the character of the listed building (whether internal, external or within the cartilage) would normally require listed building consent. Most conservation officers are only too happy to walk round the property with you and give you advice and guidance on what is necessary and what will require consent, etc. However, I would point out that failure to get consent is a criminal offence.

On the matter of appealing, yes you can appeal against the listing but you will need to prove that the building was not worthy of listing and that those that researched its history, etc got it totally wrong. If it is Grade II* you may be able to get it down to Grade II. However, the grading is not relevant in terms of the legislation; its main relevance is in terms of how the conservation officers may consider works of alteration. At present you are upset and you may have some legal recourse on some of the matters you raise, but you have purchased a valuable part of history and most would be proud to own a listed building. It is a valuable asset. If dealt with properly and appropriately you may find that the value of the property increases.

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: People selling us house leave out information from sellers information pack.
FROM: Colin Kunz (Surrey)
We bought a property last year. On the Sellers info pack they indicated that there were no notices received from neighbours, when in fact their next door neighbours had applied for planning permission and told them about it.

Our solicitor did not pick up the planning application on his search.

The proposed work by the neighbour doesn't infringe our view / light / access etc. in any way.

Do we have a claim against the vendors for having put a No on the form when they should have said Yes.

If so, how is compensation calculated? We did not pay the full asking price.

Colin Kunz

You may have a case against the vendor and/or your solicitor. You will need to seek legal advice. As I mentioned in the answer above, you will normally need to show a loss and in your case if you did not pay the full price you may not be able to do so, especially as you say the proposed neighbouring work does not really have a detrimental impact on 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: Sleeping with Fungus
FROM: Chris Greenshields (Cornwall)

I have had for 14 months now a property which was built approx. 1750-1800. The problem is with damp\fungus etc in the upstairs bedroom. This is a room which has three walls exposed to the outside elements. Big black patches have appeared over the winter months which I have now treated and repainted the room. The room only has one small radiator in it and this week I have installed another and have now made the both doubles. Whilst installing them this week I have noticed large wet patches on the walls which are sodden to the touch. i.e. touch them and your whole hand will be wet. The outside walls have been rendered many years ago and look like in places that it has lifted from the main outside wall. Would removing the rendered possibly solve the problem or with that amount of water showing on the inside walls show a serious damp problem. If so what type of contractor should I be calling local one out of paper or specialist.

Chris Greenshields

The problem sounds as if it is condensation, but before doing anything you need to have it checked by someone who properly understands listed buildings. In Cornwall I would suggest you speak to David Scott, based in Truro.

The external render may be causing water to be trapped in the wall. This may only be able to escape inwards. Hot air can hold more moisture as a vapour than cold. Heating the room increases the ability of the air to absorb moisture. However, when the moisture-laden air meets a colder surface where the temperature is below the dew point it releases the moisture in the form of a liquid, hence the damp patches. These then attract moulds.

There are three matters to consider with condensation - heating, insulation and ventilation.

You have increased heating, but you may have to consider insulation (if appropriate and practical) and certainly the matter of ventilation. I often find that sorting out heating and ventilation will resolve most condensation problems.

That said, you mention the render and I suspect that it results in trapped moisture and a wet wall is a cold wall, hence the increased chance of condensation forming on it. You should consider changing the render to a traditional lime render, which will protect the wall but allow moisture to escape. You may have to consider some other form of wall cladding/finish that is appropriate and traditional.

You may have to consider internal insulation to the wall, but this may not be practical/appropriate.

I would certainly suggest you improve ventilation. This can be by way of the window, or perhaps a ventilator using a chimney flue, an airbrick in the wall, etc, etc. Provided the problem is properly assessed and a suitable specification/schedule of works prepared any competent should be able to undertake the works.

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: Village pump falls on hard times
FROM: Julia Hardy (Devon)
We live in a very small village, our parish council operates on a very small budget. We have a village pump which is grade 2 listed, but has fallen into disrepair, it was listed in 1989 as "an unusual survival"

We know a person can be forced to maintain a listed building, but our poor old pump has been very neglected and parts of it even removed for safekeeping, and who could actually be forced to repair this damage?

How can we as a community obtain first of all specialist advice on repair (the "gothic style freestone inscription panel" is all cracked and needs specialist conservation), initial funding for this advice, and then further funding to carry out a full conservation program?

Julia Hardy

To correct a misunderstanding - no one can be forced to maintain a listed building. However, if the building becomes dilapidated the Council can serve repairs notices and in extreme circumstances they can compulsory purchase. That said, Councils are generally reluctant to use these powers because these measures can cost them.

As for your particular problem. My first reaction is to get a campaign committee together to raise money between you. This committee can also put pressure on the Council (the main district council not just the parish council) to do something about it. You should also look into grants. Such features are the very things that can still attract grants, see if any are available locally. See if you can find a grant making body (e.g. a Trust) that may give a grant for something like this. Another alternative would be the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

As for specialist advice it sounds as if you need to speak to a mason experienced in the conservation of memorials, etc. Other advice should be obtained from a professional experienced in conservation. In Devon/Somerset I would suggest you speak to Philip Hughes (based near Wincanton I believe) in the first instance. SPAB may also be able to give you some names of appropriate professionals, etc.

As for funding advice, speak to HLF. You may be able to form a 'Building Preservation Trust' and in any event I am sure the Association of Building Preservation Trusts would provide guidance. The Architectural Heritage Fund may also give you some pointers.

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: UPVC window double whammy
FROM: Louise Doolin (Gloucestershire)
I recently purchased a flat in a listed building within a conservation area. Four months after moving into the property, the local planning office notified me that the current upvc double glazed windows were installed without permission in 1998 and would have to be replaced within 3 years with timber framed sash windows.

At the time of purchasing I was not aware it was a listed building.

The vendor made a false statement on the Seller's Property Information form. She stated that she did not replace the windows which meant bypassing the question of whether planning permission was granted. I'm pretty sure that the vendor had realised at a later date that she should have sought permission which is why she said she did not replace the windows - had she said yes she had replaced the windows she would have been expected to include a copy of the planning consent in the seller's pack which she obviously did not have. Then this issue would have been highlighted and passed onto me via my solicitor.

Do you think I have grounds to sue her for misrepresentation? I would not have bought the flat in the first place if I knew I would have to replace the windows.

It has been suggested that my solicitor as at fault also; he would have known that the building was listed and apparently he would have received an external photo of the building from the estate agent.

I have spoken to him about this and strangely he gave me an hour of his time for free and told me to pop in any time at no charge. A solicitor giving his time for free!! He suggested I pursue the previous owner through the small claims court, as I had nothing to lose.

I really don't know what to do about this. I've had to remortgage the property already to raise the money for the new windows.

Do you think I am entitled to some compensation. Is so, who is at fault here?

Louise Doolin

You need to seek independent legal advice. Most solicitors will give an initial hour free if you go to them with a potential case.

I am not a solicitor but my thoughts are that you certainly seem to have a case against the vendor. You can show a loss (the cost of replacing the windows if not more). However, the court will probably look at diminution in value, which may be related to the cost of replacing the windows but not the same. What someone has to assess is what a purchaser should have paid if they had known that the windows would have to be replaced. The diminution will also depend on market conditions and other factors, as well as the actual cost of replacement windows.

Whether such an action could be taken through the small claims court depends on the value of the claim.

I suspect you may also have a case against the solicitor (negligence), but you really need advice from another solicitor on this.

From what you say you should be entitled to get something back from someone, but you really must take the full details and evidence to an independent solicitor for legal advice.

I should add that if you check your insurance policies you may find that you have cover for legal costs, in which case you should speak to your insurers. If you are a member of the Consumers Association (Which) you may be eligible for advice from their legal people. If you are in a Union they may provide you with free advice and assistance.

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: Solicitor allegedly fails to spot that a property is listed.
FROM: Mrs Anonymous (Cheshire)
Our solicitor missed the fact that we were grade to listed even though it was on the search! Consequently we now find ourselves in the position of having to replace all the windows that are not suitable, take down chimney stacks as they have been done in the wrong brick, also the repointing needs to be repointed, and so the list goes on!

We are now suing him but the fact that what was going to be a year long project has now turned into a 2 year project and we have been living in a building site for far too long! The pressure has been awful.

Had we known it was listed we would not have purchased such a property!

I expect the property to be put right but I would like some compensation for the inconvenience etc.

But do you know of any other such cases that may help our cause?

Mrs Anonymous

The law allows you to claim for losses when you are wronged. This can include an element of compensation. In cases where there are significant building works and much disruption courts have allowed compensation claims within the overall claim, but they do not like cases that are compensation claims alone. Further, if you have medical evidence of the stress, etc you may be able to claim for this as well. However, what concerns me is that whilst your solicitor may have a liability for not giving advice you mention that the listing was noted in the search documents. It might be argued that you could have read this for yourself and specifically asked for advice. It may be that a court would hold you partly responsible for your own circumstance. Again, you need to seek legal advice on such matters.

I cannot point you to specific cases, that is for your solicitor to advise on.

As there are several questions this month on a similar theme there is another matter to consider here. A Council can take out a prosecution against those they believe (can prove) undertook unauthorised works to a listed building. If you did not undertake the work they cannot take a prosecution against you. In fact they may even want you as a witness in a case against the previous owner. In such situations most conservation officers I know would be sympathetic to the new owner. Whilst they may want the work undertaken they would normally discuss and 'negotiate' a timescale. Whilst they cannot prosecute a new owner for work the new owner did not undertake they could take enforcement action (although in my opinion this would be a heavy handed approach unless you had indicated that you were not going to undertake the work and they felt they had no option). This is a planning matter whereby they serve an enforcement notice. In such circumstances you could retaliate by submitting a retrospective application (although only for those matters that are perhaps a 'grey area' anyway) in the hope that you get permission. If permission is refused you could appeal. All of this takes time and gives you time to sort out funding, etc. The other alternative is to argue that whilst the enforcement may be justified the time period they require the works to be carried out within is unreasonable. You would need to appeal against the enforcement and put the argument forward to the planning inspector. Where a previous owner has undertaken unauthorised work and a new owner is faced with having to sort things out the situation is a mess. There are the legal issues of you suing solicitors, the previous owner, etc and the possibility of the Council prosecuting the previous owner. There is the matter of the Council taking enforcement action and the possibility of you submitting a retrospective application or appealing the notice. In such situations the new owner needs to seek legal advice, planning advice and advice from conservation professional.

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: Insurer puts collapsed ceiling down to wear & tear
FROM: Diane Sharrier (Greater London)
Two bedroom ceilings in our house collapsed two weeks ago and after a visit from a Loss Adjuster (Barclays Insurance) we have been told that we are not covered for this damage due to there not being an 'external force' involved. A loft conversion was completed in October 2003 and I can only think that this was the cause of the damage even though it has happened some 16 months later. Is it possible for the conversion to have caused this and also is it true that lath and plaster ceilings have a life span of around 60 years. The Loss Adjuster doesn't agree that the conversion has played a part and has put the damage down to wear and tear.

Diane Sharrier

Lath and plaster ceilings can last several hundred years. However, they do have vulnerabilities. A lath and plaster ceiling relies heavily on the nib of plaster poking between the laths to hold the plaster in place. If the nibs crack the ceiling can come loose and eventually fail.

The nibs can crack and failure occur through wear and tear over many years. How long this takes will depend on many factors, including the original workmanship and quality of materials.

However, nibs can crack because of impact from above (e.g. the loft conversion) and also due to water damage (e.g. roof, pipe leaks, etc) causing the laths to warp and this warping causing the nibs to crack.

A lath and ceiling can also fail if the fixings for the laths fail. This can occur over time or due to water damage.

Without seeing the property I can only say that the loft conversion works may have contributed to the ceiling failure. It is unlikely that the failure was purely due to wear and tear.

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: Flying freehold creates noisy problem
FROM: Jenny Black (Greater London)
We have just bought a Grade II listed, early Georgian house with a flying freehold - our reception room on the first floor sits above our next door neighbour's kitchen. The party wall (ceiling/floor) is sub-standard for both noise and fire. We understand the best solution would be to replace the existing joists with staggered independent joists for floor and ceiling, although this is not possible, as the existing joists are only 6" deep in places and in any event, it appears it would be questionable to remove the two main beams supporting the cheeks of the chimney breast. Our neighbours, understandably, do not wish the height of their ceiling to be altered and nor do we want the height of our floor to be changed. What can we do? As it stands, we can clearly distinguish parts of the conversation below. What materials could we use to fill the void and make a notable difference?

Jenny Black

Regarding fire protection, you could lay hardboard over the floor (if the boards are not exposed). Alternatively, you can lift the floorboards, lay plywood and relay the boards. This latter method could involve adjusting the skirtings, doors, etc. Whether either of these methods is suitable will depend on many matters that can only be assessed by inspection. You should also speak to the conservation officer, as listed building consent may be required.

Sound is a different matter. On the discussion forum there have been several threads on this subject. Sound travels through and around materials. Even if you fill the floor void you may find that sound will still travel up/down because of other routes between the properties. However, there are systems that could be used.

The floor can be taken up and the void filled with an acoustic insulation material. The denser the better, but be careful of damage to the ceiling below. In fact, you may have to reinforce the ceiling below and/or repair it before you do any work. Once the void is full check for any other possible ducts or routes through which sound could pass and fill them. When relaying the floor you can use an acoustic isolating material between the joists and a plywood covering that remains unfixed (i.e. floated). You can then fix the board down to the plywood. Such a method would solve (to some extent) both sound and fire problems.

For such work you will need to speak to the conservation officer, will probably need listed building consent and you will need to serve a party structure notice on the neighbour below. You should also notify insurers (both you and the neighbour). My suggestion is but one possible solution. It would be advisable to seek advice from someone who actually comes round to inspect. Find someone experienced in dealing with historic buildings.

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: Does our soleplate really need replacing?
FROM: Edna Carey (Cambridgeshire)
We have been told by a surveyor that the soleplate on our 16th century cottage MAY need replacement in whole or part and a brick plinth installing two courses above ground level. How can we confirm this; can it be done without taking off external render. If it does need replacing do you know approximate costs (say per metre) and should a contingency be built in and is listed building consent required. Finally would interiors be affected and need replastering together with possibly floors where they meet walls. Would a fitted kitchen have to be taken out.

Edna Carey

Such extensive work would normally require listed building consent. Therefore, I suggest you start by speaking to your conservation officer.

If the sole plate is rotten to the extent of requiring replacement, in part or in whole, you will need to get access to it. This will almost certainly mean removing the render (which if cement could be the reason the sole plate has rotted) and may mean removing the fitted kitchen, etc. Without seeing the property and more information I cannot comment specifically, but it is likely both the interior and exterior would be affected by such work.

Before embarking on this I would question firstly whether the surveyor is experienced in dealing with such historic buildings. If not, or if you suspect the advice might not be appropriate you should seek further professional advice first.

It would be totally inappropriate for me to give guidance on costs based on so little information. You really must find out what really needs to be undertaken and then find suitable builders to give competitive tenders. Yes, you can include provisional sums in any contract to allow for possible unforeseen work. Apart from any PS in the contract you should set aside your own contingency in case of additional unforeseen work.

A provisional sum is for work that is suspected of being necessary but cannot be properly identified or quantified before work starts. The provisional sum is only spent if the work is needed and is then costed against the builder's usual labour/materials/overhead rates. A contingency sum is more for unforeseen works that cannot be anticipated. This can be included in a contract but the temptation for a builder to 'find' work to spend it is high. I often prefer a client to have an undisclosed contingency sum.

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: Who owns the loft in a converted property?
FROM: Kirsty Jordan (Buckinghamshire)
At the moment we are living in a Victorian Property that is converted into 4 flats, 2 up and two down. We want to convert the loft and so do our neighbours and we are obtaining planning permission and also the freehold between the four properties, the bottom two properties have given their consent for our loft conversions. The problem is our neighbours want 50% of the loft space, which would mean they would be encroaching above our property. Our flat is bigger than theirs and we paid more for it. What we would like to know is there a legal boundary line between both properties? The bottom two flats are paying less for their freehold and the top two properties are paying more for ours but equal amounts. If we want all the loft space above our property should we be paying more?

Kirsty Jordan

Of course there are legal boundaries. The leases will determine the 'demised' premises. This will indicate whether the loft is included with one or both flats, or is completely communal. If communal the other flat owners below may wish to have some payment for the both of you taking communal space purely for yourselves. Do not assume the roof space is part of any one flat until the lease and other legal documents have been examined.

If the roof space is communal it is a matter of negotiation as to how it is split. The fact that your flat is bigger and you paid more is irrelevant.

The increased floor areas of the upper flats may impact on contributions to maintenance and how the share of the Freehold is dealt with (your question does not make clear who owns the Freehold). Therefore, yes the amount of the roof space you have will need to be reflected in the amount you pay for your Freehold share. You will need planning permission and you will need to serve party wall notices. However, before anything else you must resolve whether the roof space is part of one or both of the top flats, or neither and therefore communal. If the roof spaces are allocated to the flats then the division will follow the existing legal boundary, as defined in the lease and/or deeds.

These are generally legal matters and it would be advisable to seek legal advice.

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: Drunken driver & insurer cause headache for listed property owner
FROM: Melissa Akin (Hertfordshire)
Last night a drink driver rammed his car into front garden wall of our ca 1820 terrace, completely demolished the brickwork and managed to put a huge dent in the iron railing.

Our insurance covers the damage but it is unclear to us whether the insurer will be obliged to pay the full amount required to make repairs in keeping with the terrace. Any tips on dealing with damage to a listed property (and ensuring we don't end up paying for the repairs!) would be much appreciated.

Melissa Akin

This really depends on the wording of the insurance and whether there are any planning restrictions that might determine how the wall is rebuilt (e.g. conservation area, listed building, etc). If it is listed (as your final comment suggests) then you will need listed building consent and the loss adjusters for the insurers should sort this out properly. Speak to the conservation officer and seek his/her assistance. On insurance matters you could obtain advice from an independent loss assessor acting on your behalf. You may also need to seek specialist professional advice. Many insurance loss adjusters (appointed by the insurers) do not have experience with listed buildings and the professionals they appoint are not usually specialists. Depending on the word of the insurance policy you may be able to insist on your own specialists, etc.

Finally, the insurance company must surely try to recover the full cost (whatever that is) from the drunk driver. If they only recover part (or none at all) you may be able to take legal action against the driver yourself to recover the difference between what the insurance company will pay and what it actually costs to do the work how you/the conservation officer want it undertaken. On this matter you will need to seek legal advice.

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: Multi-coloured oak flooring needs revitalising
FROM: Peter Wheelen (Shropshire)
I have purchased a house, built at the turn of the last century, which has many rooms with oak strip flooring. The strips are about three inches wide and are generally in good condition. They are however, discoloured, and in many areas the original stain has faded. I do not believe they have been varnished - only stained and waxed. I wish to return them to an even colouration somewhere between the existing extremes of light (faded) and dark. Is there a process for this that does not involve sanding?

Peter Wheelen

It is very important to establish exactly what the existing finish is. Carry out a small test on a darker area using a white cloth wetted with white spirits. If the finish is wax polish, some of the colour will lift from the flooring onto the cloth leaving a dark mark (make sure this isn't just dirt!).

Once you've established that the finish is indeed wax polish, the next stage is to decide what to do. Using bleach, for instance, to even out the colour is not recommended as the wax polish will need completely removing first. This is a time consuming process and even then, results are not guaranteed.

What is worth trying however, is to clean off as much of the old wax as you can with a strong wax polish remover. This is applied using a good sized pad of 0000 grade steel wool working along each board. This should lift the darker colour but have little effect where the wax has worn away.

When a more uniform shade has been achieved, it's time to rewax using a coloured staining wax such as Rugger Brown Supreme Wax Polish. Apply the wax along the grain again using a good sized pad of 0000 grade steel wool and buff to a soft shine. A mechanical buffing machine will help but remember that a newly waxed floor can be very slippy so take care in the first few weeks after waxing.

Period Property UK would like to thank Mark Finney of Finney's Fine Wood Stains & Polishes for providing this answer.


SUBJECT: How do I enhance the colour of my beams?
FROM: Margaret Kelley (Hertfordshire)
We live in a 16/17th century stone farmhouse containing some of the original 16th century cruck frame timbers which, at some point, have been painted black (mainly black gloss). We have recently stripped the paint from one of the frames to reveal oak. Unfortunately not all of the wood is in good condition. Some of the timbers have suffered historically from woodworm infestation as well as wet rot. We would very much like to know how to preserve the wood and how to finish it without returning to the black scheme. Should we use wood hardener to stabilise the surface? Oil? Varnish?

Margaret Kelley

Although some hard work is needed, it would be a real pity to simply repaint such old and characterful timber.

Assuming there is no active rot or insect attack which will require treatment, you can repair any soft or spongy wood using Lakeone Old Wood Stabiliser. If there is any black paint left ingrained in the pores, soften with paint stripper and brush out with a wire brush working along the grain before using the Stabiliser. You will require some acetone for cleaning up.

Any larger holes can then be filled with a two part Wood Rebuilder or wood putty but bear in mind that this may be quite noticeable after finishing so should not be used on very highly visible or feature woodwork. TIP: why not use dark filler to resemble a knot rather than try and match an exact wood colour?

Once the wood has been stripped, treated, stabilised and filled - phew! You can then make a start on finishing.

Oak has such a beautiful figure and natural colour that a couple of applications of wax polish suitable for bare wood or perhaps a Danish Oil finish is often all that is required. Both of these finishes will require retreating at one to two yearly intervals which may be impractical in your case so, although more expensive, it might be worth using matt Polyx Oil which will reduce the maintenance required.

Period Property UK would like to thank Mark Finney of Finney's Fine Wood Stains & Polishes for providing this answer.


SUBJECT: How do I enhance the colour of my beams?
FROM: Janice Bignell (Hertfordshire)
I would like advice on finishing oak beams after restoration. I have painstakingly restored the oak beams in my house back to natural wood, however, they are now looking quite dry. I have tested a small area with linseed oil, however, I find this has darkened the wood too much. Is there anything else that I can use that will just enhance the natural colour of the beams or something that will just slightly colour them.

Janice Bignell

As you have discovered, raw linseed oil creates a very much darker shade than the colour of the woods unfinished appearance. In addition, it is also extremely slow drying which will attract dust and can leave a sticky surface. Using a different oil such as Pure Tung Oil will produce a paler shade, but this can appear a little too shiny if several coats are applied.

A further option is to use liquid or paste beeswax. This too will darken the wood but only to around the same amount as wetting the surface.

To reduce the need for rewaxing, why not try a microporous oil which reduces the frequency of having to retreat and will still produce a waxy type finish. Two to recommend are Finney's Microporous Oil (Satin) or Osmo Polyx Oil (Matt or Satin). The former oil has the waxiest feel.

And finally, if you would really like to try and keep the colour as near to the natural wood colour as possible and don't mind using a matt effect seal(varnish), what about a low urethane Acrylic varnish such as Trade Grade Acrylic Matt, as this will produce the least colour change of all of the finishes described. To make the seal look more natural, it is worth applying a fine finishing wax along the grain using 0000 grade steel wool, then buffing to restore the sheen.

Period Property UK would like to thank Mark Finney of Finney's Fine Wood Stains & Polishes for providing this answer.