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: Let there be light
FROM: Vanessa Davies (Somerset)
I want to open up two bricked up windows at the front of my property, which is Grade II listed. Is there anything that might make planning sympathetic to my request? I have not yet applied. I intend to carry out the work with 'as like' as possible.

Vanessa Davies

Were the windows always bricked up? If so the argument may be more difficult. I have once before had originally bricked up windows opened. The argument we put forward was that if it had not been for Window Tax they would not have been bricked up in the first instance. We pointed out that it would cause little damage to the original fabric (fortunately there was no internal panelling to worry about altering). We also considered the overall aesthetics of the building, the improvement in natural light and ventilation to the room in question, etc, etc. In other words we weighed the positives against the negatives.

If you have not yet done so, ask to speak to the Conservation Officer sooner rather than later.

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: Do I need listed building consent for decking?
FROM: Nick Davies (Berkshire)
I want to put up a structure made of timber decking at the back of my grade II house outside a fire escape window. It will look like a balcony. I don't believe I need planning permission for this as it's a) a temporary structure, being made out of wood, b) is not an extension, as it's not enclosed, c) was verbally given the OK by the local conservation officer about 5 years ago, d) was told it was necessary for building regulations approval by the local buildings inspector also about 5 years ago.

Nick Davies

If planning permission was original given and the structure was simply not built, you can go ahead without seeking further permission (assuming all the appropriate permissions were originally in place). In other circumstances lots can change in five years. I suggest you speak again to the Council officers. The structure may not normally require planning permission for the reasons you indicate. However, as it is a listed building it may nonetheless require listed building consent. The only consideration with regard to listed building matters is whether it is an alteration to the character of the listed building. In this instance your description suggests to me that this would be an alteration to character and therefore requires listed building consent (even if no need for planning permission). You also need to clarify the Conservation Officer's views. Did the CO mean it was OK and did not require consent, or that it was OK but would need consent anyway? Remember that unauthorised works can lead to criminal prosecution, enforcement action, etc. It is far better to simply speak to the officers and sort this out in advance - conversations five years ago are of no relevance.

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: Will damp be a concern in buried property?
FROM: Andrew Moss (Lancashire)
I am looking at buying a period property in the Ribble Valley the building is of solid wall construction. There is a field at the back of the property, which is about one and a half meters above the property's ground floor and touches the property along the length of the property. This obviously causes some dampness, should this be a concern in terms of dampness and ground pressure and will mortgage lenders a problem.

Andrew Moss

In the context of a mortgage valuation it is unlikely to be mentioned unless the surveyor gets readings on a damp meter. If this happens they may require a 'specialist' report. If you already suspect that there is (or may be in future) a problem, why not get your own independent report in advance and present this to the mortgage valuer?

In general terms high ground levels such as this can cause problems, as a section of the wall is effectively underground. There are several methods of dealing with this depending upon the precise circumstances. There have been several discussion about this sort of problem on the Discussion Forum. The options are usually:

  1. External vertical protection against water penetration - not possible if there is no access to the land in question;
  2. External land drainage system along the base of the wall to take moisture away before it can penetrate the wall to cause damage - as above, you need access to the land;
  3. Internal application of a tanking render - tends to break down eventually and can result in the moisture being drive elsewhere;
  4. Internal application of a modern drained cavity system - might require a system to drain away any moisture that collects behind.

It would be advisable to seek independent specialist advice from someone who understands historic buildings and does not have vested commercial interest in the outcome from the advice given.

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: Flaky, dry beam raises concerns over structural integrity.
FROM: Dominic Taylor (Derbyshire)

I have recently bought a cottage in Eyam, Derbyshire, - probably built late 17th Century.

The property has obviously been 'updated' over the last 30 years or so, with many original features plastered or boxed over.

I've removed the plasterboard over the sitting room's main beam to reveal an original oak beam. However, the beam's condition at the point at which it meets the wall gives me cause for concern with some very dry, flaky wood which appears more than superficial.

My questions are: how do I find out whether the beam needs repair or replacing -would I approach structural surveyors or wood specialists? And second, by what rules/regulations are the soundness of such features judged - are they contained within Building Regulations? In other words, when I eventually come to sell is there something I can produce to prove some sort of structural integrity.

Dominic Taylor

Time and simple observation are usually the best proof.

Are there any defects around the end bearing point that would suggest movement or other problems that relate to deterioration of the beam end? Are there any defects or reasons why anyone would think there was an ongoing problem? It might be appropriate to take some boards up above this area to look at the beam end from above and investigate how much of the beam remains sound and therefore load bearing. A Building Surveyor and/or Engineer experienced in dealing with historic buildings, particularly timbers, should be able to advise in detail. Building Regulations would not help.

Why are you thinking of selling when you have just bought? Unless you have bought to 'do up and sell', you will probably own the property for several years, by which time you would have assessed whether there was a problem or not and dealt with it accordingly.

There is no absolute proof for any historic building. In fact some engineers tell me that with some historic buildings modern calculation methods would 'prove' that the building is incapable of standing and yet it is! The reality is that there is plenty of scientific data for modern buildings but little or none for historic buildings, hence the difficulty in providing 'proof' as such. The best thing to rely on would be your senses - can you see it standing, does it feel solid, etc, etc.?

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: Am I allowed to paint the exterior of my cottage whatever colour I want?
FROM: Sally Kingham (Devon)
Is there any restriction on the exterior colour of an old thatched cottage, it is in a conservation area, but not listed?

Sally Kingham

It depends if there is an Article 4 direction (i.e. normal permitted development rights have been removed). If so, you would need to ask the Council if the colour is considered an important factor in their assessment of the character of the conservation area. If there is no Article 4 direction I doubt if they could do anything to stop you painting it any colour you like.

With a listed building the main question is whether it alters the character. With an individual thatched cottage the answer is probably no. In any event, colour finishes are easily reversed. However, if you consider a typical Georgian terrace, the uniformity of colour is an intrinsic part of the character and any change would affect character and therefore require consent for the change (unlikely to be given in the example cited).

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: It's been tanked, but it's still damp.
FROM: Lucy Williams (Greater London)
I live in a Victoria terrace house. Our basement area was 'tanked' about a year ago due to a damp problem in the basement.

However, there is now a new sign of damp on an internal wall. The damp can be seen in patches on the wall, approximately 3 ft above the floor level. The damp patches first appeared about 4 months ago but are slowly spreading.

This is an adjoining wall to the neighbouring house and is exactly behind his unvented (covered) fireplace.

Unfortunately the damp company who we used to tank the basement area has ceased trading already and we did not get our 30-year damp guarantee backed by their insurers.

Can you please confirm whether or not the damp patch can be caused by an unvented (covered) fireplace? If so, what steps would our neighbour need to take to ensure this does not happen again - is there a particular size of air brick etc. that is needed to add ventilation to a fire place?

We are sure that the plumbing does not cause the damp. I would like to provide our neighbour with more information on this without going to the trouble and expense of getting a new damp surveyor to visit the house and make recommendations.

Lucy Williams

Without seeing the property it is impossible to give you a definitive answer. It is not clear whether the only work was tanking the walls, or whether there was other 'treatment' of walls e.g. chemical injection). Nonetheless, the problem is likely to be that moisture is now being diverted and is finding a weak point and a route out. The unvented fireplace could indeed be a source of the dampness and ventilation may help or even solve the problem. However, I cannot say whether the works already undertaken were appropriate or not. The fact the company has gone out of business suggests that they may not have been the most professional outfit and I have to question whether the works undertaken were appropriate in the first instance. If my suspicion is correct, you may find that you have to take out the tanking and start again, although there may be a solution that retains the tanking and sorts out the present problem.

This matter needs to be properly investigated by an independent person (e.g. a building surveyor) who does not have a vested interest (i.e. is not trying to sell you a chemical treatment system).

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: Are permethryn insecticides safe for pets?
FROM: Janet Soley (Lincolnshire)
We have just removed our hall carpet to sand the original 1930's parquet floor beneath (the carpet has been there for 23 years) and have found woodworm. On lifting some of the parquet to look at the state of the floorboard beneath it was discovered that some were not sound. We are now in the process of lifting the parquet, replacing some floorboards and need to treat the floorboards and the parquet wood pieces.

We have 2 cats (one of whom nearly died last summer when I used ant spray in the garden) so I don't really want to use a product with permethryn in (which most of them in the DIY shops seem to have in them). Is it worth paying a lot more money for a Boron based product, which is stated to be safer?

Or (like my husband) - do you think I'm being paranoid!

Janet Soley

Did the ant spray contain permethryn? If so you have the answer - use Boron based products.

That said, you will find that whenever such spray treatments are used it is recommended that pets are kept out of the property for several days. If you observe this I doubt if you should have a problem. It might be sensible to speak to your Vet before the treatment is undertaken.

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: Am I responsible for building a firewall?
FROM: Sue Jackson (Devon)
I live in a mid-terraced cottage built mid to late 1800s. There is a firewall on one side of the roof cavity but not on the other. I am selling the property. Am I responsible for installing a firewall on the side not currently protected?

Sue Jackson

Not necessarily. The mortgage lender for your purchaser may require a firewall to be built. If so, you would need to discuss with your purchaser whether they or you will pay/undertake the work, etc.

Sometimes the fire protection required can be provided by the ceilings and loft hatch rather than by creating a firewall as such.

Apart from the requirements of a mortgage lender, insurer or personal choice there is nothing otherwise that requires a firewall to be installed. Your neighbour is not a party to this and although the neighbour may contribute to the cost, there is nothing I know of that enables you to insist on a contribution. As this will be work of heightening a party wall the Party Wall Act will apply, unless you set the fire wall inside the boundary line. I suggest you wait to see what is said and then consider the matter further, perhaps with the assistance of a Building Surveyor experienced in older buildings and party wall matters.

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: Colour of pub leads to complaints to council
FROM: Julianne Watkins (Oxfordshire)
A complaint has been received by the council, that the colour we have painted the woodwork on our pub is not acceptable on a grade 11 listed building. Are acceptable colour charts available, and who is responsible for the costs or repainting?

Julianne Watkins

If the Council believe that the colour is something that affects the character of the building they may tell you that consent should have been obtained. If so, you will need to seek their approval of the colour you choose. Most Councils will not be too bothered about the colour of walls and joinery, partly because it does not usually affect character but also because colour is reversible and is easily changed.

If the Council determine that you should have obtained consent you will need to make a retrospective application. If they agree to the colour, that is the end of matters. If they don't the responsibility for the costs of changing it will be down to you.

There is no such thing as an acceptable colour for a listed building. Listed buildings come in a very wide variety of style, age, etc, etc. As a result many different colours are used both now and historically. There are colours that may be regarded as historically 'authentic' or 'sympathetic', but there is nothing in law that says you have to use any given colours.

If you want guidance on appropriate colours, look at the various ranges of 'traditional' colours now available from the main paint manufacturers, as well as those by such companies as Farrow and Ball. There have been discussions on paint on the Discussion Forum and I am sure you will find links to appropriate web sites.

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: What do I do after receiving disappointing damp & timber report?
FROM: Louisa King (Surrey)
I am in the process of buying a house, 1950's according to survey, and the mortgage company requires me to get a timber and damp survey from a BWDPA-registered company. Signs of damp and woodworm were flagged up on the valuation and homebuyers survey.

I have had a report done by a BWDPA member, and this has come back with requiring a full chemical damp proof course, sealing of the solid flooring, plus woodworm treatment. I specifically asked whether the woodworm was active or not, yet this has not been investigated - treatment 'just in case'. And on the damp, the survey found it only in two specific locations, both with solid floors. The rest of the ground floor is timber, and had no discernible problems. The property has been vacant over winter with no heating (services off and drained down) and the damp in both places are small rooms with little or no ventilation.

No mention of the potential for splashing above the existing felt/bitumen DPC due to path level outside was made, nor any mention of the fact that the boiler overflow pipe vents into what a casual observer may think a drain but which is actually one of the airbricks!

There is also concrete render to a drain on the other wall of one of the problem rooms (small utility room) which bridges the DPC - again no mention of this in the BWDPA report, but this IS mentioned in the HBR!

All in all I am very disappointed in the BWDPA report, it seems to be a complete waste of time and to have taken the attitude that a sledgehammer will crack a nut so why bother with nutcrackers.

I don't know how to proceed now - I would rather get an independent investigation into the specific areas highlighted on the survey done but because the BWDPA purports to be the experts, the mortgage company won't entertain that no matter how qualified the investigator might be. Should I fork out for another BWDPA investigation, or try and persuade the mortgage company to believe a truly independent report? Whatever I do I feel forced to take a day off work to stand over the investigator so I know they have actually done more than just a 2 minute cursory look at the outside and run a damp-meter across the internal walls, and not taken into account the fact the property's been vacant over winter etc.

Louisa King

Is the mortgage company imposing a condition or retention on you?

If a condition then simply agree to comply and then ignore it. Get your own independent person in to advise and follow the advice given, or simply undertake the work you believe appropriate and monitor the results. If they ever follow it up tell them (quite truthfully) that before you embarked on the work you decided to get a second opinion and you preferred to proceed with the advice of the second expert.

If there is a retention and you can proceed without relying on the money retained, again ignore it and continue as above.

If there is a retention and this creates a real problem for you, you will then have to pay for another independent report.

You should point out to the lender that precautionary treatment is not permitted under the COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) regulations. Also point out that RICS guidance for works on historic buildings is that such precautionary treatment is inappropriate, indeed many modern treatments could be inappropriate and should be avoided.

Look on the Discussion Forum on this site and in particular look for the posts by PC, as he is (I believe) a BWPDA member, but with a different attitude to the usual suspects.

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: Is my slate roof porous?
FROM: Kimberly Wide (Devon)
We are in the process of purchasing a late 17th Century terraced cottage, which was listed in 1955. At the time of listing, there was no internal inspection of the property undertaken and since then, there have been a number of alterations to the property (i.e. the kitchen was relocated to a different area of the house and a full bathroom was put in etc.). I am wondering what powers the council would have to ask us to restore the interior of the property if they had no prior knowledge of the layout and fittings/fixtures inside the property (and indeed, neither do we!).

Kimberly Wide

A difficult but common problem. If the Council cannot prove what works of unauthorised alteration have been undertaken they would be hard pressed to pursue an action. However, if you apply for work in future they may wish to include improvements, removal, etc of the past inappropriate works. This of course assumes that the past works are inappropriate; if they are reasonably sympathetic, etc it may be that they are not bothered. If the works are awful you may wish to change them anyway and I suggest you work with the Council.

In any event, I suggest you speak to the Conservation Officer and clarify what has happened in the past and what you intend to do. I suspect the Council has little or no evidence that they could rely upon in an action and the risk of them therefore issuing an enforcement notice is limited.

That said, if you are buying a property these are matters that should be cleared up before you complete the purchase I case you find yourself facing an enforcement notice the week you move in! The best thing is to invite the CO round and talk through the issues.

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: Did insurer make specification error on repair of flood damage?
FROM: David Fennell (East Sussex)
I recently moved to a flat in hove. The block is a period building with a Victorian sump system that channels out the toilet waste. Unfortunately the sump system is prone to blockages and those of us in the basement, the ground and first floor suffer the terrible smells until the sump is manually unblocked with a hose and a big stick. I need to know if the sump system can be modernised and those nasty smells got rid off? Thanks very much.

 

David Fennell

Without seeing it I am not sure how your system works, but whether the building is listed or not if the drainage is not working it needs repair or replacement. As it is affecting more than just one flat the problem cannot be simply ignored. I recommend that a drainage specialist be asked to investigate the problem thoroughly. This may have to include a CCTV survey.

If the problem can be repaired the specialist should advise on the repairs required.

If the problem cannot be repaired you may have to consider replacing the drainage system - in part of completely. The problem with this is the cost and disruption it will cause.

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: Filler on external timbers raises rot concerns.
FROM: Jon Gibbs (Hampshire)
We have a grade II listed timber framed cottage with brick in-fill. Whilst most of the oak timbers are painted black and appear sound, some of the timbers are bare and deeply weathered. My first question is should I paint or treat these bare timbers or leave them? If I should treat them, then what with and how? On close inspection, of the apparently sound black painted timbers, some of them have been "filled" with what looks like cement/lime mortar prior to painting. My concern is that this filler may accelerate timber decay if the water gets in. Would it be advisable to do anything with this filler or should I leave well alone and just paint on top?

Jon Gibbs

You don't mention whether you refer to internal or external timbers. I shall assume you mean external timbers and the paint you refer to is a conventional modern gloss joinery paint.

To answer your first question, I would certainly not advise painting them again. You could leave them in the short to medium term, but eventually you will need to face significant work.

The application of black paint to timbers is a modern trend. If there is cement like filler this will be creating impermeable areas. The paint itself will also be impermeable. Generally, such impermeable finishes will result in more rapid degradation of the timber. My initial reaction is that the paint and cement patches should be carefully removed. The risk is that when you remove the paint and cement patches you will uncover damage that requires repair. I believe your concerns are well founded. To avoid uncovering more damage than you can sensibly deal with (practically and financially) I suggest you deal with the work in manageable sections.

You don't say whether the brick infill panels are painted or finished in another way.

Ideally, the walls should be of completely breathable finishes. With some buildings this can mean coating over frame and panels with limewash.

Depending on how the brick panels are finished they may need re-pointing, etc to ensure breathability. The advantage of coating over the whole frame and panels with limewash is that it fills the perimeters, cracks, etc.

I suggest you get someone (experienced in historic building work and who understands how historic buildings perform) to inspect and advise in detail.

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: What precautions should we take when using insecticides internally?
FROM: Paul Cousins (Kent)
If treating timbers with wood preservatives in the main roof of the house, what precautions should be taken to safe guard occupants living there from any risk of contamination?

Paul Cousins

Are you spray treating or brush coating?

Either way, the person doing the treating should take appropriate precautions such as facemask, rubber gloves, boiler suit, etc.

Pets should be taken out during the treatment and for a day or two after. Occupants should be out during the day but it should be OK to return that evening. I would suggest keeping windows open to air the property for several days.

If anyone in the house has asthma or other respiratory problems you should seek medical advice before treatment, in case it is advisable for them to stay out of the house for longer.

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 tanking slurry?
FROM: Jane Tigwell (Hampshire)
My property was built in 1830 the interior wall being of chalk cob construction and the outside wall flint rendered with a tyrolean finish. We have significant area of damp on the inside wall (upstairs room) which reduces the paint to a powder. So far it has been suggested to us to remove the blown plaster on the inside wall and apply a tanking slurry. Additionally we have been advised to remove the blown tyrolean and reapply after water sealing the outside wall. Inside the property is lower than ground level. Quotes we have had so far vary enormously. Can you advise how one would obtain tanking slurry and if this were the solution you would recommend undertaking on an individual basis or should be carried out by a contractor?

Jane Tigwell

Don't do it. Such an approach could lead to rapid deterioration of the cob and cause major problems.

Cob usually means an earth structure, but you refer to chalk. Either way, I suspect the wall is of a construction that is highly vulnerable to excessive moisture. Using some form of tanking slurry will simply trap moisture and accelerate deterioration.

If the moisture is at first floor level there must be a source. It is essential that the source of moisture be dealt with. Check your roof, gutters, leaking pipes, leaks around windows and to sills, etc.

The external tyrolean finish should be repaired, but avoid the water sealant. In 1830 there was much experimentation with various materials including some mortars that were not dissimilar to modern cement. However, I would suggest that repairs be undertaken with a lime based render (with large aggregate mixed in and then the mix thrown on the wall - how tyrolean was usually applied). The lime mortar could include a Pozzolan to aid setting, etc. A limewash should be used for the final coat. This will then ensure a good breathable external finish. Internally the blown plaster should be removed and re-plastering undertaken with traditional lime plaster. This will allow breathability to both sides.

The high ground level is an issue often discussed on the Discussion Forum and in answer to other Agony Uncle questions.

None of this work is such that I would normally expect to be tackled by DIY. I suggest you seek independent specialist advice and speak to the local Conservation Officer about possible local specialist contractors.

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: Has insertion of DPC led to severe condensation problem?
FROM: Ben Taylor (Gwent)
Last year we bought a four bed detached house in SE Wales. Originally (1760) a stone built cottage, extended on both sides (cavity blockwork) in 1979 and 1984 to form a 'T' shape.

Zero insulation in cavity walls, nor in roof. The floors are concrete throughout the ground floor and v. cold in winter. Unsure whether there is any insulation or DPM under any floors (suspect not).

The house is built into a slope and the back of the house is very damp, even in summer. Some of the internal walls can get really wet, particularly on hot days.

When I first moved in last year I had a damp inspection which (inevitably!) ended up with a new DPC being installed.

I would like to replace old, inefficient heating system with more efficient version, ideally with UFH, but in order to do so I would have to dig out the existing concrete floors (c.100m2) as there is insufficient head clearance otherwise.

My questions are many:

1. Is the wetness likely to be condensation?

2. Is possible that the installation of a DPC has made the condensation worse?

3. Is digging out the concrete floors sensible or a waste of time? And expensive?

4. Should I be worried by no insulation or DPM in the existing flooring?

5. Could installing a DPM under the new floors lead to more trouble in terms of moisture?

Sorry for the long list. We will be instructing a local architect to help us through, but would be grateful for some initial guidance.

Ben Taylor

1) Yes 2) Yes 3) Sensible 4) No 5) Yes

I strongly believe that the use of traditional materials will help in eliminating such problems, even in the modern extensions. In the modern areas the modern DPCs and DPMs probably help to drive moisture elsewhere and wet surfaces are colder, hence the condensation. Damp problems like you describe are often more complex than one simple source of damp. Condensation is often the manifestation of one or more damp problems.

It is not possible/practical to remove damp proof courses but to continue with the modern approach may simply exacerbate the problems. A holistic approach should be taken. This will probably involve the use of traditional materials, perhaps with some insulation and where ground levels are high you may have to install an internal drained cavity system. You should, as you say, also look at the heating system.

There has been much on the Discussion Forum about UFH and in particular its use in conjunction with what is being called 'limecrete' floors. I suggest doing a search and reading the various postings. You will also find information on the web site of The Old House Store.

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: Sound insulation solution required for Victorian flats
FROM: Shane McNeelance (Greater London)
I live in a flat, the original building is Victorian and is a listed building. My kitchen is directly above my downstairs neighbour and as I start work at 6am. I disturb her.

I have original Victorian polished floorboards in the kitchen however, I have been informed that I can get a thick soundproofing item called Rockwell? or rockwall (not sure) which I can lay over the floorboards and then either lay a carpet or such like. I believe this item comes in 8x4 sheets.

I have not heard of this product nor how expensive it is.

I cannot tile in the kitchen because I have gas pipes and central heating pipes under the floor.

I am looking to cover the kitchen floor, the music room floor and also the hallway in my flat to keep the noise levels under control.

Please advise me what other options which are not too expensive that I have.

Upon moving in my neighbour removed partishone walls and made her flat open plan and in addition, she also removed the original buffer ceilings and simply skim plastered her ceilings to look good. Now she is complaining and I am finding it hard to carry on with my lifestyles such as listening to music, cooking and getting up for work without having to creep around in my own flat when she is in.

Shane McNeelance

Sound insulation problems can be difficult to resolve retrospectively. Most leases on flats now do not allow the use of exposed boards, laminates, etc. There are several types of sound problem including impact (e.g. shoes on the floor as you walk across) and airborne (e.g. speaking). Whatever you do there will be some sound transmission.

There are numerous products you could use (do a web search for sound or acoustic insulation). In your situation I would suggest you consider lifting the boards and installing an acoustic insulation material in the void. When re-laying the boards install an isolating material. It would be preferable to lay large sheets (e.g. ply or chipboard) over this and then lay your board, but this would require all doors and skirtings to be raised. You could lay your boards on the isolating material or lay the sheet without the boards. In any event, the floor surface should not be fixed down, but left 'floating'. You should then finish with carpet or similar materials. These works should reduce the sound transference, but not eliminate it.

Where you come across voids, etc you should consider filling them to reduce the problem of airborne sound.

Another item of work (alternative or in addition to the above) could be for the neighbour below you to install a false ceiling that is completely isolated from the present ceiling and with the void having acoustic insulation installed. The fact that she removed what may have been an acoustic ceiling may be the cause of the problem she is now suffering.

In all of the above I have given some ideas, but it would be best to get specific advice before undertaking work. Indeed, there is the whole question of whether you should be bothering to undertake the work anyway. This is perhaps a legal issue where you should obtain legal advice.

Further, you mention that the building is listed and therefore some of the above work may require consent. In fact, the work your neighbour has already undertaken may be unauthorised. Before doing anything it would be advisable to speak with the Conservation Officer.

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: Frost damaged bricks may lead to problem when selling property
FROM: John Turner (Greater London)
I own the ground floor flat of a Victorian terrace. The owner of the flat above has had several sales fall through due to the cost of rectifying frost damaged brickwork. This has clearly worried my as, whilst I have no immediate plans to sell, we will at some point sell and move on.

My questions are;

a) What problems do frost damaged bricks usually lead to? b) How are they best rectified? c) How expensive a job is it?

John Turner

a) damp ingress; large areas of frost damage could destabilise a wall; aesthetic damage b) cut out and replace when the damage has progressed to over, say, 10-20mm - otherwise simply leave, but the appearance even with just a few mm failed can be poor; c) depends on how much damage, where (high level or low), whether the mortar is easy to rake out, etc, etc?

This is something that has to be a matter of judgement. If the problem is with an individual brick it may be easier to justify its replacement on aesthetic grounds at an early stage. If there is a large area the appearance will be poor generally and whether the bricks are damage for 1mm or 10mm the appearance will be the same. Technically, once the fire skin has failed the inner parts of a brick tend to be softer and more prone to weathering. You may find that once the surface has gone the brick starts to deteriorate more rapidly.

The solutions can range from cutting out and turning around a single brick, leaving the bricks, but rendering over with a lime render, cutting out and replacing large areas with modern sympathetic (but frost resistant) bricks, etc. If you can re-use the bricks (turn them around) the materials cost will be low, but quite often the better face was outward facing anyway and with many bricks it is not appropriate to simply turn them around. If replacement is necessary the materials cost will be higher.

If considering a whole elevation the cheapest solution may be to render the whole with a lime render. However, there may be various reasons why rendering is not a suitable option.

As you are not the sole owner, I suggest that you agree with the others to get in someone to give independent advice (someone experienced with this type of building and problem) and then get quotes for appropriate repairs, which will I assume be shared. The other owner(s) should recognise the wisdom if sorting this out if they have had sales fall through.

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: Leaky bathroom leads to potential claims for damages
FROM: Veronica Smith (Strathclyde)
We live in an upper quarter villa (built circa 1900). Our neighbour below has discovered water penetration in the ceiling joists of his bathroom - which is directly below our bathroom. Where repair or replacement is required who is responsible for the repair? Is it a joint and common repair? Our neighbour is insisting that the water penetration from our leaking bath has caused the rot in the joists and believes that we are solely responsible for the repair/replacement of the joists and that we pay all costs.

Veronica Smith

This has appeared on the Discussion Forum, but here I will try to summarise the advice given.

Ignorance is no defence in law and therefore if the neighbour can demonstrate that the leak was from your bathroom, whether you knew about it or not is not relevant. You will be responsible for sorting out the leak. If the leak was from a common pipe or some common area, service, etc the costs of the leak repair may be shared.

If you have a lease, or if shared ownership a document setting out the 'demise' of each property, it should be clear where your flat stops and the other starts. Some flats finish at the floor boards and the lower flat starts with the ceiling surface, thus the floor structure is common. In some flats the demise states that each flat stops half way through the floor, therefore creating an imaginary line half-way through the floor structure, which can cause problems with this type of repair issue.

There seems no doubt that the floor and ceiling below requires repair. It may be best to deal with the initial work as a shared matter and then to sort out who owes who afterwards. If either party has a mistrust of the other for any reason this may not work. However, if there is an independent management company it may be best to go through the management company as an independent third party. An alternative would be for the neighbour to undertake the work and then seek to recover the costs from you.

I would expect the neighbour to have gone through insurance and it would normally be the insurance company that would sort these matters out. It could indeed be the insurance company taking matters up with you.

On the matter of strict liability you will need to seek legal advice from someone who has looked at the relevant papers (leases, deeds, etc). My general understanding is that if the leak is proven to have arisen from your bathroom and was the sole cause of the damage you will probably be held liable for the costs of the works. Simply because a lease or other documents states that repairs are a common liability does not give you a 'get out' clause if your bathroom leak caused the problem.

You should of course look to your insurance company for assistance both with regard to the repair (perhaps under the escape of water clause), and in terms of any legal argument (you may find you have insurance cover for legal costs in any litigation).

I note you are in Scotland and would also mention that the legal situation may differ slightly. My conclusion however, is that you need 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.