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...

o Damp wall built into the hillside Sarah Husband (Northumberland)
o Cornicing and cracking Kate Ross (West Midlands)
o Is strapping the walls reasonable? Nicola Ireson (Staffordshire)
o Vibrating roller may have caused structural damage David Scott (Dorset)
o Minimun height above foundations Ralph Parkin (Wiltshire)
o Single skinned extension scares off mortgage company Chloe Leaning (Essex)
o Ever expanding cracks Gill Geach (Cambridgeshire)
o Sealing the beams Philip Porter (Worcestershire)
o Mould in a converted barn Geraldine Braes (Devon)
 

SUBJECT: Damp wall built into the hillside
FROM: Sarah Husband (Northumberland)
We are about to move into a Grade ll sandstone cottage which is in need of extensive refurbishment/renovation. Originally a one up one down, it was extended, over the back yard to double it's size and become a three bedroom cottage with a sitting room and a kitchen/diner. However, apart from the flat roof, the extension was built into the hillside and therefore has the whole of the back downstairs wall underground.

We have had a full building survey done on it which recommended remedial work on the damp - apparently the back wall is soaking, and there is rising damp throughout the ground floor.

I commissioned (not free) a specialist company to do a damp survey and lo and behold the property requires chemical injection damp proofing as well as the dismantling of the kitchen wall, the insertion of an impervious membrane and a drain. Through your web site I now know a little better and we will be trying things such as knocking off all the old plaster and putting in a French drain. For the back wall we will be looking at dry lining and a drain. We think that some of the damp around the walls could be due to the enormously thick concrete floors on the ground floor - can we work around this by putting vented skirting in place or do we really need to replace the concrete floors if we wish to remedy the damp in traditional ways?

It does not have any form of heating other than wall mounted fan heaters (it was a holiday cottage and unheated for long periods in the winter) and we would like to modernise this aspect first. Would it be beneficial to drying off the property to install oil fired central heating as soon as possible?

Also, we would like to fit a wood burning stove but the chimney breast is apparently full of holes in the roof void section and a specialist company has quoted for a concrete liner - is this ok for such an old stone property?

We are so looking forward to living here but do not rush into renovations that are either in the wrong order or are irreversible!

Sarah Husband

You raise a number of points so I will try to deal with in order.

Damp

You mention that the wall in question is against the hillside and therefore underground. It is quite likely that there was inadequate damp proofing when it was built (or it has broken down). In my experience any form of internal render-form of tanking will not last long due to the pressure of water behind, etc. Further, as the water is inhibited from flowing through the wall it may simply divert and cause problems elsewhere. Excavating some form of French drain may help, but alone may not solve the problem. Injecting a chemical dpc will not resolve horizontal water movement and I suspect that 'rising damp' is the least of the problems. A holistic approach is required that may involve a combination of works. You need to be advised by a professional experience in dealing with damp in historic buildings. I suspect you will need to deal with the exterior by installing a French drain, but you will probably have to install some form of internal system and I suggest this may have to be a drained cavity system. Whilst I would also advise taking up the floor you may be able to use the floor as a base for the drained cavity system and install a sump/pump, etc in it. However, the end result may be a raised floor level and if not convenient this approach may not be appropriate. Ideally I would suggest the floor has to come out, but without seeing the situation it is difficult to advise specifically.

Quite simply it is unlikely you can retrospectively install an effective system that will prevent water getting into the wall. What you need to consider is a system that will control where the water goes and positively removes the water, thus leaving you with dry internal surfaces.

Heating

The installation of a form of heating will certainly help improve matters. It will dry out some surfaces. If the heating is too high it could draw moisture through the wall/floor so it is best to use central heating for background warmth. The installation of heating should be used as one of the methods of controlling and managing the internal environment and therefore the damp. Alongside this you will need to consider both insulation (where practical and appropriate), together with ventilation.

Chimney

From what you describe the chimney does need lining. However, a concrete poured lining is not a method I would recommend for an old building. It has been known for such methods to cause damage to a chimney due to the pressure/weight of the concrete. Further, the holes will need to be filled to prevent the concrete seeping out, etc.

That said, any system will require careful repairs to the holes, etc before lining the chimney.

My preference would be a flexible stainless steel flue lining with insulation around it. Sometimes you can back-fill around such a lining with lightweight Leca granules as an insulant. There has been some discussion of this 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: Cornicing and cracking
FROM: Kate Ross (West Midlands)
Hello, we own a three storey villa, which was built around 1900.

We have just had our sitting room replastered, which has cornicing, as the surfaces were a bit rough and the ceiling had several cracks. One plasterer said that he would need to cut around the cornicing and take the middle flat section of ceiling down, before reboarding and replastering. The second plaster said that this would bring down the cornicing and recommended a simple skim coat (having applied thistle bonding first).

We went for the latter plasterer because we in no way wanted to put the cornicing at risk. However, within less than a week of the work being done, three long hairline cracks have appeared on the ceiling. The plasterer we used said this was bad news, and that he would tape it up and re-skim the ceiling. But also said that if this didn't work then the ceiling and cornicing would need to come down.

We are terrified that some of this cost may come our way, and both want the cornicing to be replaced in this was the situation. Who would cover this kind of cost?

Kate Ross

There are a number of possible reasons why the ceiling had cracked. Without finding out why the ceiling was cracked it is impossible to know what repair method would be most suitable. Whilst I am not a supporter of the idea of cutting out the middle part and leaving the perimeter cornice, etc I have seen it done reasonably successfully. It depends on the care of the individual undertaking the work and how the ceiling was constructed initially.

How the cornice is dealt with will depend on whether it has been run in situ as part of the ceiling construction or installed onto the ceiling edge after the ceiling had been formed. It is sometimes found with Victorian properties that the cornice is independent of the main ceiling surface.

If the original ceiling is to be left in place I would normally expect the plaster to be re-secured to the laths and the laths re-fixed to joists, etc before anything else (assuming that the cracking is to do with some failure of the basic fixing). Live areas should then be carefully cut out and traditional materials used to dab out and bring forward the surface. Only then should a new skim have been applied. I cannot see how using Thistle bonding alone would help. A skim coat over defective plaster will simply fail again. The basic weakness that caused the cracking needs to be addressed before the ceiling is re-skimmed.

As such work is time intensive (and therefore costly) it is quite common to simply take down the central part, leave the cornice and form a new ceiling to the main area. This new ceiling could be plasterboard (not ideal - especially if the building is listed); it could be formed on expanded metal lath (not ideal but arguably better than plasterboard); or a traditional lath and plaster ceiling formed (the most expensive option).

Without seeing the ceiling I cannot advise what is now necessary. I suspect the cornice could be left in situ but if it really cannot be saved have a section cleaned (so that it is bare plaster without paint) and have a 'squeeze' made of the cornice so that when the ceiling is re-formed a replacement matching cornice can be installed. This is not an ideal result, but if the ceiling is at the point that it really cannot be repaired you may have no option.

Without knowing more detail I would be hesitant in commenting specifically, but I am concerned that the builder may not have given appropriate advice in this instance. Any solution that fails to address the fundamental cause of the original cracking is likely to result in problems or failure.

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 strapping the walls reasonable?
FROM: Nicola Ireson (Staffordshire)
We are renovating a Farm house that is believed to be 150 -200 years old. The upper floor ceilings were failing and our survey suggested removal which we have now done however unfortunately much of the plaster on the external walls also came away and uncovered some cracking in the brickwork that was not evident through the plaster work and the southern gable was not tied in. A structural engineer has surveyed the property and suggested strapping at floor and ceiling level and covering the cracked areas with stainless steel expamet. Does this sound reasonable?

Furthermore we are left with the problem of replastering the walls. The building has a 9in single brick wall (good suction). It appears this will no longer make renovating plaster although tarmac does, however it is far more expensive. However a number of suggestions have been made by plasterers including dry lining with insulation boards after applying a 3:1 sand cement mixed with a salt inhibitor (sovereign). Can you please offer some advice regarding the best way to re-plaster these walls

Nicola Ireson

You do not say whether the building is listed. If so you should have spoken to the Conservation Officer before embarking on such extensive work. You should now liaise and expect a rap over the knuckles. If it is not listed you do not need consent, but as this is an older building you should have sought advice from those who properly understand such structures.

Without seeing the building and specific problems I can only give general guidance.

It is not unusual to have to strap walls together, tie them to each other or to the floors, etc in older buildings. As a concept this is not necessarily a problem. However, I would suggest consideration be given to careful re-stitching of cracks using a soft lime mortar. This may or may not then include the need to use expanded metal lath over the wall, but it does ensure that the wall itself is more stable as a structure. Incidentally where metal lath is used it should be stainless steel, as galvanised will eventually rust in this situation (against or on an external wall).

I would not normally recommend the use of a cement based render. This would be brittle and if there is any slight ongoing movement (thermal, seasonal, etc - not necessarily structurally significant) the cement will re-crack. Further, it sometimes happens that the repaired area remains sound but the stress is now transferred and cracks appear elsewhere.

As this is first floor I would be surprised if there was a salt problem and wonder why a salt inhibitor has been suggested?

My preference would be for a traditional lime plaster, which although more expensive would provide a better finish in terms of flexibility and breathability. As a second-best option a renovating plaster is the better solution.

You could dry-line and insulate, but this will reduce the room dimensions a little and you have to consider carefully how it is undertaken in order to avoid interstitial condensation. If you do decide to dry line there are numerous methods (there have been many discussion on the Discussion Forum).

How you tackle these issues may partly be determined by whether it is listed and what problems are actually present (e.g. why use a cement render and salt inhibitor if there is no damp or salt problem).

Sorry not to be more specific but I hope this has given 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: Vibrating roller may have caused structural damage
FROM: David Scott (Dorset)

We live in an end of terrace townhouse built in approx 1820 which is set over three floors. It is situated on a main road one way system into the town.

Recently the council has carried out resurfacing of the one way system. It was done incorrectly by the contractors and was stripped and re-surfaced three times until they got it right (we hope!). The vibration from the vibrating rollers they used was frightening not only for us but for other homeowners to whom we have spoken. It vibrated the walls of our house hugely on each occasion. We have since found that our sewage pipe is now broken right under where they parked the vibrating roller. Apparently this is a private sewer and is apparently our responsibility despite it being in the pavement. My gut feeling tells me that their vibrating roller dislodged the old pipe. However, I am going ahead and having it mended. Because this has happened we are very concerned that other structural damage may have occurred to our old property which we cannot yet see. Because we are the end property, the end wall is extremely high, it worries me that structural damage may have been done which may only become visible later. Do you feel we are right to be concerned and should the council have consideration for these old townhouses and the foundations when doing such works? If the council insist that the piece of sewer under the pavement is ours then should they not have taken this into account when positioning vibrating rollers on the pavement which in my view should not be operating so close to the houses anyway. I think that I have a point here but I have no knowledge as to whether the local authority have any duty or responsibilities to householders regarding their use of heavy plant machinery. We adore our old house and would be very grateful for your advice and views.

David Scott

On the matter of the drain pipe: although it may be a private pipe if the roller is proven to have caused the damage you should claim the costs back. Keep the evidence of the broken pipe and if it is clearly a fresh break then it is more than likely to have been caused by the recent vibration.

On the issue of structural damage and vibration; this is a matter on which there are varying opinions amongst professionals. My view for some years has been that vibration alone would not normally be a cause of structural damage. However, if there is a structural weakness in a building vibration can exacerbate the problem and perhaps even result in a structural weakness becoming a structural failure. In the situation you describe I suggest you are right to be concerned about what may have happened as a result of the vibration.

The Council owe a duty of care just like anyone else when undertaking works. I agree with you that the Council should have had greater consideration of nearby occupiers and the properties. The Council would not be exempt from legal action if they are suspected from failing in their duty of care and/or if their work has caused damage.

You seem to have one item of damage - the drain - and this should be independently assessed as to whether the damage has been caused by the recent works. If so, you need to seek legal advice about how best to take the matter further.

As for the house, you should have an inspection undertaken (by a professional experienced in houses of the type and age) to assess what recent damage has occurred (if any) that might be attributable to the recent works. If there is any such damage you should again include this when seeking legal advice.

Apart from legal action you may have a case to take to the Ombudsman, but you should seek advice before pursuing this route.

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: Minimum height above foundations
FROM: Ralph Parkin (Wiltshire)
What is the minimum height above the base of the foundation to the external walls can external ground levels be excavated? I have external ground levels some 20cm above the top of the internal concrete floor slabs and I believe that this is contributing to the damp on these walls. I want to reduce the external ground levels but how deep can I go? I haven't (yet) done any inspection pits to investigate the foundation details but some early advice would be appreciated. The property is an 1800-50s brick and flint. The internal walls are plastered and "woodchip" papered. Removing the paper will be easy but the plaster will be more difficult to remove. Can the walls breathe through the plaster (cement-based I think and hard as nails)? The builder who has given me some advice on the external pointing has recommended a 6-2-1 mix (sand-lime-cement). He says that this is a generally accepted compromise between a soft mix and one that will withstand the ravages of English weather. Any comments on this? I have to say that I am not too bothered at the moment with matching the existing lime mortar for aesthetics and I want to do most of the work myself, so having to do too much research could be a problem purely on time. The house is a bit of a wreck and I need to do some re-pointing quickly to keep out the weather and also to check for ongoing movement (there are some large cracks but I think they may be historic/seasonal, but I have yet to confirm that the drains are ok, get rid of some awful ivy, fix the gutters etc etc). Thanks for any advice and great site!

Ralph Parkin

It sounds to me as if you could do with paying for some professional advice. Although you may be looking to save money it can save time and money to have a professional go over the property with you and provide the specific advice. This would then give you a plan of action and more specific advice on how to tackle matters that will then allow you to get on with it.

In the meantime, without seeing the property, etc it is not possible to be too specific.

Regarding excavation by foundations the following is a generally guide. Footings, foundations, etc bear onto soil beneath and the zone taking the load is said to be that extending from the bottom corner out at a 45 degree angle. This zone should not be excavated (at least not in long lengths or to significant depths). A diagram to indicate what is meant follows:

Another consideration when excavating beside a wall is whether there is any possibility of lateral thrust that may push the wall over. The deeper the external excavation relative to the internal floor (and any slab or structure under the floor) the more likely there could be lateral thrust. However, this will also depend on the thickness and therefore robustness of the wall itself (a 1m thick stone rubble filled wall is less prone to lateral thrust than a single skin brick wall!).

In your situation provided the footing or foundation is deeper than the internal floor (I would be very surprised if it wasn't), you should be able to excavate externally to a point 150mm below the internal floor level. It is regarded as ideal to have a distance of 150mm or more between the internal floor level and external ground level. This zone allows moisture at low level in the wall to evaporate from the external surface before it gets high enough to cause damage to floor or other timbers, etc.

Turning to the matter of the plaster and pointing. If the internal plaster is hard and modern it is probably cement based. To remove it could cause damage and it may be better to leave it in place - unless it is failing anyway. However, such material is not breathable and in such circumstances you must ensure that the outer face of the wall is breathable. This then helps to ensure that moisture in the wall is able to escape outwards.

The pointing mix should be a lime mortar and ideally should not contain any cement, as the addition of a small amount of cement has dubious benefit and could be detrimental to the performance of the mortar. It would probably be easiest to use a pre-mixed batch supplied by one of the companies who provide lime mortars (Mike Wye, Old House Store, etc). Your builder is wrong to suggest that the mortar needs cement to make it withstand the weather (otherwise how have all these old buildings remained OK for all these years?). In fact it is now known that more damage has been caused in the past 50 years (or so) by using cement in mortar than had previously been caused in several hundred years.

If lime mortar based on lime putty is thought inadequate for weathering purposes you could look to using a naturally hydraulic lime. Either way, lime mortars cannot be used when there is a risk of frost and you are therefore restricted to building work using lime mortars in the late spring to early autumn period only.

On the matter of finding out more, check out the web site Discussion Forum, but also look at the web sites of Mike Wye and Old House Store, as they contain information and suggested mixes, use, 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: Single skinned extension scares off mortgage company
FROM: Chloe Leaning (Essex)
I am so glad to have found this website and hope that you can provide some advice and guidance to me regarding the purchase of my period property!!! I am in the process of purchasing my first home - a terraced ''cottage'', circa 1890 in a small town in Essex. The basic valuation survey that our mortgage company arranged highlighted that the two storey rear extension (quite common on this type of property I think) is only ''single skinned'' and does not comply with building regulations. The mortgage company we originally applied to won't lend on it.

I am advised (by my mortgage broker!) that they are being particularly fussy and that other lenders will go ahead - but the issue has still bought up some concerns in my mind.

The nature of the extension (which contains kitchen and bathroom) obviously makes it more prone to damp and condensation. Is there anything that can be done to prevent this? e.g. some sort of cladding or insulation- and if so how do I go about it? Will this mean it will comply with modern building regs and satisfy the requirements of any future lenders? Should I obtain a specific survey to investigate the wall and whether there is any damp already, and if there is, how serious can that be?

Is this the kind of thing that should be avoided at all costs, or is it common for ''extensions'' in this period to be single skinned?

And finally - how much, if any, does this affect the value of the house? We offered the asking price but don't want to pay over the odds if the house is worth less because of this, or if we have to pay for lots of work to be done. I am also cautious about buying a house which seems to be difficult to mortgage - am I setting myself up for problems in the future?? Apologies for all the questions - as you can see I'm not clued up and don't know what action to take (I might just be being over cautious!)

I am really, really keen on this property, but I would very much appreciate some advice from people who are experienced in this kind of thing so I can try to make an informed decision. I don't want to be naive to the possible problems.

Chloe Leaning

Many extensions built in the 19th and early 20th century have single skin brick extensions. It is correct to say that they do not comply with modern building regulations, but then nor does the rest of the building! In my view such comment by the valuer, whilst strictly accurate, is unhelpful, inappropriate and far from the whole story.

As you have realised, there are however problems with such structures and in many instances they do need some upgrading. There are various methods of dealing with this. There are ways of installing external or internal insulation and other measures to reduce the risk or problem of condensation. Similarly, the walls can be rendered or an internal cavity formed to deal with the problem of water penetration. It is often the case that such extensions contain the kitchen and/or bathroom and yet these are the areas where most moisture is created, thus increasing the problem of condensation in what are cold structures anyway. That said, if the present owner has lived with it as it is for a while and there are no signs of a problem perhaps there is no need for urgent work.

To be quite honest the only economic way to comply with modern regulations is to demolish and re-build. Nonetheless, there are many ways to upgrade it to an acceptable standard (not necessarily fully complying with regulations, but getting close) that would not involve re-building.

I believe that with a sensible valuer and a pragmatic lender you should not experience any problems. It is certainly not a matter that alone should deter you from purchasing. As to whether value will be affected, I doubt it especially if the property has a serviceable kitchen and bathroom with no apparent problems. I do a lot of work in Essex and see similar extensions quite often. They are not rare and do not usually pose a problem.

Remember that the Mortgage company relies on the Valuer's report. A different valuer preparing a differently worded report might have provided a very different result from the same lender. You could go back and ask them if they would lend if a different surveyor gave a different view. Otherwise, I suggest you simply find a different lender and see whether you can select a valuer from their panel/list who is more sympathetic to older buildings.

I also suggest you post on the Discussion Forum and see if others have had a similar problem and how they have resolved it.

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: Ever expanding cracks
FROM: Gill Geach (Cambridgeshire)
We live in an old thatched listed house and in one of the bedrooms the plaster is cracking and these are getting larger. We know that as an old building there will be movement but want is the best repair method. A plasterer has suggested he uses a tape before replastering. Is this correct?

Gill Geach

If there is no ongoing movement then to tape and skim over a crack is often an acceptable modern solution. It is not an approach however for lath and plaster or wattle and daub.

The first thing is to establish whether there is ongoing movement. There are various methods of monitoring cracks. One method would be to repair the crack and see if it re-cracks.

If the plaster is, as I suspect, traditional lime plaster it should be repaired by carefully opening up the crack slightly and undercutting the edges to give a good key. It should then be filled with a lime plaster (get some pre-mixed from Mike Wye, Old House Store, etc). Carefully control the drying of it to avoid further cracking due to drying out. This will then repair the crack properly.

If the internal surfaces have already been re-formed with modern materials it might be appropriate to repair the crack with a scrim tape and plaster. However, the crack should still be widened and undercut as this helps to avoid re-cracking due to drying out of the new plaster and provides a better key.

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: Sealing the beams
FROM: Philip Porter (Worcestershire)
I have lived in my Tudor farmhouse for 28 years and my 10 year restoration plan is still ongoing! The construction is timber frame and, over the years, we have tried all manner of ways of sealing the beams, including replacing them where absolutely necessary with better old oak beams. Has anything yet been invented that permeates the timber and seals all the many tiny crevices that allow water to percolate through and appear inside, often many inches from where it is ingressing. With the recent high winds and driving rain (we are very exposed), we literally had to have towels on the floor and even a series of containers to catch the constant dripping.

Philip Porter

Without more information and pictures it is very difficult to answer this in detail. In general terms the answer is no. Sealing the beams will usually exacerbate the problem because once moisture gets in and cannot get out it will accelerate the rotting of the timber. Further, water will not enter where sealed, but will become focussed on the cracks, which will then funnel it through. Therefore sealing the timbers has probably made the problem worse. Without seeing the property it is difficult to say, but I suspect my first bit of advice would be to strip any sealant, paint, etc.

Methods now regarded as appropriate for such problems include filling with lime mortar and/or limewashing over the timbers with the render (assuming the panels are rendered). Alternatively (and perhaps better for some cracks) is to insert slips of new Oak. The Weald and Downland Museum (near Chichester) has been experimenting with various repair methods and finishing for many years. They may be able to advise on what they have presently found to be the best method of dealing with such matters.

The other issue you need to consider is whether the frame was always exposed? It was common in the Victorian period (and in the 20th century) to expose the frame for aesthetic reasons, but without realising the problems this would cause. It is now sometimes necessary (particularly for houses in exposed locations) to consider covering the frame. This would usually entail applying a lime render finish over the whole building. In some parts of the country hung tiles or other claddings may be common. Obviously for such major work listed building consent would be necessary.

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: Mould in a converted barn
FROM: Geraldine Braes (Devon)
I bought a newly converted 3 story barn two and a half years ago.

It was converted by a reputable builder and came with an architect's certificate.

I have only used it during school holidays and it has been left unheated (but ventilated via trickle vents) for the remainder of the time.

A year ago I noticed that the walls in the lower ground floor which are set into a hillside were covered in a very fine layer of mould and it was much cooler than the other two floors even when heated . Naturally I spoke to the builder (who is also a neighbour) and he told me that when I moved in and the area was heated then the problem would go away.

I am due to move in next week, and am literally having nightmares about the problem. I am unsure what I should expect from modern conversion standards, but I would have thought that it should be sufficiently insulated for this kind of problem not to occur.

Have you any advice as to how I should gauge if there is a problem - and if I do - how do I go about rectifying it ??

Geraldine Braes

My initial reaction is that with an unoccupied and largely unheated house this type of problem is bound to happen. I therefore hope that by occupying full time and heating the property the problem will go away. However, to combat condensation you need to ensure that you have not only constant background heating, but also good ventilation (relying on trickle vents is often insufficient).

The insulation should be to a good standard if the work was only finished a few years ago and insulation should not be a problem as such. However, because this particular wall is partly underground it will inevitably be colder (relative to other walls) and will be more prone to condensation. If you find that it is a constant problem it may help to increase the insulation of this particular wall section, but such work should only be considered when all other issues have been dealt with and is really a last resort.

When you move in turn on the heating (not too high - just good background warmth) and clean down the surfaces with a detergent (to remove the mould) and dry them off (don't leave them damp or you will get more mould). Open windows and ventilate the place (with the heating on - to create air circulation) and this should give it a good airing. Live in the property normally, but remember to use extractor fans (if installed) in the kitchen and bathrooms to help remove moist air quickly from the areas where most moisture is created (kitchens and bathrooms).

Once you have lived in the property for a while and if you find there is still a problem you should then seek further advice. I am however, hopeful that your concern is perhaps premature.

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.