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).

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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...

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SUBJECT:
Salty deposits in so-called professionally renovated property?
FROM:
Carolyn Ward
(Gloucestershire)

I have a detached Georgian property which has been fully and professionally renovated 4 years ago. On the first floor there is a bedroom with a large sash window. Under the window a damp patch appeared about 6 months ago. We thought that the damp was coming in through the top of the outside window sill and have sealed the cracks that had opened up on it. Since then the damp patch on the inside of the room has got worse, the paint is blistering quite badly and there is extensive evidence of white salty deposits. I would like to repaint this wall but I want to ensure that the damp patch has been resolved before I do that. Can you advise me how I should deal with this problem and how quickly I will be able to repaint?

Carolyn Ward

Not an easy one to resolve remotely and without photos.

Your description suggests water ingress somewhere around the sill area and the white deposit sounds like salts left by water evaporation. The salts should be removed by dry brushing them off (and hovering up). Do not use a damp cloth, etc. as this simply dissolves them again rather than remove them.

The solution to the problem depends on many different factors.

You do not say how the building is finished externally (brick, stone, render?) or how it is finished internally (panelling, modern plaster, lime plaster, plaster on solid, plaster on laths?).

It could be that the problem has been resolved and it is the evaporation of the residual moisture that you now see, or you could have an ongoing problem. I suggest a simple hose test might help identify whether you still have a problem. Connect a hose and on a low-ish pressure play water around the sill externally to see if water appears (actual or a stain) internally. If so try to find precisely where it is coming in and you can then repair appropriately. If you find that no water comes in the problem may be elsewhere (try playing the hose around the rest of the window frame) or even higher up the elevation (unlikely, but you never know). If you really cannot force water in then the problem is resolved and you simply need to undertake internal repairs.

Internally remove plaster that is damaged (particularly if modern plaster). Re-plaster with traditional lime plaster unless the rest of the wall is modern plaster. Ideally traditional plaster should be used and if there is now modern plaster unless you intend to strip and re-plaster the whole wall I suggest you simply patch repair for the time being.

Internal paints should be breathable (limewash, earth paints, etc.) although on modern plaster a matt emulsion would be OK.

Sorry not to be more specific, but I hope this general guide is of some help.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
Sooty Smell in rooms after thatch fire
FROM:
Anthony Gunstone
(Suffolk)

18 months ago we had a dramatic thatch fire. The house is now rebuilt and the builders have done a great job in a tricky and very old house. However having moved back in we have a distinct smell of soot coming through the old chimneys in our kids rooms which seems to have permeated the brickwork of the chimneys. Is it possible to seal this in? The chimneys have been rebuilt in the top 20 courses but the rest of the brickwork is old. It has all been repointed. If we do what should we seal it with?

Anthony Gunstone

Anything that seals the brick could cause long term problems and unless you use limewash as a 'seal' I would advise against sealing. Of course if the brickwork is exposed you could lime plaster over the surfaces and this could help.

You do not say whether the flue is open or lined and therefore whether rain could get in. If so this could be a cause. There could be a ledge in the flue where soot and rain mix. Was the chimney swept during the reinstatement works? Has it been lined?

Many chimneys do smell of soot when they get wet during rain - if unlined. Having it periodically swept should help. If lining (especially with a thatched roof) remember to insulate around the lining to reduce heat transference through to the brickwork. If it is open capping with a ventilated cowling should help prevent rain ingress.

I suggest you look at the various options, but sealing the bricks is likely to be harmful to the brickwork and there is no guarantee that it will work. The smell will be coming through the smallest of gaps and even if you seal the chimney you could still get a smell.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
How do I remove paint from the exterior of my terraced home?
FROM:
Paul Childs
(Greater London)

I've just moved into a terraced Victorian house in London built circa 1895. A previous owner the painted the exterior light blue. I now want to remove the paint leaving original brickwork - I understand sandblasting is the only option. Is this the best approach ? Are there any other options ?

Paul Childs

Victorian bricks are fired to a lower temperature to modern bricks and tend to have a 'fire face'. If you sand blast them you could expose the softer core and they will not only weather quicker but pick up dirt and become dirty quite quickly.

Chemical removal is the better method. There are a number of possible chemicals to use and the company 'Strippers' can help in selecting the right stuff (www.stripperspaintremovers.com ).

Try on a small discreet area first before embarking on the whole wall.

Chemical removal is more expensive and takes longer, but gives a far more satisfactory result and is less harmful to the brickwork.

If you happen to have something like engineering bricks they probably could withstand some form of blasting, but again I would always suggest that any form of removal be first undertaken in a small discreet trial area in case it does not work or leaves an appearance you did not intend.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
If you can smell them I'm sure they can smell you!
FROM:
Kevin Walsh
(Cambridgeshire)

I live in an Edwardian semi (1906). Three months ago, new neighbours moved in, since when I've had smells coming through the shared wall. It's cooking smells, mainly, though it's recently emerged that they also burn joss sticks, so that smell is also coming through. I took the back off some of my kitchen units, and found a few gaps where the bricks met the floor. I filled these gaps with that quick-setting expanding foam. And that seemed to do the trick. Seemed to. Recently, the smells have found a new route, under the floorboards in the lounge (which is the next to the kitchen, and along the same stretch of shared wall). I know my previous neighbours took up their carpets a few months before they moved out. But we never had any smells until the new people moved in. I'm wondering what the solution could be. I thought of carpeting our lounge (and hallway, which is already carpeted) but that would mean we're just masking the symptoms. Would a better route be to have the floorboards taken up and the shared brick wall plastered/sealed to stop anything coming through? It's getting a bit (well very, actually!) tense with the neighbours, and I really want to find the quickest and easiest solution.

RobTavendale

If you can smell them, I am sure they can smell you! Whether sound or smell it is never a one-way street. I suggest that some careful opening up of the floor voids should take place and any gaps, etc carefully filled. I would not advise the use of expanding foam, but properly brick up or fill with lime mortar (several of the lime suppliers will supply it ready mixed). Remember that chimney flues (if shared) could provide a route for sound, smell, etc. You may have to install register plates, etc., or perhaps line the flues. Look in the roof space and if there are gaps (or perhaps no fire wall) you will need to sort this out as well. Quite simply you need to carefully find the various gaps where the smells could get through and fill them.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
Neighbour refuses access to share gulley for repair!
FROM:
D Maton
(Kent)

We live in a mid-terrace grade 2 listed house. Our house needs a roof repair to the gulley that travels along all three houses in the terrace. The cheapest way to do this is to go up to the roof via the side of the neighbours house at the end of the terrace. This would mean we are 'trespassing' over our neighbours roof to get to ours. Our neighbour has refused us access over his property, even though the gulley is shared. A roofing contractor told me today that the neighbour can't refuse. My question is .... can we legally access our roof via the shared gulley starting at the end of the terrace?

D Maton

There is no common law right of access. Your neighbour can refuse you access. However, there are two Acts that you should look at to see if they help you. If the works are such that they could be construed Party Wall works The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 may help you in that there is some provision for access to undertake the works mentioned in any Award. There is some question over the extent of access this provides and if the neighbour is really awkward you may find that it is not as easy as it at first appears. The Access to Neighbouring Land Act 1992 gives a right to apply to court for an Access Order for the purpose of 'preservation'. It can only be used if access has been asked for and refused (in writing). However, it can only be used to gain access for basic preservation works. I suggest you refer to the Act for more detail, but I suspect it will help you. However, if access is possible some other way (just easier over the neighbouring property) you may not succeed. Further, you will probably have to pay the neighbour and the Access Order would specify the amount to pay and period for which you can have access. I suggest you speak with someone who knows about such matters. In Maidstone there is a Chartered Surveyor called Chas Bedford and he would be able to assist you in such matters.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
Jackdaws make unwelcome visit in to our house via the chimney
FROM:
Lynn Norton
(Essex)

I have a grade 2 listed Georgian building. Jackdaws come back every year and nest in two of the chimneys, which are, on the outside, rectangular and house 3 flues each. These birds either fall down into the house or, in one case on the top floor, have dropped sticks down the total height of the chimney over the years filling it up totally. Is there anything on the market which enables me to stop the birds nesting, whilst still being able to use the fires and obviously leave well ventilated. A simple grid over the top would probably just get covered with their nest and block it off totally. Anything else would be visible and therefore would have to be passed by the local Listed Building Department at the Council. I have talked to the Council and they don't have any ideas. Have you come across this problem before and do you have any suggestions?

Lynn Norton

I have recently had a log burner fitted and at the top a cowling/cage was fitted designed specifically for this purpose - to allow the chimney to be used but to prevent birds nesting. I suggest you speak to a flue specialist because as far as I am aware such products are readily available.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
How do we stop our sandstone cellar walls crumbling in our dry cellar?
FROM:
Tessa Howard
(Derbyshire)

How do we cure sandstone crumbling to sand in our cellar? We have a property approx. 150 years old, built of sandstone and brick. The house seems in good condition and stable. However, the top of the sandstone walls in the cellar, where they meet the beams, are crumbling - and piles of sand have been swept up over the year. The walls are painted in some sort of white gloss-looking paint, but this has peeled off at the top. The cellar is fairly dry and used for storage. What can we do to prevent further deterioration?

Tessa Howard

The following can only be a guide and you really need to seek advice locally from someone who knows what they are doing on historic buildings. A stone mason may be an appropriate person. The paint you mention sounds as if it could be a modern impervious paint system. If so this will hold back water (hence your dry cellar), but in turn this could exacerbate the deterioration of the sandstone. My initial thought (based on this limited information) is that the paint needs to be removed (chemically) and the stone needs to be assessed and repaired by a stone mason. If you then find that the cellar is not dry enough you could look at using a modern drained cavity system of lining that allows water to move through the stone without sealing it up.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
Have it thatched and add value!
FROM:
Darren Middleton
(Leicestershire)

We are in the process of purchasing a grade II listed property which has a metal sheet over the old remnant thatch, both of which are at the end of their service life. We have met the local conservation officer who insists the property be rethatched and would only consider an alternative covering (our preference being slate) if there was an exceptional reason. What might be an exceptional reason?

Darren Middleton

I cannot think of one. Why not re-thatch? Yes, thatch is more expensive, but you usually find that the property value is higher. Change it to slate and the value will reduce. I was told a couple of years ago by a developer that on one estate they put thatch on one building and it cost them c. 30,000 more, but it added 60,000 to the value. Remember that any covering other than thatch will be heavier and will almost certainly mean a new roof structure. Keeping the thatch you may have to repair the roof, but probably not renew it. A new roof will probably mean destroying ceilings, etc. and there is the issue of loading at the heads of walls. In fact changing the roof covering brings with it more problems than it might solve. For instance, the thatch will not have gutters and therefore any other roof will also need a rainwater disposal system that simply does not exist at present. Before going down the route of changing the roof speak to a good thatcher. In your area I suggest that you speak with Roger Scanlon, who is a master thatcher in the true sense of the word. For your information he dealt with a thatched roof for Marianne Suhr (BBC2 Restoration) and did a first class job for her. That was also an old thatch under tin that needed complete renewing, but she was able to simply renew the thatch and repair the roof, ceilings, etc. I hope this is of some help, although perhaps not the answer you were looking for.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
Should I use an acrylic sealant to on my newly lime plastered walls?
FROM:
Angie Darani
(Newcastle )

What can I use on my interior stone wall which I recently renovated with lime mortar in my shop. I have read something about not using acrylic sealants but ones that help it to breathe. I don't wish to colour the wall but rather to have it in its natural state.

Angie Darani

would advise that such sealants are irreversible and not as breathable as perhaps is really necessary. You could use pigmented limewash, or an earth paint. Look at the Ty-Mawr web site www.lime.org.uk.

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