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...

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SUBJECT:
Soot and sweeps
FROM:
Bernard Jones
(Dorset)

I have a thatched property with 2 large traditional inglenook fire places, and I burn wood on them, one open with a hood the other in a stove. On both I have fitted substantial steel soffits between ground and first floor with mansize access doors. The chimneys being so large I have been able to rendered the chimney stonework internally with sand and cement, right up to the brick stack. I know the current philosophy is to used a small liner and keep the flue temperature high and hence reduce tar deposit, but with the thatch, perhaps cooler smoke and tackling the tar removal is safer. My insurance company requires me to have the chimneys, professionally cleaned each year, but dangling a brush up an open void is as good as useless. How should a professional sweep deal with such chimneys and what would be the best way for me to remove the tar.

Bernard Jones

As you appear to have provided good sized access points to the upper levels it would seem to me that a sweep would be able to clean the chimneys to a large extent from these access points. With regard to the tar removal I suspect that most if not all of this could be removed mechanically (scraped or chipped off). There are some products that you can use that claim to remove tar deposits (e.g. The Chimney Cleaning Log from www.fluesystems.com) but I cannot comment on how effective these are

I note that you say the internal faces have been rendered with a sand/cement mix. This is really something you ought to have sought professional advice upon before undertaking. It is possible that the sand and cement mix you have used is acceptable but quite often a fire cement is required although in older chimneys a standard lime mortar was found acceptable and serviceable for centuries.

With regard to the use of the fireplaces I note that you have one open fire with a hood and you are quite correct in believing that the flue gases up the chimney will be cooler as this will naturally drawn cool air from the building up the chimney with it. However, with the stove it is more likely that the temperature of the flue gases towards the top will be higher. Whether the higher temperature of this particular chimney will pose a problem depends on the size of the chimney and the likelihood of the dry underside of the thatch becoming hot enough to combust.

On all of these matters you really do need to seek advice from a professional chimney sweep experienced in dealing with this type of property. You should start with finding a local member of NACS (National Association of Chimney Sweeps) on www.nacs.org.uk . Alternatively speak with a HETAS member (www.hetas.co.uk) or a member of NACE (National Association of Chimney Engineers - www.nace.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.
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SUBJECT:
Listed building consent blocks moving into our dream home
FROM:
Sarah Powell
(Surrey)

We have found our dream home - a stunning Grade II property in the Garden of England. We found it a year ago, made an offer which was accepted, raised a glass or two of champagne and went about planning how we would decorate our new home. However 12 months later we are no closer to moving in and as I type find ourselves in a helpless catch 22 situation. The issue comes down to listed building consent. It seems that not all the paperwork for alterations seem to be in place and whilst the current owners testify that works were done prior to them moving in we have no proof. Our lenders will not agree a mortgage without confirmation from the council that all is in order, meanwhile our sellers are adamant that they will not invite a listed building officer in to view the property for fear of recrimination. So we are stuck, indemnity insurance is not a route we would like to consider, so do you have any advise on how we could perhaps move forward?

Sarah Powell

If the owners of the property really want to sell the house they have no option than to allow the Council Conservation Officer in to view the works and make an assessment as to whether any unauthorised works have been undertaken and will need to be removed or a retrospective application submitted.

With unauthorised works there are two main issues. One is the issue of a criminal prosecution and this would be against the person or persons who undertook the work or commissioned the work to be undertaken. This is clearly what your vendors are concerned about and the lack of proof could be an issue. However, the Council will also face a similar problem with proving who undertook the work or at least when the work took place and therefore who might have been the owner at the time, especially if there have been several owners in a relatively short period of time.

Unless the works are truly damaging to the property and likely to pose serious concerns it is quite possible that the Council will take a pragmatic view that if there is going to be difficulty about proving who undertook the work etc. a criminal prosecution is unlikely to take place no matter how much they might wish to do so. However you should note that some Councils are far more interested and vigorous at pursuing such matters than others.

The second issue is with enforcement. This can take place regardless of ownership or who undertook the work. It is simply to do with whether any of the work requires undoing in any way. The Council may take the view that whilst the work was not authorised it is not so damaging and therefore could remain. However, they might take the view that some or all of the work is damaging and requires reversal to what previously existed. This is nothing to do with criminal prosecution and the cost implication to the owner (whether it be the present vendor or yourself as the future owner) will be the cost of doing whatever the Council want done to rectify the situation.

There is no real option than to have the Council Conservation Officer inspect the property. However, to give both parties some indication of the likelihood of any action being taken by the Council it might be prudent to agree to share the cost of an independent conservation professional who can inspect the work and advise on whether there is a likelihood of a serious problem. The conservation professional could be an accredited surveyor or an accredited architect or any professional heavily involved and experienced in conservation works and applications for alterations to listed buildings. By seeking independent advice in this way both parties can have some guidance on what might happen before the Conservation Officer is invited to inspect. At the end of the day however, the Conservation Officer will need to be invited round to resolve this problem.

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:
Water ingress on the west elevation
FROM:
Margot Kneen
(Cornwall)

We live in a Barn with rubble wall construction in Cornwall . We have a very strange problem where when lots rain and wind lashes against west elevation, water drips in between new exterior and interior lintels and down interior of 2 new windows and doors. The rear of the external facing oak lintels above these openings are now wet to touch. In an effort to solve this problem which existed BEFORE lintels and windows were replaced we have repointed the whole west elevation using hydraulic lime, replaced rotten interior and exterior lintels and are now in process of replacing west elevation of roof as we thought water was blowing under badly laid roof tiles running down into cavity between outer and inner shell of rubble wall. We do not appear to have any damp penetrating walls themselves. New plaster has dried. Do you have any other idea what the cause could be or can you recommend who we should consult to get a second opinion.

Margot Kneen

The problem you describe is something that is best resolved from an inspection. There are several possibilities and water can often find a way in through the smallest of gaps that may be extremely difficult to see, especially from ground if the fault is at high level. Sometimes it is necessary to recreate the wet conditions by a hose test during dry weather in an attempt to narrow down the likely point of penetration etc. and then to enable more focussed investigation.

For further professional advice and assistance on this matter as you are based in Cornwall I strongly suggest you speak to David Scott (Scott & Co - 01872 263939) who is a chartered building surveyor (accredited in Conservation) based in Truro. He should be able to assist you or guide you to someone else locally who will be able to help in your situation.

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:
Lack of planning permission
FROM:
Amanda Hill
(Kent)

We are currently looking at buying a grade 2 listed farmhouse. It is a repossession. It has had a small flat roof extension which looks in keeping however am I correct in thinking that if the previous owners had not received planning permission then we would be liable for this either to knock it down and loose the extension or reinstate as per the planners details. I would be grateful if you could shed any light on this for us.

Amanda Hill

The simple answer is yes.

If the extension did not have permission then you might be able to get retrospective approval for it but this might be subject to some changes perhaps to the appearance or the layout or some other detail of it. If the local authority believe it is totally unacceptable you may well be required to demolish it completely and whether you could replace it with something more appropriate would be a matter for discussion with the planners.

This is not a dissimilar situation to the matter mentioned above. It is really something that can only be resolved by asking the Conservation Officer to inspect and to provide an opinion in advance. The previous owners might be open to criminal prosecution if they undertook the work but as this is a repossession it may be difficult for the Council to pursue such matters.

Your main concern as a potential purchaser is the practical implications and costs. I therefore strongly recommend that you ask the Conservation Officer to meet you on site to discuss further before you proceed with the purchase.

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:
Two flue liners in one chimney
FROM:
Dave Blair
(London)

We have bought a charming thatched cottage estimated at 400 years old. It is built as per the design of that period i.e. around a single central chimney stack. One of the downstairs rooms has a large Inglenook fireplace, and there is a second fireplace ‘back to back’ with this in the adjacent room. A preliminary survey of the chimney has shown that there are currently two flue liners installed, each serving one fireplace. These are elderly and need replacing. Ideally, we would like to have wood burning appliances in both these rooms, but the company that surveyed our property have stated that it is ‘against regulations’ to have two flue liners in one chimney. However, verbal advice from a second (HETAS approved) company has indicated that this is not always the case. Can you advise re this, and also what consents we are likely to require?

Dave Blair

The problem with old chimney stacks is that they were often simply an open void with no separation internally and therefore if several fireplaces utilise the chimney they simply all opened out into the one chimney stack. When lining such a stack the problem is that the liners will probably touch and there is certainly little separation between them.

I am not a flue lining specialist and you should of course be guided by the professionals who are properly experienced in dealing with this (e.g. the HETAS approved companies). See the other answer to a chimney question above for other possible sources of advice.

I believe it most likely that you will not be able to have two liners that are completely ‘floating’ and at risk of contact one to the other as this will simply cause a problem with heat and transference etc. and could lead to physical deterioration and failure of the flue liners themselves.

However, I believe it should be possible to insert two class one liners (class one required for this type of stove or open fire) and ensure that they do have some form of separation. This may even take the form of an external insulation layer around each of the flue liners so that even if they do come into contact there is an insulant between them to prevent direct contact of the liners themselves. That said, if they are properly fitted at the top and adequately secured throughout it may be possible to hold them apart and therefore have two liners occupying the same space.

This really is something upon which you require the advice of the flue specialist.

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:
Does the internal layout of my barn conversion concern the conservation officer?
FROM:
Martin Franz
(Yorkshire)

We are in the process of converting a barn, the barn is built onto a grade II listed building but is not listed. Both property's are in a conservation area. I don't have a problem with the externals of the building fitting in with the surrounding area but does the conservation officer have any right to dictate how we should do the internal layout of rooms etc seeing it is not listed? I would have thought that as long as the outside is compatible with its surroundings, we could do what we want internally as long as it complies with building regulations. Please could you advise?

Martin Franz

This is not an easy question to answer. If the barn is physically abutting the listed building it could be regarded as curtilage to the listed building. If it is (and I suspect this is the case in the situation you describe) the Conservation Officer will have quite significant input into the works both internal and external and would therefore have some right to state how the internal layout may need to be formed.

With regard to the listed building the external appearance will of course impact upon the setting of the listed building and will in itself be a matter for listed building consent application even though the barn itself is not listed. It could even be the case that internal works that have any impact on any physical part of the listed building (the party wall for example) would need listed building consent and an application may need to be made. This could therefore impact how the internal partitions are created and how they might physically adjoin any party wall etc.

The main issues here will be whether the barn is regarded as a curtilage building in which case your assumptions about the extent of control may be incomplete or inappropriate. The other issue is how any works impact on the listed building and this might include any works to what might be regarded as a party wall internally.

There is only one way to resolve your questions and that is to ask the Conservation Officer to attend the property to discuss with you. It may be sensible for you to seek advice from an independent professional consultant who can assist you and act on your behalf in discussing the matter with the Conservation Officer. I would suggest that you look for a suitably qualified conservation accredited architect or surveyor to assist you.

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