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:
Repair works via insurer lead to further problems
FROM:
Tracey Gillett
(Lincolnshire)

We have recently undergone a lengthy battle with our insurance company to have the subsidence in our Edwardian Semi repaired.  Resulting in the rear of the property being underpinned almost 2 years ago.

We now have visible damp in the middle of the property (above which on the first floor there was substantial cracking, it was not deemed necessary to underpin the front because it was felt that it was the back that was moving and once that had been stabilised the subsidence would stop.)

It has been mentioned that the damp could be attributed to the subsidence causing the dip to be damaged. The rest of the property was tested with a hand held damp meter and shown to be damp in many areas, particularly where the house was underpinned.

Do you think that we have cause to return to our insurance company to deal with this matter?

We originally placed the claim with our insurance company 6 years ago, it took 4 years for them to agree on and complete a course of action!

Tracey Gillett

I suggest you revert to the insurance company and explain that the problem has arisen since the work they paid for. I assume that a loss adjuster was involved perhaps with an engineer and I suggest they should all be informed so that between them they can decide who is going to look into it.

They may try to tell you that it has nothing to do with the work, etc and you should be prepared for such a discussion.

Perhaps more importantly the problem should be properly and fully analysed. You should seek advice from a building surveyor or independent damp specialist who understands this type of building and can provide advice that is not tainted by having a vested interest in selling a treatment system, etc.

If the analysis and advice turns out to indicate that this is merely a coincidence and nothing to do with the insurance related works your approach to the insurers will be at an end. However, if it can be shown that the problem is related to the insurance works in some way the independent report should help you in discussing the matter with the loss adjuster, etc, etc.

If you go back to the loss adjuster in the first instance it may be that the insurers will agree to and pay for the independent analysis.

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:
Can I use concrete aggregate in a limecrete floor?
FROM:
Mark Hughes
(Somerset)

Do you have rough cost comparisons for concrete vs. limecrete floors?

Can I used the existing concrete crushed to 10>mm for the aggregate in a limecrete floor? Would reclaimed parquet flooring or slate slab be suitable for use on Limecrete?

Mark Hughes

The simple answer is no regarding cost comparisons. I suggest you contact Mike Wye (based in Devon) who supplies the materials and may be able to assist with regard to cost. The cost will have a number of variable factors that means any comparison with other parts of the country and other properties (where the situation could be very different) is not particularly helpful. Nonetheless, the information I hear indicates that limecrete floors are at least double if not several times the cost of a concrete floor. This is largely because they are so much more labour intensive. Therefore if you DIY the work you may find the cost differential to be far more acceptable.

As for using the crushed concrete I would say not to that. The idea of a limecrete floor is to form a breathable and insulated structure that does not need a DPM (it manages moisture rather than excluding it). Using concrete will reduce the breathability and will not add any insulation quality.

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:
Flat roof makes Victorian property unmortgageable
FROM:
Irene Sherring
(Yorkshire)

We are trying to purchase a Victorian end terraced house built in 1900. There is a flat roofed kitchen extension built off the back of the property. It is approximately 13\' x 12\' and was built in 1975. The Mortgage Valuation Report says that the flat roof of the kitchen extension is approximately 30% of the total roof area and it is unlikely it will comply with modern building regulations. Consequently, the property is not suitable for mortgage.

Can the Team please offer us any advice or enlighten us as to why this should be the case? We are very keen to buy this property and the rest of the house seems to be in a reasonable condition. In fact, the kitchen extension also looks fine to us, but then we are not surveyors. We just cannot believe that it is unmortgagable and with a value of 0 too!

We have asked for more details as to why exactly it is unmortgageable and how it could be altered to make it mortgageable but have received no help/advice at all. If we knew what needed to be done then maybe we could do something constructive but to be so in the dark is very frustrating.

Any help on this issue would be much appreciated as we are going to have to pull out of the purchase soon if we can\'t resolve it and it has taken us a year to find a suitable property.

Irene Sherring

This is a rather annoying situation. Yet again perfectly sound properties are being condemned as unmortgageable because they fail to meet a modern standard. This is untrue generally.

Each mortgage lender will have its criteria for lending and it may be that for some they would not consider a mortgage on this property. You are right to be frustrated at being given no guidance. Without knowing whether the presence of a large area of flat roof is the problem, or the more specific issue of its construction means you cannot do anything about it.

There are of course many properties across the country with flat roofs over 100% of the building (think of all the blocks of flats, let alone any modern houses, etc) It is patently incorrect to suggest that all of these properties are unmortgageable (many have mortgages on them).

If this mortgage company has a fundamental problem with flat roofs simply find another mortgage company and they then lose the business.

However, if it is more specifically because of a technical issue (e.g. the nature of the covering, its condition, lack of insulation, etc) these are all matters that can be remedied. A property should not be condemned out of hand for something that can in fact be changed. I would normally expect a negative comment if there is a genuine problem, but this usually results in a down-valuation, retention or condition attached to a mortgage offer (or any combination of these).

The problem could be with the surveyor; who may have a 'thing' about flat roofs, or simply does not know what they are doing. If this is the case it may be sensible to get a second opinion. Remember that mortgage lenders rely on the surveyor to advise them on whether the property is a suitable security for the loan. As indicated above each lender has its own criteria but beyond that the decision to lend will be based on what they are told by the surveyor. An ill-informed surveyor could cause problems through ignorance, etc.

If I were you I would tackle the mortgage company again advising them they will lose all your business if they fail to respond. At the same time seek a second opinion from a local surveyor (there could be a specific problem that neither I nor you are aware of to these properties). You can then decide whether to go elsewhere for the loan, whether to challenge the present proposed lender, etc.

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:
Who can I trust to repair my inglenook?
FROM:
Tracy Ambrose
(Essex)

I have an early 17th century cottage in south Essex near the M25. I would like to have the inglenook and chimney restored but have no idea who to trust to do this work as it is a major part of the house. I have tried our local conservation officer but he cannot help. How do I know who to trust? Where can I go for this specialist work?

Tracy Ambrose

It really depends on what is required to restore the Inglenook. In terms of the fireplace itself a lot of the work may simply be careful brickwork using traditional soft red bricks and lime mortar.

However, where a specialist comes into their own will be in knowing what the specific features in the fireplace relate to (e.g. recess, etc) and how best to restore them. The specialist will also be able to assess the chimney as well and consider (perhaps with a local sweep/flue specialist) what work would be necessary to ensure an adequate draw up the chimney.

A company I know of that has undertaken this type of work for many years is John Ford and the web link is www.inglenookrestorations.co.uk .

I hope this 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:
My limewash when dry begins to flake. What's wrong?
FROM:
Linda Miles
(Suffolk)

I'm trying to limewash an external wall but after a day or two, the coat I have put out on starts to flake away from the wall. The lime wash is of 'milk' consistency and not too thick. What am I doing wrong?

Linda Miles

Without seeing it I cannot say. However, most failures are due to inadequate preparation of the background. This could mean that you have not removed enough of the previous finish and/or perhaps there is an impermeable finish to the wall that means the limewash stands no hope. Preparation is usually the key to success.

It could be that you are either over or under wetting the wall before application.

Are you putting anything else in the limewash mix that could be having a detrimental effect?

Once it is on the wall are you ensuring that it is neither drying too quickly or too slowly? Limewash, like all lime products, need a bit of TLC to get them to work - you cannot simply brush it on and walk away. If the weather is too hot, too dry, too wet, or too cold and you have done nothing to control the drying of the limewash this could explain your problems.

I suggest you go to speak with Anglia Lime (based just outside Sudbury) who should be able to give some advice.

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 re-plaster walls with lime & will I suffer problems because of salt contamination?
FROM:
Andy Richardson
(Yorkshire)

I live in a mid 18th century cottage (some parts possibly earlier) constructed from hand made bricks to form solid wall construction. The living room had damp patches rising up the wall and had done so for many years according to previous owners. The specialist survey we had conducted attributed this to the 'modern' concrete floor laid over DPM and suggested we lay a limecrete floor. We have done this and also removed all the plaster from the walls where we found that modern materials had been used during an attempt at chemical damp proofing. My question is this - should we just go ahead and re plaster with lime or are walls that have been wet for many years still going to give us problems due to salt contamination? I have been looking at using some kind of membrane barrier such as the John Newton Newlath 2000 system but this is extra cost and not really that traditional. The walls have been left bare for over a year to dry out.

Andy Richardson

It is true that a wet wall can take some time to dry out, but I would have thought a year long enough. If it is only an issue of dampness I suggest you put your lime plaster onto the wall (or one section of wall) and see what happens. Of course make sure you prepare and apply it properly.

If however there is a real risk of salts (e.g. if the property was once a cowshed or stable) then it may be sensible to apply a lime poultice to an area to see if salts are drawn out. If so continue with this over the walls to get rid of the salts. Alternatively apply the lime plaster but regard it as sacrificial if the salts come out.

I suggest that some careful localised sampling of the brick wall core could reveal whether there is a salt and/or damp problem. Some specialist companies are able to offer such a testing service. They come and drill out a small sample and provide you with the results.

I would suggest dry lining (with a membrane system if you like) only if the problem of damp is never going to be resolved (e.g. the ground level is higher than the floor and will never be lowered), or if the salt contamination is so great that it will take a long time to get rid of it.

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 get my roof rafters sprayed for woodworm before I move in?
FROM:
Cathey Webb
(Bristol)

Is it worth getting loft timbers sprayed for woodworm in a house built around 1900 before moving in? We cannot tell whether it has woodworm in the loft timbers but one company has advised me that it is worth spraying any building over 40 years of age and guarantee their treatment for 30 years. There is no existing guarantee on the property and it is not obviously damp inside.

Cathey Webb

Only if the infestation is active. Why would you want to spray timbers (therefore applying a poison in your property) and spend money unnecessarily?

The COSHH regulations specifically prohibit precautionary spray treatment. The company that advised you are not a company I would use.

Look at the timbers. Are there holes about 1-2mm in diameter (usually along the sapwood - i.e. edges)? If so are the holes quite dark and dirty when you look at them? If they are they are historic. If the interior appears clean and bright as if freshly formed (think about what the timber in a new drill hole looks like) then you could have an active problem.

If you are unsure find some areas where there are holes and paste tissue paper over them in about March next year. If there is activity the emerging beetles (in the Spring) will chew through the tissue and you will see fresh holes. If you have obvious signs of an active problem you could then consider spraying. However, if the infestation is limited I would still tend to save my money for something more serious - on the basis it is unlikely to be doing much harm and will die out soon enough.

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:
We've started work, but should we seek the relevant permissions?
FROM:
Mr Maypole
(Suffolk)

We have recently taken over a Grade II listed property which is to be used for commercial purposes. The gable end wall was partially removed at least ten years ago and an unsuitable lintel was put in to carry the load. Due to a bowing in the ceiling, we have begun to carry out work to rectify this under the advice of a structural engineer involving three pillars and an RSJ being installed to support the load.

However, we had not applied for planning permission. As the work is currently unfinished, should we seek permission now?

Mr Maypole

It is the sort of work that would normally require listed building consent. If you continue and undertake unauthorised work you could face criminal prosecution!

I suggest you hold early talks with the Conservation Officer and discuss a retrospective application.

You would argue the work was urgently needed and was not apparent until the other work commenced.

I would question why the professionals involved did not deal with this properly and seek the input of the CO at an early stage.

Of course there is the possibility that if you invite the CO to visit other works may be identified for which consent should have been obtained. This is a bridge you will have to cross. If you simply carry on as at present there is a risk of a prosecution and I suggest having a criminal record is not worth it.

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 entering through basement foundation bricks causes flooding
FROM:
Al Lamb
(Lancashire)

I live in a Georgian town house and currently my basement that has been converted and tanked out has water entering through the foundation bricks on the left hand side. From having cover on my household insurance and united utilities drain and pipes cover, the incident is not being resolved. As no one can ascertain what or where the water is coming from. I myself witnessed the water pouring out of the brickwork like a teapot pouring! Yet no one can say what it is. My neighbours on that side are being very defensive and seemingly unwilling to help us as they conclude that their property is dry and so the problem is ours.

The water appearing has no pattern at all. When it rains it doesn't automatically appear and when it's sunny and dry outside I will have emptied 2 bucket fulls within an hour of grey foul smelling water.

We are at a loss to what it is meanwhile water is still coming in and nobody appears to be able to solve the problem. Do you have any advice on our next steps?

Al Lamb

If the water is not directly related to rain it is more likely to be related to foul water leakage (i.e. drains). You could probably get the water authority to test it to establish this.

Just because your neighbour does not have an apparent problem (assuming they are telling the truth) does not mean that there is no problem.

You may need to seek legal advice, but you may have an action against your neighbour if you can demonstrate that the problem is coming from their property.

However, the most important thing is to establish what the problem is. It is of course impossible for me to analyse the problem without seeing the property, etc. Even then it may be that further investigation and perhaps even opening up will be necessary. Have you considered carefully removing some of the wall area around the section where water comes through to see if there is an obvious cause?

I am sorry I cannot be of more help, but it does sound as if you may have to physically trace the water back into and through the wall by opening it up. As this is a party wall you ought to serve notice on the neighbour and go through the procedures set down in the Party Wall Act.

If or when you find yourself breaking through into the neighbouring property your neighbour may realise that there is indeed a problem that affects 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:
I've got a rotten sole plate
FROM:
Wendy Braithwaite
(Suffolk)

I am considering buying an old house which is part timber framed construction (Tudor apparently). The survey has picked up a potential problem with the sole plate. The total area of the two walls involved is around 24X18 foot and I am trying to get information about how costly could this be. I have varying advice which goes from 15,000 to 26,000 all plus VAT and I am unsure how much to budget for such a job.

Can you also give me some information about sole plates as I have not owned a timber framed house before and really don't understand it all.

Wendy Braithwaite

Get the Shire Publications booklet by Richard Harris 'Discovering Timber Framed Houses'. If you can also get hold of a copy of Brunskill's 'Timber Building in Britain' you will find a wealth of information.

The sole plate is the horizontal timber at the base of a timber frame. It acts as a spreader for the loads through the building, as the 'footing' for the frame, it holds the verticals in place and acts as a barrier for damp (as damp gets into timber much easier in the end grain a piece of timber laid down horizontally will resist damp for a lot longer).

Sole plates are often the first part to rot if the base gets damp. However, a common problem is where there is a cement render that allows rain to run down the wall and collect at the base or at any horizontal or run into joints. This then results in rot to the joints and along the horizontal members. This is even more of a problem if the frame is exposed externally and the render infills between the frame members.

Of course you will need to get the sole plate repairs, but you may need to consider other repairs to the frame above and perhaps re-rendering with lime render if there is a cement render finish at present.

If you do not have a Schedule of Works/Specification and note of what is required each building contractor will interpret the work themselves and you may not be comparing quotes that relate to similar work. It may be sensible to have a Schedule drawn up so that all builders quote on the same basis. This Schedule should also include properly identified 'Provisional Sums' for those areas or items where the extent of work will not be properly known until the render, etc is removed and work actually underway.

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 insulate our croft house during restoration?
FROM:
Sarah Hunter
(Central Scotland)

My family own a Croft House on the NW Coast of Scotland. It has been in the family for around 120 years and dates around 1880

The property is of traditional solid rubble stone with later addition of two first floor dormers and a rear lean-to brick (cavity wall) extension. The stone portion of the house is lime render-harled externally with lathe and plaster & timber lining internally. Around 3 years ago the house caught fire, which has caused major physical and structural damage. A structural Engineer has visited the property and has deemed the external stone work structurally sound, however the roof, dormers, stairs and floor joists have all caved in and the internal finishes are destroyed.

For sentimental reasons it is our intention to rebuild the property exactly as was but where possible bringing it up to a comfortable liveable standard.

As the building has now been exposed to the elements for around three years, and due to its traditional method of building, We are keen to get a roof back on and start drying out the 560mm thick stonework to prepare for restoration.

I understand that there is a certain amount of integrity lost when a traditional building is modernised internally, However the West coast of the Highlands is freezing at the best of times, so we want to insulate. We are based in Edinburgh, and therefore the house is unoccupied a great deal of the time, therefore it won't constantly have heating on and windows opened.

I have done a huge amount of research into insulating properties of this type and resulting interstitial condensation. What I have found is a lot of people advising what not to do. I would be grateful if someone could advise on a detail TO DO.

We are proposing:-

EXTERNAL

  • re-lime render externally
  • exist 560 thick rubble stone wall (dried out)
  • 25mm air gap (not ventilated)
  • Tyvek breathable membrane
  • Insulation/ timber frame (to U/ Value requirement)
  • Vapour barrier
  • Thermaline plasterboard
  • skim coat

INTERNAL

The dormers allow for two bedrooms at first floor level so the roof space and eaves will be insulated, ventilating below the tiles at the gutters and out at the ridge.

Does this sound plausible? Or will interstitial condensation still prove problematic?

Sarah Hunter

You need someone to prepare a damp profile through the wall

The system you describe sounds feasible, but without proper calculations I cannot say whether you will or will not get interstitial condensation.

If you do get interstitial condensation what damage will result? You mention a vapour barrier and therefore the internal surfaces, etc should be OK. If the outer wall is breathable the moisture should eventually get out. The worst that may happen is the timber frame for the dry lining may rot, but if you use pre-treated timbers this should not be a problem for many years.

The other concern may be older timbers buried in the main wall structure.

What you describe does not cause me any major concern and it is probably OK, but to be certain have a damp profile for the system prepared.

You may find the article in Context helpful - see this web link: http://www.ihbc.org.uk/context_archive/103/broklebank/page.html

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:
Will inserting a plastic floor DPM really leading to increased damp around the walls?
FROM:
Nick Collins
(Devon)

Having only recently discovered the Period Property web site and also being in the throws of renovating our own 17th century cottage, my wife and I have found much useful information on the site.

I was particularly interested in your recent Agony Uncle response (Authorities insist on damp proofing) to the issues of introducing a damp proof barrier in the floor, as this is a problem that I have also had to deal with, although this is not at the assistance of the local heritage department.

Two of the floors in our cottage have very badly worn quarry type tiles laid on earth and I am in the process of digging these up and replacing them with a concrete floor with a polythene type damp barrier and 50mm of insulation, this on the advise of my surveyor and builder. I'm doing the donkey work; my builder will lay the new floors.

The soil appears damp, but is not soaking and I therefore cant see how laying the barrier will increase the dampness at the base of the wall, also if this was the case then does this matter as it is obviously in the wall below the level of the floor and the damp barrier (which I understand comes vertically up the wall) and will obviously protect the edge of the floor.

As I'm getting close to handing the job over to my builders can you provide any further advice and more importantly any likely implications that could occur if I were to proceed with laying new floors in concrete?

Incidentally my surveyor did mention Lime flooring system in our earlier planning stages, but had suggested significant cost implications to that of a conventional concrete floor!

Nick Collins

If a property is on the top of a hill and the sub-soil is free draining it is unlikely that it will ever have a problem of a high water table under it. Conversely if a property is in a valley by a river the water table could be very close to the underside of the floor.

In the former situation a DPM would seem superfluous and in the latter perhaps essential.

The first question therefore is how serious is the problem of damp beneath the building (and consider this over the seasons and include periods of high rainfall)?

If you have a limited or low problem then the likelihood is that whether you put a DPM in a concrete floor in the building it is unlikely to push water out to increase damp at the bases of walls and chimneys - simply because there is no damp to displace.

However, if there is a risk of damp the insertion of a barrier will stop the damp affecting the floor, but it may become displaced to increase the damp in the walls and/or chimney. Just because the floor DPM is wrapped up the floor edges does not mean the walls are protected.

Of course, if a DPC is inserted in the walls so that the damp proofing is continuous through floors and walls this could form an effective barrier. The problem here is ensuring that the damp proofing is continuous (extremely difficult when retro-fitting in an old property). Generally chemical systems are not particularly effective and if you went down this route you might need to consider cutting in a physical DPC.

The cost of such is of course high and it may therefore be appropriate to consider a breathable limecrete floor that 'manages' the moisture under it.

Yes, limecrete floors are more expensive, but sometimes to achieve the same thing in other methods can cost as much (if you have to physically cut in a DPC).

I cannot advise specifically on your property without seeing it, but you must consider the levels of damp and the risk of the damp being displaced to the walls and chimneys. Only then can you decide what system to go with.

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