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:
Proposed wind farm leads us to withdraw from house purchase
FROM:
Iain McTaggart
(Northamptonshire)

My wife and I were planning to buy a 300 year old farmhouse in a rural location in Northants. We asked the vendor specifically he knew of any development plans on the farmland behind the property. He told us it could never happen as there was no access. We have subsequently paid money for mortgage processing, valuation and building surveyor and legal fees to the cost of approximately £2000.

We have just found out there are plans to build a wind farm with 8-15 wind turbines which are 120 metres high. Not only will at least two of them be visible from our garden but if we want to walk behind our paddock we will see them all.

When I asked the vendor he said he thought we knew. We have pulled out of the sale but want to know if the vendor had a duty to disclose this information to us under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

Iain McTaggart

Your question is one for a solicitor or conveyancer.  In general terms however our house buying system still works on the principal of buyer beware (caveat emptor). The changes in recent years to the system have meant that there is a questionnaire that the vendors have to complete and do so honestly.  Nonetheless it remains the case that it is for you and your advisors to find out as much about the property as possible. 

The first question I would have is whether the proposed wind farm is yet in the planning system as an application and if so this should have shown up on local searches and therefore your solicitor should have identified this and advised you.  If it is not yet at a formal planning stage I am not sure that anyone has the duty to disclose. 

Many things can be discussed in the local press for plans for this and plans for that but they do not necessary come to fruition.  The question here is whether the plans are simply an idea that has been put forward and has been in the local press (but not in a formal application to the Council) or whether there is a formal application.  If the former I doubt if you have any comeback.  If the latter you need to firstly question whether your solicitor should have found out about this.

There may be other avenues to explore in terms of whether the vendor should have disclosed knowledge about something that might not yet have been submitted for formal planning but could have a significant impact if it were to take place.  This is where you really do need legal advice.  In any event, please bear in mind that the above comments are merely some thoughts and you really do need to seek independent legal advice on your specific circumstances as to whether you may have a claim and who to claim against.  I am sorry I cannot help further.

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 can I reduce dampness in basement of listed property?
FROM:
Carol Butler
(Hampshire)

What is the best solution for a damp basement in a listed house?  I’ve tried improving the ventilation - the basement has a window that I can leave open - but although it improves it a bit anything stored in the basement still gets damp.  The house has only recently been listed and neighbours who had their basements tanked before the listing came into effect have dry basements.  I've been told I won’t get permission to tank now that we’ve been listed but the basement is virtually unuseable.  Is there anything that we could get permission for that would improve the dampness?  Many thanks for any advice you can give.

Carol Butler

There is no such thing as a “best solution” for any form of dampness in any property.  The situation has to be properly assessed and the problem analyzed before a suitable solution for that specific property can be devised.

I do not know from your posting whether the basement is full height and therefore potentially habitable, whether it is small or large or what the precise situation is.  You suggest that the basement is virtually unusable.   This is not unusual and with many properties this would not be a problem.  Provided that the dampness in the basement is not causing a problem to the structure and the building above it is unlikely to pose a serious risk.

It is of course a different scenario if the basement is something that you wish to convert and wish to use for storage in a way that the dampness must be addressed.  These are all matters for you to consider and I cannot advise without inspection and further detail.

As for the statement that you simply will not get permission to tank the basement, this is not strictly true.  I am presently in the process of making an application for dry lining a basement and converting to full habitable use in a Grade II listed house and there are many examples across the country where basements have been converted.  What is perhaps more important is the nature of the work and precisely what impact it may have on the buildings.

If you do a search of this site (not only the Agony Uncle postings but the forum as well) you will find many discussions about basement conversions.  The traditional tanking by applying a water based render against the wall is nowadays frowned about in most situations.  This is because the tanking will tend to drive the moisture elsewhere by diverting. This can then create problems for neighbours or other parts of the building.  In fact this may well be why your property is now suffering if your neighbours have tanked their basement.

The system nowadays preferred is a form of dry lining system i.e. a proprietary plastic membrane system such as Delta, Proton or Newlath.   These provide a dry internal surface whilst allowing the passage of moisture to continue behind without interference and therefore it does not cause diversion of the moisture and results in less of a risk to other parts of the property.  It is more involved (often requiring a sump and pump as well) and therefore more expensive but is often a better solution for creating dry basements in historic buildings.

If the problem is assessed and analyzed properly and a suitable scheme devised it is unlikely to cause any damage or problem to the rest of the property. In such instances I consider it unlikely that you should face too many issues with obtaining permission. Of course if the basement itself is of significant historic interest for any reason this might impact the comments above.

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:
Conflicting advice leads to confusion over death watch beetle
FROM:
Dette Barton
(East Sussex)

I have a problem with a small 2 bed cottage that I am told has evidence of death watch beetle. I am confused as I do not know what to do. I had a quote for the timbers to be sprayed, but am reading that this is a waste of money. I recently lost my job so money is tighter than ever, but I cannot afford to let this problem get me into further trouble.

Dette Barton

Death watch beetle can be destructive in some situations.  However, it depends upon the extent of infestation and other problems that may exist to the property.

Death watch beetle will find it difficult if not impossible to attack very old hard oak.  Therefore well seasoned oak dating back hundreds of years is unlikely to be affected and the holes that are normally seen in the surfaces of old timbers are from infestations that occurred early on the life of the building.

However, if the oak becomes wet and starts to rot then the timber becomes viable for infestation.  It therefore follows that with most historic buildings death watch beetle infestation will be found with damp problems.

By dealing with damp you would generally over time deal with the beetle infestation as well.  It is certainly the case that there is no point in attacking the infestation without dealing with the damp issue.

It therefore follows that to deal with your problem you must first identify where the damp is and what the problem actually is.  Once this has been undertaken you can then try to tackle the dampness.  In so doing you may encounter the timbers that are sustaining the infestation and you can directly attack and treat the infestation.  Simply spraying the surfaces of timbers around the area in a rather random manner is unlikely to deal with the infestation at all.  Chemical treatment can be effective but only if delivered straight to the nest and to insects themselves.

That said, you have to first question whether it is worth the upheaval of trying to locate this beetle infestation.  In some properties one or two insects will do very little damage over a long period of time.    You will need to assess how extensive the damage might be and whether you have perhaps just one or two beetles or a whole colony.  If the former I would still advise identifying the damp problem and dealing with that in due course, but I would certainly not panic about the infestation causing any major problems in the short term.  On the other hand if you have a major colony with many beetles then firstly you have a serious damp problem that needs to be addressed but yes you would then have to try to locate the colony and deal with it directly as indicated above.

The above is a brief guide that could be regarded as slightly simplistic but I hope you find this advice useful.  You really do need to find someone in your area who can give proper professional 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:
How do we remove tanking?
FROM:
Tristan Fry
(Wiltshire)

My partner and I are restoring our first home together - a 1760 cottage in a west Wiltshire town. Our next stage is to remove the tanking that a previous owner/idiot applied to an upstairs bedroom wall. The question is though, how on earth do we get the damn stuff off?! What seems the most common answer is diesel - which due to the smell as well as it being a liquid and the rest of the house being much closer to completion - I am not too keen on using.

Tristan Fry

It is not uncommon to find various materials used in the past to either decorate surfaces or protect them (e.g. in an attempt to prevent a perceived problem of damp etc).  The important thing in the first instance is to identify the material and a suitable removal system.  A company often involved in this sort of work is “Strippers” and to save any embarrassment when you do a Google search please use the following link www.stripperspaintremovers.com.  If you look at this site you will find a number of pages giving advice on removing certain materials from certain substrates.  Strippers provide a range of chemical systems to remove a variety of finishes.

It is possible that some of the materials that might need to be used to remove the material could be quite nasty but if you use any bespoke paint removal system the chances it will be less unpleasant than simply using diesel .

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:
High external ground level leads to damp
FROM:
Glynn Willis
(Nottinghamshire)

We recently have purchased Georgian property which has rising damp and I’m hoping you can help with some problems that I don’t know what to do with. We've been lucky to have made good friends with a couple who have just restored a 400 year old property that is built in a simular way to our own and have given us some great advice on how to go about some of the problems we have. i.e. remove concrete screed off the walls, don't have chemical d.p.c put in, lower the ground levels around the outside of the house as they are higher compared to the floor levels in the house and put more air bricks in where this is possible. What we're not sure of is what to do with the floors. They are concrete with hard core base on top of clay and no d.p.c. The walls are made of brick outside and stone inside which is rubble filled. We’ve been advised to remove the floors and replace with limecrete with no d.p.c to help the building breathe and all of this should help control the damp problem

Is all of this correct and is there anything else we can do to improve this problem?

Glynn Willis

I would firstly suggest that the term rising damp is not necessarily the most accurate description of your problem.  From what you describe you have dampness at low level around the building affecting  both walls and floor.  Whether this is due to the fact that the ground level has been increased externally and/or whether there is a high water table or some other reason is of course not clear without further investigation and inspection.

The approach you seem to have taken so far is one which seems very sensible in that lowering ground levels and allowing the walls to breathe is generally found to be most successful way of dealing with dampness towards the bases of walls in older buildings.

Concrete floors can cause a problem particularly if there is a high ground water table or the floor is set below natural ground level externally.In such instances it is often necessary to find a way of dealing with the problem.  Simply laying a modern concrete floor with a membrane in it can result in the dampness being driven from under it and out and into the walls to increase the problem in the walls.  This does not always happen but it is a possibility.

Laying a complete limecrete floor throughout is a solution and would probably be a satisfactory solution in your situation.  However without investigating further I cannot say that this is definitely the case.  Further, limecrete floors tend to be rather expensive.

A solution I have come across on occasions is as follows.  A channel of perhaps six inches wide is cut away around the perimeter of the floor and a limecrete type of mix is poured around the perimeter.  A series of holes (c.50-75mm diameter) are then drilled through the concrete surface in a pattern across the floor such that it resembles a mesh but with not too many holes because you do not want to weaken the concrete.  The holes can then be filled with a limecrete mix.  Once this has been undertaken what you have created is a breathable floor without having to take up all of the concrete.  You will then need to finish this in a way that will work but much the same as you would have done for a limecrete floor anyway.  Therefore the better material for finishing a limecrete floors tends to be bricks laid in lime or other breathable hard finishes such as clay tiles or natural stone floors.  You could even spread a layer of limecrete over the floor and use this as the floor surface.   The important thing is not to cap it with anything impermeable which would then simply trap moisture underneath then would have destroyed the whole purpose of the work.

If you have the money to completely replace the floors and are prepared to withstand the costs of limecrete then I would suggest that this probably is the best solution.  The alternative is a compromise as indicated above that I believe would still resolve the problem.  Of course without seeing the property I can only give general guidance but hope you are able to find someone local to you that can assist you further along the lines suggested above.

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:
Limecrete provides breathable kitchen floor
FROM:
Deborah Harrison
(Devon)

Edwardian House from 1913. I am about to have a new kitchen, but the floor needs sorting first. Currently Norfolk pamments laid on sand, which have a latex screed over & old lino on top. The latex screed is impossible to get off the pamments, & they are not reversible, therefore I need a new floor. There is no damp course in the house & a surveyor recommended keeping all the downstairs floors "breathable ". The other downstairs floors are wood on solid floors - no air bricks. Should I use limecrete, & if so, what breathable floor covering is suitable for a kitchen? Advice would be much appreciated, I am stumped!

Deborah Harrison

The answer I have given to the question above from Glynn Willis will probably also answer your problem.  In your instance it seems that your floor will have to come up anyway and if you are laying a completely new floor then a limecrete floor would seem to be the most sensible.

The best finishes for limecrete floors tend to be brick or clay tiles in other words something that is permeable and the reason brick can often be better is because it involves quite a lot of lime filled joints that allow the breathing of the floor in the joints between the bricks.  Larger clay or stone tiles tend to have fewer joints therefore fewer areas through which the moisture can escape from underneath.  My preference would therefore be for brick but there are other permeable finishes that you could use.  The important thing is try to use something permeable and not something that will simply result in trapping in moisture once again.

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 purchased a listed property but didn't know it
FROM:
Kate Stott
(Nottinghamshire)

We have recently purchased a converted cow barn in October 2010 following all legal requirements through to completion. After contacting the local planning department with regards to improvements to the property we have not been told our property is Grade 2 Listed. The estate agents have not advertised the property as such and the solicitor has never advised us that the property was listed despite all the relevant searches. In all the documentation we have received nothing indicates the property we own is listed. We most likely would not have bought the property had we known it was listed as it was always our intention to extend and alter. Obviously there are now huge financial implications that we have not budgeted for. Do we have any legal rights please?

Kate Stott

This question is really best placed before a lawyer.  However I have had some experience of acting as an expert witness in similar cases (none of which ended up in court – all were settled).

Firstly, please check and confirm that the property is listed.  If it is there should have been a note of this in the local searches, unless it was listed during or after the searches were undertaken.  Sometimes (very rare) a Council does not identify a property as listed and if this is the case you would need to seek legal advice as to the likelihood of success against the Council.

In any event, whether a property is listed and the list description are nowadays easily found on the web and I would suggest that someone somewhere should have known and should have made it clear.

You may have a case for action against the vendor (if they are shown to have lied or not given a full answer to a key question) but you also probably have a case for action against the solicitor.  These are matters that need to be investigated carefully because the precise circumstances of what was said or not said at the time may impact whether you could or could not pursue action against anyone.

However, it is quite possible that you have more than one possible target for potential litigation if that is the route you choose to follow.

Most list descriptions are now on line through Heritage Gateway, Images of England and now English Heritage has a web page dedicated to searching for listed buildings.  For most people and certainly for professionals there is little excuse when it comes to knowing whether a building is listed.  It can often take merely 5 to 10 minutes to find out whether a building is listed by searching the internet through the suitable routes mentioned above.

You will therefore need to seek further advise and I can given no additional advice or comment on this matter based on the information you have put forward.

Nonetheless I would move on to discuss the intention to convert the barn.  You have made the assumption that because the building is listed you will be able to nothing or very little with it.  Despite your concerns and disappointment about the listing of the building the issue may not be as irretrievable as at first you may think.  I suggest that you ask for a meeting with the conservation officer and perhaps take with you an architect or surveyor or planning expert with experience in dealing with listed buildings particularly conversion of barns etc so that you can then sit down with the conservation officer and perhaps the planning officer to discuss what you may or may not be able to do to this building.

It is quite possible that you will be allowed to convert it but you might find that there are greater controls on the nature of the conversion, the subdivision within the building and the materials you use.  It may be that the conversion is not quite what you thought it would be in the first instance and could in fact be more expensive for you.  Nonetheless the fact that the property is listed need not put an end to your plans to convert the barn.  I would therefore urge you to investigate these aspects further before abandoning the project

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 can we 'lighten' the dark beams in our lounge?
FROM:
Krissy Haston
(Wiltshire)

We are coming to the end of renovating the lounge of our 17th century cottage but are stuck with the beams.  After years of staining they are almost black.  They are very oppressive.  How can I lighten them...sanding is too labour intensive!

Krissy Haston

It is not clear from your post whether the beams are simply stained through “pollution” as such or whether there is actually some form of coating or paint finish that needs to be removed.

In an earlier answer to one of the questions posed above I suggested approaching a company called Strippers and I think this might be appropriate for you.  However, when stripping internal beams such as this, care should be taken in case there are historic paint schemes underneath that are worthy of preservation.

When dealing with such beams I would not recommend sand blasting or seriously abrasive methods of removal.  This would therefore also rule out the use of any mechanical abrasive means such as a sanding machine etc. 

That said, some successful results can be obtained by carefully and gently hand sanding the timbers.  By doing it manually you can control the amount of pressure of sanding so that you only just take off the discoloured surface etc.  Further hand sanding tends not to lead to the typical ridging that can be seen when a beam is sand blasted.  The reason for this is that the grain of timber contains harder and softer elements and when hit by sand the softer elements erode slightly further leaving a slightly ridged finished.  When sanding by hand you avoid this problem.

That said a suitable removal system from Strippers might be appropriate.  The alternative of course would be to paint over the timbers because historically many internal timbers would have been painted and not simply left exposed.

If the building is listed it would be sensible to discuss these matters with the conservation officer in case the view is taken that listed building consent is necessary for the work.

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 a timber framed property with daub infill?
FROM:
Jenny Barnard
(Suffolk)

We need to remove the cement render from our timber framed house.  The infill between the frame is generally daub and just upright sticks.  Can you recommend the best way to add insulation before rendering in lime?  There is enough overhang on the roof to do this.

Jenny Barnard

There are a number of methods we use for insulating such a building.  One would be to counter batten over the frame and infill between the counter battens with an insulating material and in this instance a breathable insulation such as sheep’s wool might be more appropriate but it can be awkward to use.

You have to bear in mind though that it needs to be held in place because it will not simply stay in place without being secured back to the frame and/or the counter battens.  Once the face of the building has been covered with laths in preparation for the render, then of course the insulation will be held in place by the laths. 

Another possibility is to use a fiberboard or clayboard.  These boards would be applied to the face of the building and tend to breathable but also add insulating value to the wall before you then render over them.

If the building is listed you will need to seek permission to undertake such work.  Although in many ways the work could be regarded as repair the extent of it is such that one could argue that it may alter the appearance therefore you may need listed building consent.  I suggest you speak further with the conservation officer.

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 long should I leave floor treated for wood worm before re-laying carpet?
FROM:
Dawn Foulstone
(Yorkshire)

I have just had my floor treated for woodworm and I need to know how long I need to wait to put down a new carpet?

Dawn Foulstone

If you have just had your floor treated I am surprised that the company themselves did not advise you on this matter and I would suggest that your first port of call should the treatment company.

I suspect that by the time you read this it would be perfectly acceptable to put the carpets down as it would have been some time since the treatment.

If the floor is ventilated below then the re-carpeting could probably take place fairly quickly after treatment.  If it is not ventilated from below and ventilated into the room, then the windows need to be left open to ventilate the room for a while but I would have thought no more than a few days would be necessary before the carpets could then be laid.  Of course ideally you should get a damp meter to make sure that the surfaces are dry before you lay anything down but this is perhaps a bit extreme for most people and in most situations.

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:
Please advise on restoring reed flooring
FROM:
Janet Tanfield
(Cambridgeshire)

We are considering purchasing a Grade II listed farmhouse, but have concerns regarding the flooring i.e. lime screed and reed flooring which is cracked in a number of places can you advice on how we should go about renovating it.

Janet Tanfield

The type of floor you mention is in fact quite rare but these are often found in the Midlands and is a lime-ash floor.  Some years ago SPAB did quite a lot of work relating to lime-ash floors and do have a guidance note.  I would suggest that you contact SPAB and obtain their guidance notes and perhaps speak to their technical advisor (Douglas Kent) for more advice and certainly for guidance as to who may be assist you in your locality.

Because it is quite a specialist material it does require careful repair and you really do need to find someone who has experience of dealing with this.  I hope SPAB should be able 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.
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SUBJECT:
Council conservation officer calls on us to repair work undertaken by former district council who owned property
FROM:
Christopher Blount
(Cornwall)

We are a charity company which has received the freehold to a Grade II Listed property from a former district council (now part of a new unitary authority). In applying for permission to restore this empty building, the Conservation Officer tells us we are liable to repair major acts of  'vandalism ' that were carried out by the council's own contractors, e.g. pointing the entire exterior and internal stonework with cement mortar. This was done around 3 years ago. The council says we have no claim against them as we signed a contract to take over the property in its current condition. Where do we stand, as the necessary work will cost us dear?

Christopher Blount

This is another matter that really requires legal advice.  The detail of the contract and precisely what took place may influence what you can and cannot do in terms of trying to recover costs etc.

With regard to the works themselves if the present Council decide to take enforcement action to rectify past faults and problems etc then you have the normal means of appeal (and of course negotiation) to ensure that the enforcement notices are reasonable in their extent and timeframe.  That said I doubt there is little you can do to simply stop the Council taking such action.  It is best to speak to them and explain the situation so that they will hold off taking action for as long as possible.

In terms of the legal situation I am not convinced  that it is quite as clear cut as you have been led to believe so far.  Although you may have signed a contract to take over the property in its present condition it may be down to the wording of the contract but you may not have necessarily agreed to take on legal problems.  Condition is one thing but failure to comply with obtaining listed building consents etc is a different matter.

From what you describe the previous owners committed a criminal offence to a listed building by undertaking unauthorized work.  Whilst the Council could not prosecute your charity as they did not undertake the work, in theory the Council could prosecute the previous owners for unauthorized work to a listed building.  It is of course highly unlikely that they would take such action against another Council.  Nonetheless the fact remains that you may not have been fully aware of the legal issues with regard to the past unauthorized works etc.  You may therefore have a case for taking the matter further against the previous owners, not on the basis of the physical condition as such but on the unauthorized work and the fact that they have left you in this position facing the enforcement action.

That said there is also the principal of ‘buyer beware’ and you have to look at what advice you were given and by whom.  Did you have a survey?  Is this something that someone (surveyor or solicitor for example) should have identified prior to your purchase?

Such a case can be quite awkward to pursue but I have been involved in the past as an expert witness in a similar matter and therefore know that it can be pursued.  It does however depend on the precise wording of the contract and the circumstances of your purchase etc.  You really do need to seek legal advice on this matter.

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