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:
My valleys need urgent attention
FROM:
Nick Williams
(Staffordshire)

We are having some work done to the roof of our 1869 house. The roof is tiled and has 2 valleys running front to back. Although the valleys are not leaking copious amounts of water at present they do look in need of attention and concern has been raised about some leakage into the loft space from the valley region. Our roofer has suggested the use of a paint-on sealant product (Cromar all weather roof coat, or one of Cromars acrylic based paint-ons) on top of the existing lead within the valley. To me this seems to sound like a "bit of a bodge" and I’m concerned we are going to have to redo the valleys in no time at all. Do you have any experience in the effectiveness of these treatments and how long I should expect them to last? Would I be better to insist on a traditional repair and re-leading? Is there a better alternative to both these options?

Nick Williams

I have not personally used the product you mention but have heard of it and similar.  Any such coating is at best a temporary repair and cannot be regarded as a permanent solution.  It is certainly recognised that a well formed lead lined valley is most appropriate and long lasting for a building of this type.  However, historically and in modern times there have been many attempts at using other materials because of the cost of lead and at present the risk of it being stolen.  There are many products that can be used to cover lead where it has begun to fail.  Some can last a considerable period of time (10 years or more) but others last a relatively short period of time.  My suspicion is that the product you mention will probably provide a few years useful protection.  My concern is that the movements of the lead (thermal movement) could lead to cracking and failure of the coating so that leaks will again occur due course.

A more significant problem is the fact that coating the lead in this way will help to reduce the amount of moisture that can naturally escape by evaporation through lead joints etc.  This then increases the risk of condensation to the underside of the lead and this will cause the lead to deteriorate more rapidly.

My advice would be to have the lead valleys completely stripped and re-formed in lead.  However the cost of this may exceed your budget.  As an alternative you could ask a lead specialist to assess whether the defects in the lead can be repaired.  Depending upon the nature of the problems it may be possible to repair the lead to give it some extra life.  The practicality and cost of doing this may mean that it is not worthwhile.

Before embarking on any coating of this surface I would urge you to have the lead valleys inspected in greater detail.  It could be that there are splits that are allowing water to leak in, in which case the question has to be asked whether the split could be repaired.  It could be that the lead is leaking at joints in which case one has to ask whether the joints could be reformed in some way to prevent this.  It could be that there are blockages resulting in water backing up and into joints and over spilling the top of the lead rather than coming through the lead itself.  If this is the case the blockages need to be cleared.  It could also be that the lead has reached the end of its effective life and needs to be renewed.  If this is the case and you cannot afford lead to replace it, it would be better to consider some form of lead substitute or another material that is cheaper than lead but forms the same basic function.

If you decide to go down the route of using the products mentioned and coating the lead I would regard this as a short term repair allowing you to save sufficient money to then have the valleys properly dealt with in a short period of time of say perhaps no more than five years.

It does sound however as if before you make any decisions you need to have a more detailed assessment made.

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:
Advice needed concerning retrospective listed building consent
FROM:
Georgina Shaw
(Lancashire)

We purchased a Grade 2 listed property ten years ago.  The sellers had carried out extensive work internally and externally to which they obtained retrospective planning permission. There still remained a lot of work to do, however, and we carried out some alterations, mainly, converting the attic space by addition of a new staircase.  We did not seek planning permission as we did not want to wait to press on with the work.  We are thinking of selling the property and are worried that the lack of permission may come to light.  Should we seek retrospective permission or hope for the best?

Georgina Shaw

Without knowing precisely what work you have undertaken the basic information you provide leads me to think that you are justified in being very worried.

Any alteration to a listed building requires consent and failure to consent can lead to prosecution and enforcement action.  In this instance if you are saying that you converted the attic space and installed a new staircase without listed building consent these are quite significant alterations.  Whether the council would wish to pursue a prosecution for the unauthorised work or enforcement action to reinstate the building to a state prior to these works is impossible for me to say without knowing a lot more about the case.

It could be a situation where the council would have given consent if an application had been made. If this is the case they are unlikely to pursue enforcement action and it will simply be a decision for them as to whether to prosecute. The decision as to whether to prosecute is largely out of the hands of the conservation officer but more a financial assessment by the council and whether it is a worthwhile exercise on which to spend taxpayer's money.

The best scenario for you would be that there would be no enforcement action and no prosecution. However I suspect that as soon as the authorities are aware of these works you will face an investigation and have to answer questions as to why you proceeded in the manner you did. This is regardless of the outcome.

The worst-case scenario could be that you are not only prosecuted but also are required through enforcement procedures to reinstate the building to its previous layout etc.

The only certain way of finding out what will happen is to contact the local authority and be completely honest about what has happened and to see what then ensues. However before you get to that point it may be worthwhile finding a local conservation specialist who deals with such listed building consent applications on a regular basis and can advise you as to the likelihood of the situation either going to prosecution and/or enforcement.

The fact that 10 years may have elapsed is no protection against such action when it comes to a listed building. There are limits on how long after works a council may take action when it is merely a breach of planning or perhaps building regulations. When it comes to listed buildings and listed building consent there are no time limits.

It is impossible to predict what might happen in this situation. I would however advise you that I also believe it will be impossible to sell the property without resolving this. Any competent surveyor who understands historic buildings will identify the alteration and alert the purchaser to ask whether consent was obtained and the solicitors will then check the local authority records to find that no consent was obtained. I do not think any competent surveyor or solicitor would advise a client to proceed with the purchase knowing that there were alterations to the building for which no consent was obtained. Although the purchaser would not face the prosecution they might face enforcement action and they would then end up with a building different to the one they thought they were purchasing.

Although purchasers can sometimes take out insurance to cover them against the risk of council action in future I suspect that this is such a blatant matter that insurers would not be prepared to touch it or the premiums would be excessive. The risk of the council eventually finding out and taking action is high. One could perhaps argue that if the purchasers do not wish to undertake any work for which consent will be necessary in future and there is little chance of a conservation officer stepping inside the property or realising that the work has been undertaken then it might be that you could effectively "get away with it". However, in my view the risk is high and not worth taking. I would therefore urge you to seek further specialist advice and resolve this matter because otherwise I fear you will not sell the property.

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 find source of water in cellar?
FROM:
Klitos Georgiou
(Suffolk)

My problem is that my cellar seems to be constantly damp and on occasions I've had about a foot of water. I dug a small hole in one corner and put in a sump pump on a float switch. It seems to be going on and pumping water out every 5 minutes or so. I 'm not sure if it is a high water table or I should put in some land drains? We've been in the property about 3 years now. We never had this problem when we first came in. We have had a couple of wells filled in, a little distance away from the house, would that be a problem?

Klitos Georgiou

It is likely that the site has high ground water tables and the property is therefore sitting in what is, in effect, wet ground.  It could be that the wells used to help drain some of the ground water away and by in filling them you have taken away a form of drainage.  Without inspection and investigation I cannot say that this is the case but it is a possibility.

You say that you have been in the property three years and did not experience a problem at first.  I have to ask however whether the previous owners experienced a problem that they did not disclose to you or that you were not aware of.  I would also point out that the prevailing weather over the past three years has tended to be quite wet at times and has certainly been changing from some years back.

It is possible that clearing the wells and allowing them to function as wells could help to resolve the problem if indeed they were providing some drainage to groundwater near the building.

It will be necessary to undertake some boreholes to establish where the groundwater level is and to understand the moisture profile of the ground around the building to be able to provide further advice and guidance as to whether the wells might be useful if cleared once again.  The sort of specialist that might assist on this would be an engineer experienced in dealing with groundwater problems.

The other question you have to ask however is whether the cost of such investigation work is worthwhile for the problem you face.  You mention that the cellar fills with water occasionally and the pump is working quite hard to keep it clear.  In areas with high water tables this is quite common.  Provided the pump is of sufficient capacity then it is not necessarily a problem.  It will be costly in terms of electricity but it need not be a problem in terms of keeping the cellar reasonably dry.

The issue however is whether the cellar being damp on a regular basis is causing any problem.  If the cellar is well ventilated and completely clear then the fact some water lays on the floor sometimes may not be a problem.  You will need to ensure that there is good ventilation and possibly a higher level of ventilation than one would normally expect.  You may even need to consider extracting systems such as mechanical ventilators.  The important thing is whether the dampness is affecting the structure or any timbers to the structure of the floor.  If it is then you need to try to deal with it but if not then managing the situation may be a sensible solution.

Of course this does mean that the cellar may be un-usable.

I would suggest that you seek advice from a professional experienced in dealing with such problems. The professional may be an engineer, surveyor, or architect. The important thing is not so much the profession itself but the experience of the individual in dealing with such problems

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’s work on their property is a cause for concern
FROM:
Lee Shaw
(Derbyshire)

We have just moved into a 400 years old grade 2 listed building that has been split into 3 properties. We have a single brick wall that is attached to our neighbour’s house. There is an oak beam running through the wall supported by an oak pillar. Our neighbour is undergoing works which includes laying a new concrete floor, insulating and fireboarding the walls. They are also tanking the walls. My concerns are as follows:

Any moisture will now be redirected onto our side of the wall

Moisture will also stay inside the wall and cause decay

Moisture will rot the pillar supporting the beam supporting the 3 properties

My question is, am I over-reacting? Will the decay be minimal because the wall is internal and is breathable my side? Will the moisture be potentially sufficient to affect the paint work on our side as I'm not sure if its clay based? We have a radiator attached to the wall, would maybe the heat from the radiator be enough to dry out any redirected moisture?

This is a really stressful situation (and probably common) as I don't want to fall out with the neighbours but then I don't want the house to be damaged by badly thought out building work.

Lee Shaw

It is impossible to answer some of your questions without an inspection of the property.  It would also be necessary to have a clear understanding of precisely what it is your neighbour is undertaking and the extent of work they are carrying out.

I would firstly point out that some of the work you describe may come under works for which a party wall notice would normally be required.  If your neighbour fails to serve such a notice you could approach them and advise them that you could go to a court for an injunction or they can choose to follow the procedures properly.  Ensure that a party wall surveyor is appointed (you can choose to appoint your own) who properly understands historic buildings and the implications of works to the party walls.  The issue of how the works might affect the neighbouring property including damp transference through the wall will need to be considered by the party wall surveyors.

It is indeed true that if the neighbour provides a barrier to dampness on the other side of the wall moisture in the wall could be trapped and actually increase to then cause a problem that becomes apparent on your side of the wall.  The neighbour should of course be aware that if the structure is a party structure that any rot to it will affect his/her building as well as your own and any cost of repair would need to be equally shared.  Your neighbour could therefore be causing themselves an increased future cost by undertaking work in a way that creates a problem.

You mention that the building is listed and the works you describe are the sort of works that would normally require listed building consent. It would be sensible to speak to the local authority to establish whether the neighbour has obtained such consent. A conservation officer looking at the works you describe could reach a conclusion that tanking a wall on one side could lead to problems and damage to the structure of the building particularly the party wall. I would be surprised in such situations if consent was then given. However, without knowing precisely what has taken place already it is difficult to guide you in detail.

The two issues you therefore need to look into are whether listed building consent has been obtained and speak to the conservation officer about your concerns etc, and to establish whether party wall procedures have been properly followed and speak to your neighbour about ensuring that they are followed, if appropriate and applicable.

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 repair our lime ash floors and reduce dust?
FROM:
Rowena Ball
(Devon)

We have an old Devon listed cob farmhouse with lime ash floors to the ground floor.    They have damp patches which we are convinced are not condensation.    They are also pitted and rough in places and we would like to cover them with slate tiles.   There is no headroom for a 2 inch lime screed (even if that was suitable).   Is there any form of "adhesive" (breathable) we can use as we want to keep the old floors and this would satisfy the conservation officer.  It seems lime ash floors are rare and modern tilers are flummoxed.

Rowena Ball

As the building is listed you will need listed building consent for the works you are describing.  The conservation officer may have come across this situation before may be able to offer some advice and guidance as to what products and finishes they may regard as acceptable.

The thing to remember is that the existing floor will be breathable in that some of the ground moisture under it will be able to permeate through and evaporate away.  Anything that prevents this could create problems in future.

I appreciate that you may wish to provide a new finish that is not only more acceptable and practical from the day-to-day point of view but also provide some protection to the remaining floor below.  The thing you need to try to ensure is that the breathability of the floor is not detrimentally affected.

I therefore would not recommend the use of anything that does not allow breathability.  There are many forms of adhesive that claim to be breathable but are not sufficiently breathable for the circumstances you describe.  I would be extremely wary of such products.  I would also be extremely cautious about using slate tiles because slate is generally impermeable.  Any moisture can then only escape through the grout.  My preference would be to use something like clay pamments or quarry tiles that are not glazed and therefore have a degree of breathability.  These can then be laid on a bed of lime mortar with lime grouting.  This will then ensure breathability through the surfaces whilst providing a new more hard wearing finish.

I note that you are in the South West and wonder if speaking to someone like Mike Wye would be of some assistance as he might have come across the problem before and can supply appropriate products to assist you.

I therefore urge you to speak to both the conservation officer and someone like Mike Wye who has experience in dealing with this type of situation. I can fully understand that ordinarily tilers will not have come across this before but I am sure that specialists in historic building work would find this is not such a problem 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:
Are there any planning restrictions on what can be build next to a listed property?
FROM:
Clive Adams
(Derbyshire)

Are there any building or planning restrictions over what can be developed next to a Grade II listed residence? The residence is essentially single storey, albeit with bedrooms in the roof space. The proposal is to build a development of 2 storey houses next door to it, in place of an existing development of terraced single storey properties, which were occupied by elderly people but are now empty and classed as unfit for habitation. The site is owned by the local council / housing association that are also planning the new development.

Clive Adams

Where development is proposed in the vicinity of a listed building it is necessary to consider the setting of listed building.  This is a relevant planning consideration.  Therefore development next to a listed building has to consider the visual impact and impact on the significance of the building itself.

If the matter has already gone through planning and permission has been granted then it may be that you are too late to do anything about it.  However if the matter has not yet been decided you should raise a query or even an objection on the basis of the setting of the listed building being detrimentally affected by the proposed development.

The ownership of the neighbouring site and properties whether development is to take place should not be a consideration.  There are procedures that councils have to follow when they apply for permission to develop their own land.  You will need to ensure that such procedures have been properly followed.

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:
Damp in wattle & daub cottage is a concern
FROM:
Teresa Brown
(Suffolk)

We own a Timber framed house in Suffolk dating either late 17th or early 18th Century which was originally farm worker Cottage(s). The house not being listed has undergone considerable changes during the years now resulting in the fact that we (new to this type of property) can only guess what is original or not. The house has some wattle and daub and areas of brick, no cavities.  Our immediate problem is we have some damp in one corner. The house appears to be wattle and daub here, but there is a brick built pier in the corner. We dug either side of this pier to see what footings were there. On the front appears to be a brick footing, but on the side there appeared to be no footing? We could put our hand under the wall and feel the floor of the room. We need some expert help here from someone who would know what should be there and what action we should take to cure the damp, but who do we call? How would we know the person advising us has sufficient knowledge to advise us correctly?

Teresa Brown

Although the building is not listed the age of it and the materials used in its construction are of an historic nature.  Failure to appreciate this and to treat it as if it were a modern building could result in an incompatible approach in terms of new material introduced to undertake repair etc.  The issue here should be one of assessing the technical problems not whether it is listed.

You need to find someone who has experience in dealing with historic buildings and advising on technical matters.  The sort of professional that would be best equipped to advise in this situation is probably a chartered building surveyor specialising in historic building conservation.

To find some specialists you could go onto the find a specialist section of this website, you can speak to the local conservation officer for some indication of those who might be to assist, or you could seek some names from SPAB.

The problems you identify are not uncommon in older buildings particularly the lack of any depth to the brick footing etc.  It is also quite possible that the works already undertaken in the past might be part of the present problem.  The issue here is whether to revert to traditional materials and methods of dealing with the problem or, if the majority of the building has already been modernised, whether to remove the remaining sections of old fabric and to change the nature the structure in this area.  I would of course prefer the former, but have to accept that if the building is not listed (and for technical reasons it makes sense to do so) the loss of the historic fabric and rebuilding in modern methods might be a solution in this instance.

At present it is impossible to say for certain.  If the majority of the building still of historic nature then of course it is far more appropriate to revert to traditional materials for the repairs 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:
Hydraulic hammer used in school demolition potentially causes cracks in my property
FROM:
Lesley Tindle
(Dorset)

I am writing to you as I am extremely concerned about events that have occurred to my cottage. I live in a grade two listed thatched cottage dated 1642. In 1999 it was extensively refurbished including what were two cottages made into one, albeit quite simply by putting in a door! The cottage has been structurally sound since then with no major issues, the only one being slight inconvenience is the north side of the cottage is very cold other than that everything is fine. I live in Wimborne Dorset and there is a school next to me called Queen Elizabeth School and In the last 4 years they have been building a new school at a huge cost, the location of the new school has been slightly moved away from the present site which is a positive but they commenced demolition of the old school a few months ago. We were told it was to be demolished very slowly and bit by bit due to the asbestos in the old building however the noise machinery and mass of concrete has been incredible (don’t get me started on the dust!) in the last month they have been using a huge hydraulic hammer to smash up the concrete which has been running continuously day after day 'thump thump thump thump' apart from the noise I just grimaced and told myself it will all be finished soon and then it will be fine. A couple of weeks ago I noticed a crack appear by my back door, strange I thought and followed it up round the ceiling over doors through the kitchen and so it went on, to my horror beams are away from the walls, brick pillars have cracks in them, fireplaces have cracks appeared beams have come away from walls and generally the house looks to me as if it’s been shuddered somehow its truly frightening me as I’m finding huge cracks everywhere. I can totally promise you, this is absolutely new, I have decorated my house a few times and there is not been one crack on any wall ever. Without boring you and listing all the cracks that are appearing all I can say is I am so worried, my thoughts are that all this demolition plus the hyrdaulic hammer has somehow caused shock waves to cause something to now be serious damage to my cottage? What do I need to do? What are you initial thoughts? I have contacted the demolition company but I do not want to be fobbed off with any feeble excuses? I can walk round this cottage now and clearly identify huge cracks all 100% new. If you can recommend someone who has experience with my type of cottage and also knowledge of damage caused by demolition etc. Dorset preferably unless they don’t mind travel I'd be grateful!

Lesley Tindle

Without knowing precisely what it is the neighbouring owner is undertaking it is difficult to give precise advice.

If the work involves excavation close to your building or works to the party wall itself there is a strong probability that the Party Wall Act would apply.  If this is the case and you have not been served any notices etc you may have grounds to take the matter further and perhaps even obtain an injunction to stop the work until the formalities have been completed etc. However in the first instance it might be sensible to discuss the matter with the owner of the neighbouring site and warn them that you could obtain an injunction, but that you would rather deal with things by discussion and see what results.

Whether the Party Wall Act applies or not if you can clearly demonstrate that the works being undertaken have caused and are causing damage to your property you should have some recourse in law to resolve matters.  It may still be possible for you to obtain an injunction to stop them if their works are causing damage.  You will however need legal advice.

Without an inspection I cannot comment specifically on the damage and what may be happening to your property. It is certainly the case that with historic buildings the likelihood is that the structure is built off a shallow foundation or footing. This will be far more vulnerable to vibration etc that could result from building works, but even so it depends on the extent of vibration and how close it is as to whether it might cause any problem. Vibration damage is often only temporary, but if repeated long enough it can cause more permanent problems and defects.

I suggest that you seek advice from a party wall surveyor as to whether there are party wall issues in which case you may be able to use the Party Wall Act to assist you. If it is found that the Party Wall Act does not apply in this instance you may nonetheless have a right to take matters further but you will need to seek legal advice. In this instance it might be appropriate to use your building insurance. They would have some interest because the works are causing damage to the building that they are insuring and arguably if cracks are appearing due to the building works next door this may be covered by the insurance as it is structural movement and this would normally be an insured peril. However, most insurance policies also include cover for legal costs in the event of a legal dispute. This does not have to be one related to the building but the cover is usually for any legal dispute. In this instance you will need to see if they would accept a claim and assist you by providing legal advice etc with regard to the matters indicated above.

What the demolition company and/or contractors on the neighbouring site may not appreciate is the fragility of your building and its vulnerability to vibration etc. The sort of work they are undertaking may not be unusual and in the context of being next to modern buildings the works may not be a problem. However, in the context of these works taking place next to a fragile historic building there are potential problems and in this instance damage has arisen, according to what you tell me. I suggest however that you do need the assistance of a professional. I would suggest you consider using either a Chartered Building Surveyor who could deal with some of the damage issues and party wall matters or an Engineer who likewise could deal with structural issues and party wall 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:
My Party Wall is missing
FROM:
Vlad Lauren
(Derbyshire)

I am currently living in a pre 1900 terraced house. We want to sell the property, and were looking in the next few weeks to put it up for sale. There is an issue with the Party Wall, as there isn't one between my neighbour and myself. The empty space is on the right side of the terraced house. There is a party wall on the left side of my house. Would this be an issue for us trying to sell our house? Who's responsibility of the missing party wall come under, and would we need to use the party wall act to resolve any issues?

Vlad Lauren

I assume that you mean a party wall in the roof space because I cannot imagine that there is no party wall between the living areas of the buildings!

It is quite common for terraced buildings constructed in the Georgian and Victorian periods to have been formed with one roof space over the whole terrace and therefore no separating walls at roof level.  This is a problem that is encountered quite often.  There is no responsibility for constructing a party wall as such.  Arguably the terrace could continue for many years without any party walls in the roof space.  Of course if a fire occurred in one of the buildings it would spread through the roof space and down into the others.  It is primarily for this reason that it is desirable to erect some form of party wall in the roof space.

There are several ways this can be undertaken.  If you simply wish to extend the party wall upwards it is a party wall matter that would fall under the Party Wall Act.  You could speak with your neighbour to see if the neighbour will share the costs and arguably it may be possible to insist that the neighbour pays half.  However, practically speaking you may choose to suffer the full costs simply to get the work done especially if the neighbour is awkward.

Provided the procedures of the Party Wall Act are followed in terms of giving notice etc I see no reason why the neighbour would try to stop you erecting a party wall.  There are a number of ways this could be formed but quite often the simplest is a timber frame structure clad both sides with double layers of plasterboard and probably filled with an insulation quilt.

As an alternative I have seen fire quilts hung from the rafters in a roof space to provide a fire barrier without a party wall structure having been built.  Rockwool do produce a fire barrier material that I have seen use in such situations.

If you are selling the property and the mortgage valuer looks into the roof space it is almost certain that the result of the inspection will be a requirements to erect some form of party wall in the roof area.  Certainly if your purchaser has a building survey this is a matter that will be raised.  It would therefore be sensible to either have something formed now and omit the risk of this being an issue, or allow a cost off the price so that the purchaser can deal with in due course.

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:
Do we need listed building consent to change windows?
FROM:
Sally Mellor
(Lincolnshire)

We have a grade 2 listed farmhouse in Lincolnshire and the windows (not original) are badly rotted and need replacing like for like.  Do I need to inform the local heritage officer and also we would like to claim back the VAT.  I have checked the HMRC website and can't find the form which needs completing.  Also some people are saying I will need listed building consent/planning permission before I can claim it back?  Do you know how I go about the VAT is going to be over £1,000.  Also we have been told we may be able to reduce the vat to 5% if the house is not lived in (it is furnished but we have not lived there for 3 years). Finally, we have increased damps levels on the ground floor as the house is empty, is this Schriver System which has been advertised worth considering or would the electric wire system be a better option.

Sally Mellor

You raise two issues the second of which is quite complex and I will return to below.

In terms of replacing the windows because of the extent of the work etc I would advise you that listed building consent will be necessary.  In any event, you would not be able to expect zero rate VAT without consent.  For replacement windows VAT exemption may be given but it is not absolutely clear that this is always the case.  An alteration for the purpose of listed building consent is not always considered an alteration for zero rating when it comes to VAT.  If there is a change to the windows in terms of style or perhaps going from single glazing to double glazing, or even the installation of secondary glazing, then this is almost certainly going to be accepted as an alteration for zero rating.

If these are works you are to undertake yourself then you will need to speak to Customs and Excise about zero rating and the procedures related to this.  However if you have a contractor dealing with the matter this is for the contractor to deal with and all you have to do is supply the contractor with the information so that they can zero rate it and deal with Customs and Excise.

I do not know enough about the procedures for uninhabited buildings to be able to advise on whether a lower level of VAT might apply.  I would suggest that this again is something that you need to discuss with your local Customs and Excise office.

You will probably be aware that the Government intends to remove zero rating in October of this year.  It is questionable whether you will get the work planned and undertaken in time to meet the deadlines set by Government for the change.  However it may be possible to achieve the 5% rating and this is something that you might wish to look into.

I suggest you post on the discussion forum section of this site to see what experience others have with regard to the issue of dealing with empty properties and the reduced level of VAT.

However before anything else the first thing you need to do is to discuss the matter with the conservation officer to establish that replacement of the windows is something that will be permitted subject to the appropriate formalities being completed, i.e. formal consent to being applied for and obtained.

Moving on to the damp issue, I would not recommend either of the systems you mention.  In fact I would not recommend any treatment system at present.  You simply state you have a damp problem but there are a number of reasons why dampness can occur in properties and a number of forms of dampness.  Without proper analysis of the issues and assessment of what is really happening it is impossible to identify the nature of work that might be appropriate.  In many instances the issues relate to moisture becoming trapped and being unable to escape.  Quite often with historic buildings simple building works such as lowering ground levels, improving subfloor ventilation (where it exists), removing impermeable finishes and replacing them with traditional breathable finishes, etc are the sort of works that generally assist in lowering the levels of dampness in walls.

If you look back over past Agony Uncle entries and on the discussion forum you will find a lot written about dampness, common causes and how to address it. I would suggest that so-called quick fix solutions involving treatments etc more often cause additional problems than resolve them. I would regard retrospective treatment systems as a last resort only.

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 we apply metal lathe to listed building before rendering?
FROM:
Yvonne Miller
(Somerset)

I have a large detached Georgian style house build about 1847 .The external rendering has been over painted for many years with Sandtex type paint, the rendering is now coming loose and causing some damp issues.Have been advised to remove loose render then apply a mesh and over coat the whole wall with self coloured render does this sound advisable.

Yvonne Miller

Without seeing the property I cannot say for certain but my initial reaction is that "no" this would not be advisable.

It is quite possible that your building is rendered with a form of lime render often called stucco.  The mix used at that time was quite experimental and involved additives within the mix that resulted in something that was not quite a cement render but neither was it a true lime render.  It is because of this that over the years it has been regarded as acceptable to simply reinstate stucco with cement render.  Indeed I see many properties with this has happened and it does not appear to be causing any major problem.

However, before replacing the render it would be sensible to have some form of analysis undertaken to establish whether the original render to the building was a traditional lime render or a stucco that might be closer to a cement render.  Only by proper analysis of what has existed in the past on this building would it be possible to advise on what might be suitable now.

What is certain is that if the render is de-bonded dampness will get behind and cause damage.  The loose and hollow render will of course need to be removed and whether this is simply a matter of then patch repairing or complete re-rendering depends on the extent of failure.

My advice therefore is to have the existing render properly analysed and then undertake appropriate patch repair or complete re-rendering using material that closely matches the original.

I would generally not recommend using a mesh behind the render unless there is a specific reason why the render needs to be reinforced in this way.

Because there are so many stucco rendered buildings in Westminster the council produced a guidance note in 2004. The following link is the only one I could find to a PDF file online. http://www.period-house.com/Stucco.pdf

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:
Is wall paper paste breathable to apply lining paper to cob property?
FROM:
Adam Clarke
(Norfolk)

I am thinking of using lining paper on a wall which is Clay lump with a lime render/plaster. Is there any type of wallpaper adhesive which will allow the wall to breathe or should I try to avoid having to use lining paper?

Adam Clarke

The lining paper itself is perhaps not so much a problem although I would advise you to reconsider using a lining paper at all.  A lining paper can retain a degree of breathability to the surface using normal wallpaper adhesive etc provided the paper itself is then finished with a trade Matt emulsion or other finish that also allows a degree of breathability.

However, if the surface of the wall can be made good and patch repaired to a reasonably smooth finish I would suggest that you decorate straight onto the plaster rather than apply lining paper.

In terms of an appropriate finish ideally one would revert to traditional finishes on lime plaster but trade Matt emulsions can also provide a reasonable and relatively breathable finish.

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 a conservation officer insist on using lime to plaster walls?
FROM:
Bunny Carlton
(Lincolnshire)

I have Grade 2 Listed House (3 storeys, 3 receptions, 4 bedrooms).  The house has not been touched for over 60 years and needs complete renovation.  The house must be re-plastered throughout.  Will this work require listed building planning permission and if so can the Council Conservation Officer insist that I use lime plaster.  I understand that this is better for the building, however, at four or five times more expensive than regular plaster the cost is prohibitive.

Bunny Carlton

Without knowing the precise nature of the building it is impossible to say what impact the use of modern plasters might have on the structure.  Your question raises two issues one being technical and the other being philosophical.

With regard to technical issues lime plaster is preferable where there is a traditional building structure and breathability etc is critical.  However with some buildings the use of modern plasters is not necessarily something that will lead to major problems depending upon the nature of the structure behind and the location of where the plaster is being used.  Whilst the use of modern plaster in historic building conservation work is not something I advocate where I come across modern plaster in historic buildings it is not always the case that it has to be removed and reinstated with traditional plaster.

With regard to the philosophical arguments as to whether you should use traditional materials I would suggest that in the vast majority of cases the answer must be yes.

This is something you need to discuss with conservation officer and if there is an insistence that you use lime plaster then I doubt there is much you can do to argue against this.  Whilst I do appreciate the cost issue the fact is that this is a historic building and to some extent the cost of such work should have been factored in to your calculations when you agreed a purchase price.

The other issue to question is whether it has to be re-plastered throughout.  Part of the character of a historic building is often due to the slightly uneven historic plaster finishes that one finds.  Historic buildings can often look odd when modern flat and angular plaster is applied and finished very neatly.

Quite often the plaster is something that can be retained subject to patch repair rather than complete renewal.  If you were able to retain much of the plaster and only patch repair where necessary then the cost of using traditional lime plasters is countered by the fact that far less work is in fact being undertaken.

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:
Could you explain the disadvantages & advantages of using linseed or Aglaia paint?
FROM:
Sara Myers
(Vale of Glamorgan)

My basic question is.....Linseed paint or Aglaia for internal and external wood work?- what are their pros and cons of each and what stripping methods and cleaning products should I use with each of the paints if i don't want to use a heat gun?

After looking into both paints I believe they could both be used on the wood work of the stone farmhouse that I'm renovating. I have a few questions though:
1- which paint is better
2- I don't want to use a heat gun on the wood to strip it and I understand I can't use chemicals to strip before using linseed paint-is there a chemical stripper I can use with linseed paints like 'Home strip"?
3- Can Aglaia paints for wood be used after chemical stripping the old paint off?
4- There is some wonderful wood panelling that has been covered with many layers of stuff (hessian, wallpaper and paint). I have steamed off the layers down to the wood but it’s a bit gunky- not sure if the residue left is varnish, glue or wall paper paste. The hessian strips were attached directly to the wood. Most of the gunk has come off when I steamed and scraped it with a wallpaper scraper. My questions are: can I apply linseed oil paint or aglaia paint to this wood (if it may contain residues of glue or varnish) or do I need to find out what it is? Or is there something that I can use to clean the surface?
Sorry- it’s quite a lot of questions but I'm not sure to which product to use to paint the wood work and-what product to use and what stripping method and cleaning products to use as I don't wish to chance burning the wood with a heat gun.

Sara Myers

I have not personally used either of these finishes and much has been written about these products and in fact many others.  With all paint finishes on joinery there are advantages and disadvantages with different systems.  Since the banning of lead paint there have been a variety of attempts to get close to traditional lead-based paint using other binders etc.

There have been many claims for some of these paints and finishes about their longevity etc.  However I have heard of situations where the claimed longevity has not been achieved or other problems have arisen.  For example I have heard that in some situations mould has occurred on the paint.

Where joinery is to be painted I personally have no problem with the use of the conventional paints that can be purchased from any High Street DIY store.  The fact is that any paint system is sacrificial because it will not last forever.  All paint systems will need periodic repainting to maintain them in good condition and to prevent the joinery woodwork becoming wet and rotting.  Internally of course the paint protects it from knocks and other damage.

The main issue here may be the desired finish.  Different manufacturers and different types of paint will give a different type of finish and of course the colour range could be important.

I am not a specialist on paint manufacture but I have heard from specialists and my understanding is that when one carefully examines the chemical make-up of some of the traditional paints with some of the specialist paints the modern specialist paints are not so far removed from the mass produced paints and in fact quite a long way removed from the make-up of traditional paints as used historically.  In other words the technical benefits are not quite as great as you may at first think they would be.

My personal view is to find a paint manufacturer that produces the colour and finish you want and if this happens to be one of the large mass producers of paint then I would have no problem with it being used as I do not believe that there is significant technical issue.  If however you wish to use one of the specialist paints that is your decision.  They are of course far more expensive.

I have spent much time dealing with your very first point about which paint is better rather than really answering your questions.

With some of these specialist paints you do need to completely strip back to bare wood.  Because I have not used the particular paints you mention before I cannot give you clear guidance.  You will need to speak to the manufacturers or suppliers for technical guidance on such matters.  However, I would question whether you do need to strip back to bare wood.  Is there a possibility that the joinery could simply be rubbed down and prepared rather than stripped?  Completely stripping back to the bare wood may be necessary for technical reasons if the buildup of paint is problematic.  However you should also bear in mind that stripping back paint also removes all the historic layers.

With regard to your question about the panelling, because I have not used the paint you mention I cannot answer your question.  You will need to go to the manufacturer if you intend to use that particular paint system.  For removal of paints there are of course a number of methods but if you are to consider a form of chemical removal I would recommend that you speak to someone like Strippers Paint removals - http://www.stripperspaintremovers.com/.

I am sorry that my answer has probably been less helpful than you were seeking but some of these paint systems are relatively new and not regularly used.  I suspect there are not many who could discuss the issues you raise from practical experience.  The best I can suggest is that you post on discussion forum of this website to see if anyone else has experience of these particular systems.

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