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:
Can I carpet over earth & tile floor?
FROM:
Barry Douglas
(Carmarthenshire)

Can I place carpet over an earth and tile floor, building was constructed in 1850 the floor shows no sign of damp but has the expected wear for a floor of its age. I understand the floor needs to breath so had considered using a breathable underlay such as hessian and then carpet?

Barry Douglas

I would caution against the use of a fully fitted carpet.  I would suggest that you leave a perimeter strip exposed with the carpet perhaps forming a large square in the middle.  You could instead use rugs.  With this type of floor it is best to have a covering that you can periodically lift to air the surface underneath.  By avoiding fully fitting the carpet over this you will ensure that if there is any moisture under the floor it can escape without damaging the carpet.  Even though you talk about using a breathable underlay there is still a risk of the carpet itself causing problems and indeed deteriorating if the breathability of the floor is impeded and any moisture does in fact come through.

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 avoid black mould on internal property walls?
FROM:
Jane Doyle
(Wiltshire)

We have a Grade II thatched cottage which we have had for about a year. It was in a poor state decoratively, so we have started downstairs decorating using Farrow and Ball paint. Over the winter the paintwork has become ruined around the bottom of the walls in the lounge by a black spotty mould. We bought a de-humidifier thinking it would help with moisture, and it does collect water. We are not professionals in period buildings and wonder what is causing the mould, and if it matters what paint we use? We also have black mould behind some of our furniture in our bedroom, that we haven\'t decorated yet.

Jane Doyle

The mould you describe is fairly typical of condensation.  Condensation occurs when warm moisture laden air meets a cold surface and can no longer hold the moisture, therefore releasing it.  The moisture on the surface then attracts mould.  Because the moisture is in fact a distillation of water, it is pure and the mould only appears on distilled water.

You clearly have a problem of moisture in the building possibly allied to a lack of sufficient air circulation and air changes perhaps because of the lack of ventilation.  This is a matter that would need to be carefully considered further.  However, in the first instance you should look at where most moisture is likely to be created and try to remove it speedily from those areas.  In this instance it will be the bathroom and kitchen.  It is to aid the removal of moist air that bathrooms and kitchens usually have extractor fans.  With regard to the bedroom you may find that opening the bedroom windows on a regular basis particularly first thing in the morning will help.  This is because you will be breathing during the night and releasing a lot of moist air into the atmosphere that will have no opportunity to escape.  By opening the windows first thing in the morning that moisture can escape before using close them and leave the property for the day.  One problem often encountered with anyone out work all day is that once they close the door as they leave they do not appreciate that if the property is inadequately ventilated they will return that evening to the same stale air that they left in the morning.

Of course there is a possibility of a source of damp causing the air to become moisture laden and thereby leading to the condensation.  Consideration should be given to whether there is indeed a damp problem anyway.

If the above approach has been tried and failed, or you find it difficult to resolve the problem it seems likely that the matter needs to be specifically investigated by a professional experienced in dealing with such matters.

You mentioned the paint itself and I consider it unlikely to be the paint that is an issue.  However, if a modern impermeable paint finish is used this can sometimes contribute to the problem.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface, Tony Redman and other partners at The Whitworth Co-Partnership for responding to this question.
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SUBJECT:
How do we reduce condensation?
FROM:
Sally Turff
(Norfolk)

We have a period house C1805 and a serious problem with condensation, made worse since we took a series of measure to insulate the property. The house is listed and retains all its period features, and so many modern methods are not possible. For example, we have the original window shutters so secondary double glazing cannot be fitted - and even so, where we have double-glazed lights, in very cold weather they get condensation build up. The answer, of course (which works) is open windows and plenty of drafts - and subsequent and very expensive heat loss. We have been advised that we need to remove the warm, moist air at source and are now investigating various extraction methods such as heat recovery ventilation.

Sally Turff

The answer I have given to the previous question also applies here.  I would agree that extraction of warm moisture laden air at source is usually the best way of combating condensation.  However, it does sound as if you have created sections of the building with different thermal qualities.  This will mean that when there is moisture laden air in the property it will tend to release the moisture when it meets the colder surfaces.

In terms of opening windows your problem of draughts can be countered by consciously making an effort to open the windows for short periods at specific times of the day.  For example when you have finished having a bath or finished washing up in the kitchen immediately open a window for 5 minutes but close the doors to the room so that the moisture laden air is forced outwards.  In the bedrooms or living rooms you could consciously open windows for a few minutes in the morning and/or the evening to positively allow the air to change.

The other question this raises is whether there are sufficient air changes in the property generally.  There is a tendency with modern buildings to seal them to a point where few air changes occur and this can bring about problems such as condensation.  Sealing up an historic building would have the same result.

 

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:
What traditional method should we use to seal doors and windows?
FROM:
Maria Chubb
(Kent)

We are currently restoring an1840 Victorian cottage. In order to pass building regs, we have been informed that windows/doors need to be sealed. Is there an alternative to a brilliant white mastic sealant that would be a bit more sympathetic to the lead work and paint finish?

Maria Chubb

I assume that the gap is between the timber window and brick reveal to the window opening.  This would often be filled with a basic mortar such as a lime putty mix containing hair and pressed fully into the joint.  An alternative would be to use linseed oil putty perhaps with a sand additive.  In either instance depending on the width of the gap you could partly fill the gap behind with a material such as a natural string or rope.  If you were to fill the gap using string or rope you would need to stop it about 20 mm back from the face so that the last 20 mm could be filled with the putty or mortar mix.

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 there a time limit on LBC enforcement?
FROM:
Julia Ann Clayton
(Cheshire)

Considering buying a Grade II listed school house, and have found that an extension (2 storeys) and garage have been built without planning or conservation area consent.  I am being advised that as the developments were over 4 years old (considerably) that enforcement would not happen, however that sellers will be asked for retrospective listed building consent for alternations - can you advise how long this consent process takes and is consent denied if so what happens?

Julia Ann Clayton

I would strongly advise you to read my earlier response regarding unauthorised works.  There is no time limit with regard to listed buildings.

If the council accept and approve the retrospective application it does not change the fact that the people who undertook the work could still be prosecuted.  Of course, if the council decides not to provide retrospective approval they may then choose to prosecute and perhaps pursue enforcement action as well.

In terms of the consent process this varies considerably.  Once an application has been properly accepted by the council it would normally be eight weeks for them to issue a decision.  However prior to this there is a period in which the application has to be prepared and of course the council have to validate the application.  This only occurs once the council are satisfied that they have all of the relevant documents they believe they need.  As a general rule of thumb it would be sensible to assume that there will be a minimum 12 weeks and perhaps longer from the point of starting the process to a decision.

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