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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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:
Any experience of removing plasterboard to reveal the original lath and plaster ceiling?
FROM:
Jeremy Fullthorpe
(Leicestershire)

We are currently renovating an upstairs bedroom which is in a Georgian section of the property that we own. The original Property is a Grade II Listed Timber Framed house which is semi-detached and adjoining the property is a one up one down brick built section which we believe to be Georgian.

During the start of the renovation we have to our delight revealed the original Elm floor boards that had been covered over with thin plywood. However, whilst we were having some electrical work carried out we noticed that that the original lath and plaster ceiling has been boarded over with plaster board. I have tried to find out if anyone has ever tried to 'carefully' remove the plaster board without damaging the plaster and the laths directly underneath I have read various sources on the internet where people have removed the lath and plaster ceiling altogether (although I cannot understand why you would want to?) and replace with gypsum but I have not come across anyone who has tried to carry out this work. I am a practical person and I do appreciate that I am probably trying to create more work for ourselves but has anybody actually done this during the renovation of their period property?

If anyone has any experience of this then I would be grateful for some advice? I am aware that anything to do with ceilings can be extremely messy and I am not trying to remove the original ceiling altogether albeit using crow bars. It is just if there is a way that the plaster board could be removed 'carefully' would be useful. The rest of the property has managed to retain the original lath ceilings as well but they have used lining paper over the lime plaster. Another job eventually, but the lime ceiling with its quirks is nice to see why would any one want to cover them up.

Jeremy Fullthorpe

I do not know many who would attempt this because the risk of finding the original ceiling to be very poor is high; it was probably overboarded because it was in poor condition anyway.  The main issue will be finding the fixing points.  You will need to locate each and every nail or screw.  If it is nailed you will have to carefully try to excavate around the head so that you can get something beneath it to lever it out.  The risk is that several will be difficult and you will damage the board and the original ceiling beneath.  If it is screwed it should be easier to unscrew each screw individually and release the board so that it can be taken down.

Once the board is off the ceiling you can then assess the damage to the original ceiling and decide what to do to repair and restore it.  You may, unfortunately, find that it is beyond repair and you have to consider the possibility of having to put up a new ceiling anyway.  If this is the case, you will need to decide whether to use traditional laths and lime plaster, or perhaps reed mat with lime plaster.

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

The Whitworth Co-Partnership LLP - Chartered Architects and Surveyors

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SUBJECT:
How can I prevent small children posting things through the gaps inbetween my floorboards?
FROM:
Michael Rudd
(Wiltshire)

I have large (5mm) gaps between the floorboards of my Georgian property. I want to restore the boards but need to fill the gaps to insulate and stop small children posting things through the gaps! I was thinking that maybe caulking it along the lines of ships decks may be possible (probably with wax rather than pitch) but don't want to ruin the floor. If this would work, I'd appreciate advice on where to get the materials suitable for the period.

Michael Rudd

Over the years I have come across various methods.  Rope/string with a form of binder.  You will need a glue that does not cause permanent damage and I suggest white glue might be most appropriate.  You could try wax, but I am not sure it would stay in place for long, especially if there are heating or hot water pipes under the boards.  An alternative filler is to use papier mache (not too wet), carefully pushed in place.  The risk is that as it dries it might shrink back slightly.  Either way, you may want to finish the filler by careful staining.  If so, I suggest trial patches first on the filler material (not whilst in the floor).  When it is in the floor, mask either side (so that the stain does not get on the original boards) and then stain.  You may need to finish it by waxing in any event.

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

The Whitworth Co-Partnership LLP - Chartered Architects and Surveyors

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SUBJECT:
Desperately seeking a sympathetic surveyor
FROM:
Judith Haynes
(Wiltshire)

We have a Victorian cottage in need of renovation. How can we find a surveyor and or builder with experience of sympathetically restoring this type of property to advise us?

Judith Haynes

For a Surveyor you could start with the list of Conservation Accredited surveyors.  A link to download the most recent pdf file is here:

You could speak with the local Conservation Officer to ask whether there are professionals that the CO knows has experience with this type of project.  Another possible source of names would be the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).

I suggest you put together a list of names (perhaps 3 to 5) and then speak to them.  It might be best to invite them to view the property, so that they know what is involved.  This way you would meet them and assess whether you feel you could work with them.  You could conduct this as a form of interview and ask for details of other projects they have worked on, etc.

It is similar for finding builders.  The local CO might be able to provide a list of builders that the CO knows has undertaken similar work.  Likewise the SPAB might have some names to suggest.  Whoever you choose as the surveyor/professional lead for the project is likely to have some names of builders that could be added to the list.  If the builder is not known to whoever you choose to lead the project, I expect they would ask the builder for references and perhaps ask to see some of their work.  When the project goes out to tender the builders will need to visit the property, at which time you can meet them and assess whether you feel you want them working on your house.

Another way of finding surveyors/professionals is to look around the area (or nearby) to see what other properties may have been renovated, extended, etc., and then look at the Council’s website.  In the planning section look at any planning applications (for extensions) or listed building consents, so that you can see who the professionals were who were involved in those projects.  From this you will soon find out who works in the area on the type of project similar to yours and might be suitable.

Otherwise, there is certainly no harm in looking around the area and finding properties where such a project may have been undertaken and knocking on the door to ask the owner who was involved with the work.  Recommendation is usually the best way of finding suitable people for projects such as this.

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

The Whitworth Co-Partnership LLP - Chartered Architects and Surveyors