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Renovating that period property…..

16 January 19 Author:Michelle Gaffaney

Renovation mistakes to avoid

The last thing you want when renovating a period property is more stress, and one things for sure mistakes can be costly.

You could end up causing damage to your property and even decreasing its value in the long term. So before you start renovating your house, it is important you know how your home is built and check that the potential changes won’t actually cause more damage.


  1. Brand new wood for the old frames or is reclaimed the better option?

Take care when using new timber for renovation work! It is better to use reclaimed timber as it offers greater stability, more character, and is very green in a conservation sense.

  1. Do you really need a damp proof course?

It is generally unnecessary as well as damaging to damp-proof course a house that pre-dates 1920. A damp proof course combats rising dampness, which actually isn’t that common. The moisture moves from below the ground through a wall (or floor) by flowing through the narrow spaces, and it is generally the salt deposits that create the tidemarks and dis-colouration that you see. You don’t need to install a DPC in an older wall as they were designed to ‘breathe’ which controls dampness, in fact excessive dampness occurs when attempts are made to seal such walls. Ensure you get someone highly recommended to look at the property as rising damp is often misdiagnosed.

  1. Stripping old doors

Be careful this can cause harm most old doors aren’t generally made of the right wood to take been stripped. However there are exceptions old oak doors, that have not been lime washed, or painted are ideal. It is generally inadvisable to apply linseed oil, stain or varnish to unpainted oak doors, it would be better to use beeswax or turpentine.

  1. There are better ways to deal with the squeak!

Does that squeak in the floor irritate you every time you step on it? Are you dying to rip the floorboards up? Well don’t! Here are some alternative ways to tackle the problem;

  • Puff powdered graphite/talcum powder between boards that rub together
  • Replace missing/incorrect nails
  • You may need to replace some nails with screws
  • Fit filling between the boards
  1. Like-for-like materials

You may find it impossible to find the exact same material part of your house was made of, so don’t waste your time and money trying. Speak with an interior designer or architect so they can help you find an alternative or a very close match instead. Remember don’t lose sight of the original features of the house in the process.

  1. External wood doors that are rotting at the bottom?

Sometimes wet rot can occur at the foot of a door, but a good-quality wooden door is worth restoring, rather than throwing away. Where possible, reduce the threshold, or consider if there is scope to install a canopy or porch. Any areas suffering from major rot can be repaired by a good joiner and, where it is in keeping with the character of the property, the wood could also be painted to provide better protection from the elements. Remember, of course, that alterations may require consent from your local council if the building is listed.

  1. An interesting idea…..

An old fashioned tip is to use sour milk applied sparingly with a rag as a cleaning agent for stone floors. It can impart a soft sheen and a degree of protection to the surface of a fine-grained stone with an established patina, but can also produce a dull milky stain on absorbent or damp stone. It is important, therefore, to test a small area first.

  1. Can it be repaired?

Whether you should repair or re-slate an old roof depends on the extent of the damage to the current slates. You should consider a new roof when repairs are no longer cost-effective, this is generally after 1/5 of the slates have been renewed.

The Cost for this can vary greatly, and the price can depend on a number of factors, including the condition of supporting laths, type of slate or tiles, and where you live in the UK. For major work, always obtain a few quotes to compare before committing.

  1. Sometimes it just takes some gentle encouragement

Sometimes Window Sashes can stick, or fail to move fully for various reasons. These include: broken cords; paint accumulation requiring removal, not only from running surfaces, but also pulleys; or a poorly positioned or distorted bead guiding a sash, which is easily resolved.

If you force the windows you could end up causing costly damage so try rubbing beeswax, candle wax or soap along sash edges makes opening and closing easier. Seasonal binding through humidity-induced swelling should be tolerated, unless it indicates that redecoration is needed.

  1. Uh oh beetles…….

Where decay exists you need eliminate causes of dampness and promote drying. Chemical treatments are frequently unnecessary and should only be used as a secondary measure (last resort).

Unfortunately, many roof timbers are sprayed with chemicals as a substitute for promoting drying. This happens quite often when a property is sold on. However, repeated treatments every time a house changes hands can lead to the build-up of chemical cocktails that are not only potentially harmful to occupants, but kill spiders, which are natural predators of beetles.

Unless decay is very serious, any timbers affected by beetle holes may be vacuumed or brushed down after measures have been taken to address the cause of an active infestation – though take care not to remove any medieval smoke blackening or evidence of early decoration that is of archaeological value. Degraded surface material should not be removed without good reason, as it can result in significant damage.

  1. Don’t use poor quality limewash!

It may seem like a good idea that will save time, but resist liming wood with ordinary bagged lime. Also make sure it is applied correctly: coats being applied excessively thickly, inadequate dampening down before lime-washing, or drying out too rapidly can ruin it altogether.

  1. We know you want to be energy efficient but…..

Older buildings are been upgraded all the time to improve how energy efficient they are, but many materials and methods suitable for the more modern buildings are unsuitable for earlier, traditional properties.

It not only affects the appearance of the property or takes away some of the properties attractive features, but can also damage the fabric of the building too. Old buildings might become warmer but damper – seriously increasing mould growth and harming the health of occupants with conditions such as asthma. There are companies out there who can offer advice and guidance on the best way to still achieve a more energy efficient home but without having to sacrifice your property. It is highly recommended you employ a knowledgeable professional when making any upgrades in this department.

  1. Painting or treating bricks

This is generally inadvisable. Paints and colourless water-repellent solutions may exacerbate deterioration by trapping moisture in the brickwork. Moisture can also be forced to travel greater distances to escape, therefore increasing the mobilisation of damaging soluble salts. It may also be worth looking at replacing render where it has previously been stripped from brickwork, to protect the bricks against the inclement weather.

  1. Laying a damp proof membrane below an old stone floor! 

It is rarely a good idea to insert a damp-proof membrane beneath an old stone floor that pre-dates about 1919, because floors that are older than this must usually be allowed to ‘breathe’. Laying the membrane on a new concrete subfloor can, by restricting evaporation, displace moisture into the base of a previously dry adjacent wall, causing dampness there. Instead, if a floor is genuinely damp, aim to address the cause – for instance, by removing impermeable rubber-backed carpets, improving site drainage, or controlling levels of condensation in the house.

  1. Replacing bricks….

Only cut out and replace bricks that have deteriorated seriously. Exact replication is very difficult, but there are a number of good suppliers producing new handmade bricks at reasonable prices. Replacement bricks should match the existing ones as closely as possible in size, colour, texture and durability. They should also be laid in the same way and have a matching bond. It is better to leave replacement bricks to blend in naturally over time than to try and tone them down artificially.

Be wary about using second-hand bricks. Salvaged ones may be under-fired and unsuitable for external work, or are sometimes damaged, stained or painted. Occasionally, brick may be reused from another part of the same building – but then, only with considerable discretion.


(Real Homes)


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Michelle Gaffaney
Michelle Gaffaney - Architectural Director
With a wealth of experience working on a range of projects, Michelle Gaffaney has a passion for design and strong relationships with her clients. Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn