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 (

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...

o Ancient cellar requires limewashing Joy Heywood (Loughborough)
o Should we inject a dpc in a clay lump house? Nigel Dowden (Norfolk)
o Inglenook repair Elizabeth Hembrey (Pulborough, West Sussex)
o DeathWatch Beetle Rethink Joy Davis (Rishangles, Suffolk)
o Adhesive removal from concrete floor William MacLean (Wick, Highlands and Islands)
o Cleaning Victorian Tiled Floors Sue Craft (Derbyshire)
o Tiles stuck on fireplace with Evo-stick Lisa Jenkins (Potton, Bedfordshire)
o Stripped Pine Cyril Ives (Margate, Kent)
o I do not want to see my brick floor ! Robert Andrews (Arrington, Hertfordshire)
o Exposed Trusses Paul McJury (Crediton, Devon)
o Marble Stripping Tim Johns (Winterton, Lincolnshire)
o Durability of Thatch John Brough (Cambridgeshire)
o Window Salvage Jacqueline Hart Saward
o Cleaning Tiles Jo Coughlan (Ceredigion)
o Period Wallpaper Alice Case (Liverpool)
o Save those Sash Windows Andy May (Staffordshire)
o Copper Roofing Specialist? C Innamany (London)

SUBJECT: Ancient cellar requires limewashing
FROM: Joy Heywood (Loughborough)
Our house was built in 1785 on the site of a partially demolished older property.We have a small (11' x 11') cellar underneath the dining room which I think is older than most of the house.This cellar has a vaulted roof and is dry We want to tidy it up a little and the walls need painting .We are loathe to use a modern emulsion and would like an old type whitewash, as we think a modern paint could make it damp.We have tried several places to try and buy some ,including an agricultural merchants-to no avail!!! Do you know of any suppliers of this sort of product?

Joy Heywood

Joy, limwash would be the perfect solution for such a location. Contact Bleaklow on 01246 582 284 or visit their website They are based in Bakewell, Derbyshire and are leading manufacturer of matured slaked lime. They should be able to help you by providing you with some limewash or supply you with lime putty from which you can produce your own limewash. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has produced an excellent guide to making limewash with lime putty for a small fee. They can be contacted on 020 7 377 1644.


SUBJECT: Should we inject a dpc in a clay lump house?
FROM: Nigel Dowden (Norfolk)
We have a clay lump property and want to ensure the very best damp-proofing. Would you recommend injection or would the lack of soft joints (as with brickwork) mean that we would be unsure of an impervious barrier as we understand chemical injections use the joint to "feed" the chemical horizontally ? We have some areas of the house where it was proofed this way 8 years ago and we are now having problems. Any ideas on why the barrier might be failing and the best method of proofing for the future ?

Nigel Dowden

Nigel, I believe it is possible you may be approaching your damp problem incorrectly. Please take 5 minutes to read the article on the following link written by Dirk Bouwens - Hopefully, this will provide you with food for thought and may even offer an answer to your existing damp problem.



SUBJECT: Inglenook repair
FROM: Elizabeth Hembrey (Pulborough, West Sussex)
We are currently renovating our seventeenth century cottage. We removed a plasterboard wall upstairs (probably erected in the 60's) to reveal the chimney breast of the large inglenook in the room below. To the right hand side of the chimney a breast there is a small fire to heat the upstairs room, with a 'triangular' stepped chimney breast the same as the large one. This small chimney goes into the larger one. Is this likely to be a later addition? The fireplace has a small bressumer over it which has been badly burnt in the centre and considerably weakened. Both the bressumer and the bricks above it are very loose and the mortar very powdery. What is the best way to replace the mortar and what should be used? The main chimney serves the inglenook, which is in use, and also accommodates this upstairs fireplace and a beehive bread oven on the left hand side of the inglenook.

Elizabeth Hembrey

Elizabeth, the answer to your question is very simple. Use like for like materials. The mortar used will be lime and no doubt the bricks are soft reds. Damaged bricks can be cut out/ or sections removed and replaced with new or salvaged bricks from an architectual salvage yard. Because red bricks are soft the edges can be rounded and aged using a file. On the mortar front, it may be worth giving the Lime Centre in Winchester, Hants a call on 01962 715 350. They run a series of short courses which will provide you with necessary skills to repoint the brickwork, as well as supplying the necessary materials yiou would need to undertake ther work. The experience you would pick up on one of their 'Lime Days' will aid you with many of the renovation chores you still have to undertake.


SUBJECT: Death Watch Beetle Rethink
FROM: Joy Davis (Rishangles, Suffolk)
We need to treat for heavy infestation of Death Watch Beetle and have received contradictory advice on how to deal with this. The consensus appears to be to spray the beams, but require sand blasting prior to this process. Should we employ sand and water mixes or should we just used a dry mix?

Joy Davis

Joy, I would like you to blank your mind of all of the conflicting advice you have received and read the following two articles. Firstly, read the piece by Jeff Howell, who writes for the Sunday Telegraph, concerning wood boring insects:

Then read the article by Ridout Associates, a consultancy which specialise in the scientific assessment of timber decay, which provides a practical and inexpensive solution to dealing with deathwatch Beetles at Another excellent artilce by Robert Demaus concerning the precision treatment of Death Watch Beetle can be read at I believe it's not a matter of which sand and water mix to use, but whether you have a real solution to your problem. Finally, chemical treatments applied merely to buy peace of mind and meet a requirement to provide a guarantee are unlikley to have been correctly assessed and then applied.


SUBJECT: Adhesive removal from concrete floor
FROM: William MacLean (Wick, Highlands and Islands)
I have just removed old Ceramic Floor tiles from a concrete floor and now need to remove the floor tile adhesive. Will concret cleaner do it, or will another method such as steaming do the job.

William MacLean

If this is the original bedding material that is still firmly attached to the back of the tile, then it is probably a Portland screed and very tough stuff (probably stronger than the tile). A cement cleaner may well soften it a little - try soaking the back of the tile in a shallow tray of cement cleaner. Don't leave the face of the tile soaking in cement cleaner for lengthy periods, as (depending on the acid used) it can fade some of the darker colours. Always follow the safety advise on the container - some of these acids can burn very easily. The quickest way to remove it is using a diamond brick saw - slice the mortar up into thin strips (keeping clear of the tile) and then break off with a chisel - but you do need to know someone with a brick saw!

Period Property UK would like to thank Peter Thompson at Original Features for answering this question. Peter can be contacted on 020 8 348 5155 or


SUBJECT: Cleaning Victorian Tiled Floors
FROM: Sue Craft (Derbyshire)
We have just revealed a terracotta and black tiled kitchen floor in our 1840 Peak District cottage. What is the best way to maintain the surface which is dipped and worn? We presume the sub-surface is earth. Some other parts of the ground floor are concrete.

Sue Craft

Tiles that are laid on earth, or in lime beds on earth, should not be sealed as they need to breath to avoid damp being trapped. The "original" tile finish was a clear oil and of course this still allows the tile to breath. Try Slate Dressing from a fireplace shop, this is colourless and will give a richness to the tiles. I've just tried some on an old encaustic tile and it looks super - try a small patch first to see what you think. If the tiles are on a concrete base and there is no sign of damp, then HG Golvpolish is good- it is removeable and you can put on as many coats as you like to bring up the sheen you want.

Period Property UK would like to thank Peter Thompson at Original Features for answering this question. Peter can be contacted on 020 8 348 5155 or


SUBJECT: Tiles stuck on fireplace with Evo-stick
FROM: Lisa Jenkins (Potton, Bedfordshire)
I am so pleased to have found your site. It is so interesting and I can see it will be invaluable to us in the future. We bought our large multi aged terrace 2 years ago and were thrilled to discover our suspicions were correct, that most of the rooms in the house had fireplaces hidden behind various materials. Unfortunately the original glazed victorian tiles on the sitting room fire surround had been covered up with 1960's tiles which I removed. However they had been stuck on with evo-stick! I have tried lots of solutions to remove this and have resorted to elbow grease and a screw driver which works but takes forever. Can you recommend anything? Also, our hall fireplace is silver which doesn't go with the original victorian tiled floor. Can you tell me how I go about getting it black?

Lisa Jenkins

You can get Evostick thinners, which does dissolve it, but it is unpleasant to use and the house will smell of it for days - it's also difficult to get hold of because of fears over solvent abuse. If you do go down this route, ventilate the room very well and only work for short periods of time. Use it with some fine wire wool, but don't rub too hard as you do not want to damage the glaze of the original tiles. It's probably best just to use the wire wool on it's own - it will clog quite quickly so change it regularly. Its slow and tedious, but at least the house won't smell! If the fireplace is actually painted silver, then its out with the paint stripper and rubber gloves. Once you have got rid of the silver, paint with a matt black stove paint and apply Black Grate Polish/Zeebrite to the areas of decoration, and buff these to highlight them. If the fireplace is actually burnished iron, then you can simply clean down with meths and paint with the stove paint.

Period Property UK would like to thank Peter Thompson at Original Features for answering this question. Peter can be contacted on 020 8 348 5155 or


SUBJECT: Stripped Pine
FROM: Cyril Ives (Margate, Kent)
I am buying a 1900 town house - the doors have all been stripped to natural wood and the kitchen breakfast room dresser shelves are painted white. Is this the most tradional finish or should we try to remove the paint - I notice your comments about the work mess involved in this approach - thanks for your very helpful website.

Cyril Ives

Cyril, over the last decade the exposed wood look has has risen in popularity on the back of a resurgence in interest on creating natural looking interiors and appreciating the particular aesthtic which exposed wood has with its decorative grain. Victorians in contrast saw pine as a cheap wood which was painted, resulting in the present day boom in companies try to un-do the choice of the Victorians for painted pine furniture. Therefore in such a case a traditional finish would be to leave the white in situ and avoid the mess and time involved in strippping the pieces in question.


SUBJECT: I do not want to see my brick floor !
FROM: Robert Andrews (Arrington, Hertfordshire)
I have recently moved into a listed cottage and the living room is undergoing (council-approved) renovation. Preliminary work has involved removing all modern plaster from the walls and a concrete screed from the floor. I am left with daub-filled timber-frame walls and a 19th century brick floor. Both the walls and floor were damp prior to the removal of the modern materials. But now appear to be dry I intend to replaster the walls in lime, but I do not know what to do with the floor. What are my options with regards to (1) carpetting, (2) laying breath-able wooden flooring? Ideally, I do not want to see the brick.

Robert Andrews

Robert, if the brick floor is the real thing any move to remove the bricks is likely to require listed building planning permission as you would be removing some of the original fabric of the property. Any move to lay carpet, with an underlay, on the brick floor - which is likely to be laid on earth - would result in dampness as the moisture becomes trapped under the underlay. If you intend to lay carpet you would need to lay a new floor with a dpc. Such a move can create potential problems as any moisture which would have normally evaporated through the joints of the bricks would be forced outwards to the walls. Indeed, the concrete screed is likely to have caused this to happen anyway. What is the state of the sole plate?

If you wanted to have a wooden floor it would be a matter of excavating out the floor, creating suitable fixings for the floor joists and laying some reclaimed floorboards. Obviously because air bricks cannot be used, ensure there are gaps around the perimeter of the floor boards so they are well ventilated allowing any damp to evaporate. When digging please dig a trial hole to see ensure the property's foundations are deep enough. Personally I've always found a traditional brick floor a wonderful addition to a period home and are actually sought after by many house hunters. If the bricks are discoloured or damaged try turning them over to see if the un-worn undersides provide a more visually pleasing look. Finally, if you were to leave the bricks in situ, which may be the case once the conservation officer has seen the floor, any attempt to construct a floor over them will only further restrict your head room.