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 Poor flashing leads to water ingress Mike Foster (Greater London)
o Earthy smells cannot escape from rooms Nigel Pearson (Shrewsbury)
o Professional advice to stop weathering of stone Stephen Cooper (Somerset)
o Traditional limewash provides better solution than PVA Tony Corr (Warwickshire)
o Official advice required before change of use Sandra Evans (Gwynedd County)
o Conservation requirements make roof ventilation difficult David Ramage (Dumfries and Galloway)
o Roof insulation also requires ventilation Andy Haynes (Oxfordshire)
o Asbestos tiles lead to possible concerns Julie Revans (Bristol)
o Don't hide damp deal with it at source John Albury (Gloucestershire)
o Underpinning leads to insurance problems Stuart Bell (Somerset)
o Crazy cracking requires raking & filling Sidney Jevons (Wiltshire)
o Potential purchaser faced with cannibalised stone barn Name withheld
o Removal of concrete screed reveals brick floor Rob & Katie Blair (Leicestershire)
o Hi-tech imaging equipment can reveal property's structure. Nick Bell (Cambridgeshire)
o Iron stains on lime walls John Galloway (Highlands and Islands)
o Can I insert a dpc in clay lump? Chris Groves (Norfolk)
o Towering Chimneys provide home for giant birds Elisa Smith (Lincolnshire)
o Lime Source Tracy Knight (Hampshire)
o Stripping in front of the fireplace Janet Shaw (London)
o Local conservation officer should have the contacts Hugh Zocher (London)
o Dusty pamments need more appeal Stephen Clabburn (Brundish)
o Sources of salvage in London Lisa Reynolds (London)
o Quarry tile floor needs sparkle Ainsley Williams (Worcestershire)
o Dirty limewash in cellar Bryan Sadler (Lancaster)
o Cob shows signs of wear & tear Louise Farrand (Dorset)
o Listed building planning permission required Chris Walsh (Clwyd)
o High ground levels cause penetrating damp Jeremy Bullock (Berkshire)
o Damp floor may lead to un-doing of previous work Claire Greene (Buckinghamshire)
o Timber floors need sprucing up Anna Erken (Gloucestershire)
o How far should I go in removing internal plaster? Alec Gunner (Cambridgeshire)
o Lime source Alison Burleigh (East Sussex)
o Crumbling Cobble Martyn James (East Sussex)
o Metal framed windows cause dilemma Lee Pearce (Essex)
o Stain barrier Mary Page (Lincolnshire)
o Have we really got rising damp Sonia Fagan (Norfolk)
o Use of mastic in timber frame house causes alarm Philip Degg (Staffordshire)

SUBJECT: Underpinning leads to insurance problems
FROM: Stuart Bell (Bridgwater, Somerset)
We have a house dating to about 1800 which has been underpinned twice, 9 and 18 years ago. Since buying the house we have been unable to find any insurer who will even quote for buildings insurance because of the underpinning, and so are stuck with the original insurer.

Stuart Bell

Try speaking to Bureau Insurance Services (01424 220110- web site They specialise in arranging insurance for previously underpinned property. You will need to get as much information as possible about the past works. An up to date report from the last engineer to deal with the underpinning would help confirm (hopefully) that there is no ongoing problem.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 509


SUBJECT: Crazy cracking requires raking & filling
FROM: Sidney Jevons (Chippenham, Wiltshire)
We own a property which has been rendered on the front wall. It is a large area and now needs to be painted. However, there are fine cracks all over the wall, rather like crazed porcelain. Could you advise on a suitable paint, i.e. a flexible paint, or a way to decorate this wall effectively. It was suggested that the cracks be opened further and then filled. This would however, be an enormous task, and of course, raised the question as to what material would be a suitable filler.

Sidney Jevons

You do not say whether the render is cement or lime based. In any event, the approach taken would be similar. Only open/rake out cracks if they are large, as to do so brings with it the risk of creating more lines of weakness and additional future cracks. Smaller cracks can be fine filled with a suitable external fine filler (in the case of cement render) or a fine lime mortar (in the case of lime render). Most modern paint systems (for cement render) would fill fine cracks anyway. Lime wash would fill fine cracks in lime render. If the render is lime based DO NOT use any of these modern systems regardless of their claims of breathability. Use only traditional materials on traditional surfaces. Even with cement render I would suggest that conventional masonry paint is as good as anything.

Period Property UK would like to thank Stephen Boniface Associates for answering this question. Stephen Boniface can be contacted on 01279 421 509


SUBJECT: Potential purchaser faced with cannibalised stone barn
FROM: Name witheld
I am purchasing a farm with a very large listed 16th Century house (in very poor condition), and listed barn (Grade II) that has collapsed due to the current owners having removed a large amount of stone to sell. The owners are bankrupt, so anyone such as English Heritage chasing them for money is pointless. Broadly speaking, if I complete on the purchase, what are my liabilities? My priority is to worry about the house (new roof, wiring, plumbing, windows, damp proofing and much more)and start to think about the barn in four or five years time. I am concerned I could move in, and be issued with an ultimatum to re-instate the barn in a matter of months. Clearly I can only afford so much at any one time.

The answer to your question is simple. Once you become the proud owner of the farmhouse you will become liable for the correction/ rebuilding of the listed barn. Based upon the present owner/s committing a criminal act by selling some of the stone used to construct the barn have you attempted to get a further discount off of the price of the property to help you re-instate the barn? Personally, if the local conservation officer is aware of the problem and is likely to act I would stay well clear until the dust has settled. Have you discussed the issue with your conservation officer?



SUBJECT: Removal of concrete screed reveals brick floor
FROM: Rob & Katie Blair (Leicestershire)
Having purchased a mid 19th Century cottage and spent the last few months removing all the 'lovely' cement render inside and out, to replace with lime, we are faced with a bit of a dilemma with the flooring. The lounge did have a concrete screed that we have taken off, leaving uneven poor quality red bricks which appear to be laid on a lime mortar base, on earth. Is it essential to allow the floor to breathe as the rest of the property and what options are there available to us - asphalt, remove bricks, timber battened floor etc...

Rob & Katie Blair

Rob & Katie, personally, as the lime base still exists I would continue with the brick floor. If the unevenness and quality of the bricks is poor you could gently lift them - this is incredibly difficult to do without them breaking - reverse them and bed them down gently on a layer of sand. Alternatively, you could attempt to remove any damaged bricks and replace them with similar floor bricks. Finally, what better way to spend those cold winter nights than replacing the pointing between the bricks, if it has become infilled with cement, with a weak lime mortar. As you have gone to the trouble of creating a breathing house then you should continue with the floor. An incredible amount of damage has been inflicted on old properties by the construction of concrete floors with a dpc simply forces any moisture towards the internal and external walls of the property.


SUBJECT: Hi-tech imaging equipment can reveal property's structure
FROM: Nick Bell (Fenstanton, Cambridgeshire)
We have been living in a 16th century hall house for about a couple of years. The house was 'modernised' unsympathetically in the 1980s, and we have been trying to restore many of the original features. However, part of the ground floor of the house was encased in concrete when the modernisation took place. We are concerned that some of the original timbers may have been left in there and will be rotting away as they can't breathe, potentially damaging the structure of the property. (The house was originally fully elm framed). We have heard that some companies now offer thermal imaging technology to help identify timbers left in rebuilt walls, but are unable to track down any such company. Can you help?

Nick Bell

Nick, you are quite right to point out the potential problems associated with encasing Elm with concrete which may cause the timber's structural integrity to be compromised by trapped dampness and leading to decay. Having just worked on a Elm framed thatched cottage in Cambridgeshire and witnessing the damaged caused by a concrete render on the property's frame I can understand your concerns. Two companies which can be contacted concerning non-destructive testing are Demaus Building Diagnostics in Herefordshire on 01568 615 662 or GBG in Cambridgeshire on 01223 812 464. I believe in this case it is not only a case of tracing the locating of the timbers, but perhaps undertaking microdrilling to see if the timber is sound.


SUBJECT: Iron stains on lime walls
FROM: John Galloway (Oban, Highlands and Islands)
I am renovating and converting an old stone byre and barn close to the sea in Argyllshire. The stonework has been professionally re-pinned and pointed with traditional lime and the final finish will be lime wash or harl. The walls are of mixed local stone and much of it is Easdale slate containing iron pyrites. Many stones exude quite dense rust staining. Is there any way in which I can treat these areas before limewash/harl finishing so that the rust staining does not seep through?

John Galloway

Unfortunately, I'm unable to help you personally. But, contact the Scottish Lime Centre on 01383 872 722 who are likely to have experienced similar problems in the past and may be able to provide you with some worthwhile advice.


SUBJECT: Can I insert a dpc in clay lump?
FROM: Chris Groves (Norwich, Norfolk)
I have recently bought a clay lump constructed cottage and this is the first time I've encountered this material. The property has a bit of a damp problem and I wondered if there are any possible solutions other than dry-lining the walls? Is it possible to put a damp course in?

Chris Groves

Chris, make your self a mug of tea and sit down for 15 minutes and read the following article which appears on It is written by the leading authority on clay lump in the UK and will answer all of your questions. The article 'Earth Buildings and their Repair' can be found at


SUBJECT: Towering Chimneys provide home for giant birds
FROM: Elisa Smith (Market Deeping, Lincolnshire)
We have recently moved into a 18th century farmhouse which had been empty for 10 years. Now fully renovated, we are troubled by Jackdaws on the very high chimneys. They have built a huge nest (which appeared in the grate!) As the house is 3 storey plus 8ft plus chimneys, we are unable to get anyone willing to put a wire netting on the top ( only partially effective anyway as the pots have holes in the sides!) we have already had a jackdaw in the living room and would welcome any advice on discouraging the nesting.

Elisa Smith

Elisa, can I suggest you contact Microbee Bird Control Ltd on 020 8540 9968 or visit They specialise in the production of devices to exclude and prevent feral pigeons from landing on buildings. Their products can be observed - using binoculars - on Canada House, Trafalgar Square and the Royal Opera House. If they can deal with Nelson's Column I'm sure they will be able to deal with your Jackdaws or alternatively put you in contact with someone locally who could help. Worth a try.



SUBJECT: Lime Source
FROM: Tracy Knight (Basingstoke, Hampshire)
I recently wrote to you concerning some damp problems I was having in my flint house. You suggested that I take off the original plaster and re-plaster. You said that I would need a Lime mix and I believe reading on one of your previous pages that you gave a supplies name in the Winchester area. This would be ideal for me as I only live 16 miles from there. Also can you advise if there is any good time of year to re-point my outside flint wall?

Tracy Knight

Tracy, contact Bob Bennet at The Lime Centre on 01962 713 636. On when to repair your flint wall it is important to have at least two weeks frost free weather for external plastering, to allow the water content to dry out and avoid freezing.. The optimum time for external plastering and pointing is either Spring of Autumn. The Summer months can sometimes be too hot, drying out plasterwork too swiftly and causing cracking.



SUBJECT: Stripping in front of the fireplace
FROM: Janet Shaw (London)
I would like to renovate a fireplace that is in my 1840 house. The surround has been painted with gloss paint and what appears to be a primer underneath. I am not sure of the material it could either be sandstone or limestone. Could you advise me on how best to remove the paint to get the surround back to it's original finish?

Janet Shaw

Contact Strippers on 01787 371 524 who will be able to advise you & supply you with a suitable poultice to remove the paint without damaging the substrate.