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...


SUBJECT: Quest for information concerning listed building
FROM: Mike Leppard (Greater London)
How can we find information about a specific Grade II listed property.

Mike Leppard

You can find out the basics from the list description. This is the building's entry in the 'Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest' for your area, commonly known by those in the industry as "The Green List" (because of the colour of the cover). This entry explains why the building is listed, so normally includes the date of the building, the date on which the building was listed, and a basic description. It may also give details of any notable characters that have been associated with the building, but this is rare. The 'Green List' is available to view at various places (e.g. local libraries and record offices), but most people just ask their Local Council as they normally have the most up to date copy (look in the phone book for the right number). If you want any greater detail, then it is entirely down to your own research I'm afraid. Try the Public Records Office, or your local District or County Record Office. The staff at both of these will be able to advise on how to research the history of the building or possibly other sources. If the building is an important local building, then there may be references to it in local history books.

Period Property UK would like to thank Andrew Barber, Conservation Officer for answering this question.


SUBJECT: Sealing bricks unlikely to alleviate damp
FROM: Tom Derry (London)
I live in a 3 storey Victorian terrace built 1886. To the rear of the house there is a bay window extending up all three floors. Around the sills of the ground floor window the brickwork has got soaked with rainwater with a very damp patch about 2 foot high and four foot wide across either side of the bay. At first I though it was rising damp but the brickwork is dry from the ground up to where the patch starts. It looks as though water is splashing off the sills onto the brickwork and the moisture is travelling sideways. Due to the very heavy rain recently this has managed to penetrate what are very thick walls and is damaging the internal decorations. The roof of the bay has no guttering on it (the main roof does) it is only about a foot deep and four foot wide so I believe it does not create enough water to cause this. I can't see what the cause is readily. Should I use some water seal on the brick work. Any ideas are welcome.

Tom Derry

There are many possible causes of dampness in any building. Your description is of some assistance but I believe this is a matter that will need to be carefully looked at. I would not recommend sealing the brickwork as this rarely resolves the problem and can often serve to simply trap moisture within the structure. I would prefer you to other answers that have been given regarding various damp problems. I would also refer you to look at the website run by Jeff Howell. Mr Howell is also based within London and maybe prepared to come and look at your problems to advise further if you would were to contact him via his email from his website. From what you say I would not wish to exclude the possibility of condensation or moisture penetration but this is a matter that would need to physically inspected.

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


SUBJECT: Ventilated dry lining system may solve dampness
FROM: Paul Wilkins (Banwell, Somerset)
We have just bought a lovely 300 year old stone built terraced cottage, with a damp problem in the front wall. This results from a much higher level outside the front of the house. Unfortunately, there is no way of lowering the external level as it is the access to our neighbours property. The path outside consists a concrete surface on loose stone rubble (I know the stone is there as we have a passageway beneath with an exposed stone ceiling, supported on rotten timbers). The passageway is rarely used so once the rotten timber has been replaced we have no issues there. With respect to the inside the plaster shows large patches of efflorescence up to the level of outside wall, and the skirting around our staircase (also against this wall) is showing signs of rot. We have been recommended the installation of a DPC (unlikely to improve things in my humble opinion) and sealing and replastering with a waterproof membrane on the inside. I would prefer a more traditional solution but am sceptical that lime based products would prevent the penetrating moisture from becoming trapped beneath the staircase and rotting the timber.

Also, we have a lovely old slate flagstone floor, that has been repaired numerous times with cement mortar, and has many stains, and evidence of paint spillages etc. Any recommendations for cleaning and finishing

Paul Wilkins

Your description suggests that it would be impossible to lower the ground level externally. A little bit of lateral thinking is therefore necessary. There is clearly a problem of ground moisture penetrating laterally through the wall and it seems unlikely that this can be prevented. The injection of a damp proof will not prevent lateral moisture penetration and its effectiveness in a stonewall is extremely questionable. Therefore I would not recommend injecting a damp proof course. Without inspecting the problem myself it is difficult to provide specific guidance. However, your descriptions suggest that it might be appropriate to use a ventilated/drained dry lining system. There are a number of proprietary products on the market that consist of a plastic material formed with pimples. This is applied to the wall and can then be plastered. The material leaves a slight gap behind it for ventilation and drainage of any moisture that enters the gap. The material itself provides a dry inner face to which a plaster can then be applied. The ventilation/drainage gap at the bottom can be disguised behind a detail such as a skirting etc. Depending upon where the top finishes it can be disguised by a way of dado moulding or perhaps a ceiling cornice. In view of the fact that salts are mentioned you should use one of these materials with quite a deep pimple so that the salts do not crystallise and clock the gap. Regarding the area beneath the staircase and rotting timber etc. I can only suggest that you to improve the ventilation in this area. To remain in contact with surfaces likely to remain damp it would be sensible to use an isolating membrane between the wall and the timber. The timber should of course be treated to give added protection. Turning to the flagstone floor, I suggest removing the cement mortar and repointing and repair etc. as necessary using traditional lime base products so that the floor can breathe properly. There are proprietary products on the market that could be used for removing paint spillages. I would not recommend a brace of methods of cleaning unless as a last result and even then great care must be taken to avoid unnecessary damage. When the floor has been cleaned it should not be sealed and it must be able to breath so that moisture can evaporate through it. If moisture cannot evaporate through it will become trapped and cause problems in the future.

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


SUBJECT: Seek council help due to differing water bylaws concerning septic tanks
FROM: Nina Dendy Corr (Cumbria)
There was a law passed in 1991 regarding septic tanks. Please have you any further information on this law, I have searched but with not success

Nina Dendy

Having undertaken some research myself on this matter I cannot find reference to a law passed in 1991. I do not know where you got this information from. There are building regulations and various water by laws that relate to the installation of septic tanks. There are various different laws and in different parts of the country there could be by laws affecting the installation. If you intend to install a new septic tank you should ensure that the installation is put before the local council for building regulation approval and the local water authority to ensure the installation does not contravene any water by laws. You should perhaps speak to the local council and/or water authority regarding this matter

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


SUBJECT: Specialist societies provide better information than many books
FROM: Adrian Barwell (Leicestershire)
We have recently purchased a period cottage which requires considerable renovation. Could you advise of any good books that concentrate on renovating older buildings. Help would be much appreciated.

Adrian Barwell

There are many books that can obtained some books provide good advise on certain issues but poor advise on others and it is difficult to provide a conclusive list that suggest that all the books are ideal on all matters. It really depends on the specific problems you face. Nevertheless, some guidance would be as follows. English heritage publish book called repair of historic buildings - Advise on principals and methods. Although related to Scottish buildings Butterworths publisher book called The Care and Conservation of Georgian houses, of which contains much useful information. In order to understand the building it would be sensible to ensure that you also read books on the type of structure. This would not necessarily advise on repair methods as such but the starting point for any renovation project must be the understanding of the building. A rather more basic book was published by Collins and is called the Complete Home Restoration Manual but some of its guidance is perhaps questionable in places and you need to treat this with care. Perhaps the best sort of technical advice comes from the society for the protection of ancient buildings as they produce a number of advice leaflets and technical papers. Other amenities such as the Victorian Society the Georgian Group and indeed historic Scotland also produce advice leaflets and technical guidance notes. The SPAB also run courses for owners. Many local authority historic building departments run local courses and some specialist contractors will occasionally run courses to give guidance to owners. I hope you find these suggestions of some assistance.

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


SUBJECT: Paint removal from brick exterior of house
FROM: Andrew Hebron (Teddington, Greater London)
I have recently purchased a Victorian townhouse built in London Stock brick. The previous owners (ill-advisedly) painted the house, once, about 5 years ago. Is there any way of removing this paint without the cure being worse than the disease?

Andrew Hebron

Although London brickwork it is quite durable and reasonably hard I would not recommend any abrasive removal techniques. I suggest you look at the possibility of chemical removal. Wherever removal of paint or other substances from a surface is proposed I would always recommend undertaking the work in small area as a trial to see how well it works and what damage it might subsequently cause. There are a number of proprietary chemicals on the market that can be used for removing paint. One company specialise in the production of such is Strippers. Look under paint removal on the site's suppliers index. If the trial areas prove successful then the removal of the paint can be carefully undertaken. Once completed the surface needs to be washed down with whatever material is necessary to neutralise the chemical stripper (if chemical remover is used). Repointing and repair then needs to be undertaken using appropriate materials. If the finished appearance is poor you might have to then consider how to finish the bricks in future. If you are to paint them then it is best you use a traditional limewash rather than modern masonry paint.

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


SUBJECT: Lack of soundproofing leads to insight into neighbours extra curricular activities
FROM: Neil Sutherland (London)
We have recently bought a flat in a converted Victorian town house. To our dismay the first night that we went to bed we could hear the neighbours' every movement. We later discovered that they had stripped floor boards and were not prepared to part with them. At the moment we are sleeping with earplugs but I wonder if you could provide advice on sound proofing a ceiling in a manner fitting with the buildings style (i.e. not ceiling tiles etc.?) many thanks, keep up the good work.

Neil Sutherland

Soundproofing in a converted property's is always a problem. You do not say when the flat was converted. If the conversion took place recently it should have complied to certain regulations. Enquiries should be made concerning the building control work to check an inspection took place and whether the soundproofing was found to comply with regulations. If not you may have grounds to request that the contractors return and to undertake the work or that the freeholder undertakes the work. However, if the conversion took place many years ago it maybe that there has been no contravention of regulations in force at that time and the problem is simply that soundproofing was not required at the time of the conversion. If this is the case there are a number of methods of soundproofing dividing floors. Some of them involve taking up the floorboard from above but this would of course involve co-operation from your neighbour. Other methods do sometimes involve filling the void with material but this is not always successful. The most successful methods of sound proofing in this situation is to create a separate independent insulated ceiling surface. By ensuring the new ceiling surface is completely separate from the existing there is no possible way for the noise to physically transfer through the fabric. The building research establishment produces a number of leaflets giving guidance on such matters. I believe you will need to go onto there website and search for matters concerning acoustics to find further information on sound insulation.

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


SUBJECT: Let that floor breathe
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

Quite simply, yes, it is essential to let the allow the floor to breath otherwise you will simply cap ground moisture and force it to find a route elsewhere which would normally result in additional moisture at the basis of walls, chimney, etc. If the brickwork is in poor condition it might be best to take it up and reform the floor in a conventional manner but omitting a membrane and using traditional materials including lime on which to bed the bricks, etc. Any pointing to be undertaken should be carried out using a lime mortar. To recreate the floor it will mean excavating some of the earth so that hardcore etc. can be laid before the blinding of sand and then the lime mortar, etc. This should provide satisfactory floor finish that will continue to breath but will not necessarily result in a damp floor. One word of warning - Do not lay fitted carpets. When a traditional floor exists in a building it is necessary to use other floor coverings such as rugs, etc. that can be lifted regularly. A modern fitted carpet will simply rot as this would trap moisture underneath.

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