The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

Flooding and old buildings

Flooding and old buildings

Incredibly, a YouGov survey commissioned by Landmark Information Group has revealed that, although one in four homes are at risk of flooding, 83% of homeowners don’t believe their homes are at risk.

In the hope of making people more aware, Landmark – a supplier of digital mapping services, property and environmental risk information – launched National Flood Risk Awareness Week in conjunction with the National Flood Forum. In its wake it seemed useful to highlight some of the things to think about if floodwater does enter a building, especially an old one.

Speed but not haste is the key. Always aim to keep as much original fabric as possible and clean and repair sensitively to avoid further damage and loss. Remember that the approach promoted by some insurance companies can be highly damaging to old buildings so seek advice from the local planning authority’s conservation officer or other experts. The English Heritage publication Flooding and Historic Buildings is invaluable.

Once the building is safe to enter, clear away the water, mud and silt from inside, under floors and from the bottom of external walls. Encourage ventilation by clearing air-bricks of silt, moving furniture and pictures away from walls and lifting carpets and other floor coverings. With suspended floors, lift a number of floorboards (but no more than necessary) in each room to allow air to circulate, taking extra care when lifting swollen floorboards to avoid damage. If items such as panelling, door frames and skirting boards have to be dismantled, the work should be done with great care and by a good carpenter. Remember to number and record the position of items as they’re removed and turn them regularly to limit warping.

Don’t discard items until you are absolutely sure they can’t be conserved. They may in any case serve as a useful model to create replicas or when trying to find matches. Where appropriate get advice from a conservator or conservation architect.

Care and patience is needed when drying out old buildings. Bringing in heaters or turning the central heating to full can be catastrophic, making the remedial work more damaging than the flood itself. The work must be done gently and slowly through ventilation and with the aid of dehumidifiers. Fans speed up the drying process by increasing airflow and the evaporation rate.

Windows and doors, including cupboard doors, should be left open but be aware of the security risk and, if necessary, fit temporary grilles to secure openings. Stripping non-historic wall coverings will also help the drying process. Older lime based plasters usually soften when wet but generally harden again when dry. More modern plasters tend to deteriorate and may need to be replaced.

Don’t attempt to redecorate until the fabric has totally dried out. When you do, it’s more important than ever to use traditional ‘breathable’ paints rather than modern, potentially impermeable finishes.

Image credit: Landmark Information Group

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SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

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Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

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Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

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New techniques and materials aimed at producing low carbon solutions mean this is an exciting time to be involved with new build and retrofit. There are dangers though, in the rush to innovate there may be failures along the way so it’s vital that there’s scrupulously testing and monitoring at all stages. This is why…

Hidden London

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Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved. Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the…

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working…

Listed building allure

Listed building allure

Every year, many of the estimated 450,000 listed buildings in the UK change hands on the property market. In England and Wales these properties are designated Grade I, Grade II* or Grade II having being deemed to be of historical, cultural or architectural interest. All buildings built before 1700 Tweet

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings….

Fire in old buildings

Fire in old buildings

The devastating fire at the Grade I listed, 18th century National Trust mansion at Clandon Park, Surrey, once again highlights the need to do everything we can to protect old buildings. Whatever the size of the building, there are simple measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire, ensure early warning of a…

Adapting old buildings

Adapting old buildings

The need for fresh air and light in buildings is something I’m often talking and writing about because it’s central to creating a good home, but the theme is nothing new. I was reminded of this when I recently visited the King Edward VII Estate, near Midhurst, West Sussex. Here, the former sanatorium is being…

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this…

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it…

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First…

Renovation tale – Part 1

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