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.

Renovation tale – Part 10

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…

I should be asleep, not propped up in bed at midnight leafing though pages which drip grains of sand, are stuck with over sweetened tea and are as dog-eared as any copy of Hello in my doctor’s waiting room. But these aren’t magazines filled with photographs of celebrities or beautiful houses, they’re brochures for lavatories, baths and taps that include complicated charts of dimensions and flow rates.

Dave my builder and Steve the plumber have been nagging me for days to make a decision so that they can order the sanitary ware and fittings for the bathroom and cloakroom. Choosing things has never been my strong point and I’m now in an agony of indecision and frustration, unable to find exactly what I’m looking for; everything is either too big, too small or the wrong design.

Like some murder scene, the floor of the bathroom is chalked with lines. The outline of the bath looks enormous but I’m still unsure, I don’t want a bath where my knees are up under my chin and I can’t have a decent soak – I’ve experienced too many of those.

Eventually I’m decisive. I write the ‘final’ list, wishing I’d thought more about these things months ago when I had time and wasn’t exhausted by the constant pressure of the project. When I eventually fall into a fitful sleep it’s filled with nightmares in which pipes burst, taps drip and baths fail to fit their allotted space.

The morning is bright and I’m cheerful as I arrive at my 1900 terraced house. I open the front door but, even above the sound of the radio, can hear raised voices. As far as I can make out Steve is uttering the key phrase. “I only put that f*****g pipe in ten minutes ago, y’ve bent it ya stupid b*****d”

Everyone, except Jim the bricklayer who is carrying on with wall building as if nothing is happening, is in the dining room. There are no floorboards, just joists with gaping holes beneath and, on these, Dave and his younger brother Rob, Steve and his mate Fred, and Colin the electrician, are balancing. Every so often, as the exchanges ebb and flow between them, one or other loses their balance and has to regain it by leaning on the wall as if engaged in some bizarre dance.

When Dave notices me, and tilts his head to signal my arrival, they all look sheepish and then, suddenly tottering on the joists, all reach for the walls simultaneously and lean, uncomfortable and motionless. At the same time I get a clear view of the copper pipe that Rob apparently stepped on and bent.

Fred, who is barrel like, bearded, tattooed and was apparently a Hells Angel in his younger days, plucks the offending length of copper from its place beneath the floor. He then grabs Rob and bends it in a neat circle around Rob’s body as if it’s a ribbon around a parcel. Suddenly the tension eases and even Steve smiles.

With so many people now working in the house every room appears to be getting smaller. Base camp is the master bedroom and here tool bags, sandwich boxes, mugs and biscuit wrappers litter the floor. Supplies of everything from nails and screws to insulation material and sand are arriving by the lorry load and are being stored in every available space. What’s more, the schedule is slipping and I’m handing Dave ever larger cheques.

Patrick my architect laid down specifications for all the key items but his main benchmark in any choice seems to have been to pick the most expensive. Dave has suggested that “we trim the fancy bits” and, for my bedtime reading tonight, has issued me with a batch of Steve’s radiator catalogues.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

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

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…

Materials testing

Materials testing

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

Hidden London

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

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading