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 11

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

It could have been worse; it might have been the whirring blade of a circular saw, a fall from scaffolding or electrocution, instead it was a radiator bracket. I’m now sitting in an overheated cubicle of the local hospital’s A&E department with my finger in a great swathe of bandages.

Just half an hour ago I was in my 1900 terraced house happily fixing the skirting board in the master bedroom following the completion of the replastering by Dave, my builder. Somehow, in one of those slow motion moments, I sliced my finger on the bracket sticking out from the wall. At first there was no pain and not much blood, I simply looked down and… well, I’ll spare you the details.

Steve, the plumber, had offered to drive me to hospital but I was feeling foolishly brave. It wasn’t until I changing gear that the pain and blood started, so I drove all the way in second. The hospital car park was full but, waving my bloodied finger at the shocked driver of a SUV, I’d taken a space as it was vacated. It was then that I’d seen the large black and yellow notice “VEHICLES WILL BE CLAMPED IF NO VALID TICKET DISPLAYED”. I’d gone to my pocket and, of course, discovered that my work trousers contained no money.

The stony faced A&E receptionist had looked at me disdainfully “Everyone has to pay, that’s the rule…” her voice trailing off as her eyes followed the trail of blood that had fouled the grey linoleum and was now threatening her desk. After the briefest hesitation she scribbled a note on hospital notepaper and commanded me to “Put that on the windscreen”.

Hospitals make me feel anxious; I start worrying about my house. For weeks Dave has been reassuring me that it’s nearly finished. But the work is well behind schedule and this was meant to be the week of the big push when it’s transformed from building site to home.

Floorboards have to be laid, the huge pile of boxes that arrived yesterday has to be transformed into a kitchen, doors have to be hung, plastering has to be finished, and the last of the radiators has to be installed so that the heating can be tested.

Not only was my finger meant to play a crucial role in at least some of these activities but long ago I’d realised my presence and nagging on site is vital to keep the momentum going and prevent my bank balance spinning even further out of control.

Eventually Dr Aziz, a kind and efficient man accompanied by a nurse, leads me along a dull hospital corridor to a room where an antiquated panel of dials is mounted on the wall. I’m instructed to lie on the examination table. The process of trying to fix an armrest to its side is complicated; the nurse drops a vital bolt and both she and Dr Aziz end up crawling around on the floor. Standing up, the nurse cracks her head on the examination light and, as Dr Aziz unwraps the bloody bandage around my finger, I see her turn deathly white. He’s oblivious to her staggering out of the room.

As he works to repair my finger we discover a mutual interest in renovating old houses. It’s only when he come to the job of stitching, and looks for a means of cutting the suture, that he mutters in exasperation “Where’s that nurse?”. We both look up as a matron like figure sweeps in and responds “She’s ill in the corridor, it’s her first day, you’re bloody finger finished her off”.

Dr Aziz takes the scissors that she hands him but they prove to be so blunt that they’re incapable of cutting anything. He shrugs despairingly, “Hopefully your builders are better equipped than the NHS.”

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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

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

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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

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