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 2

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

All night the wind and rain have slapped against the windows. Several times I stare out as lightning forks the sky, momentarily illuminating the web of telephone lines that extend glistening from their pole. Nearby my derelict old house is enduring these ‘acts of God’ and I worry about my insurance policy. Absurd “What if?” scenarios dash through my head and merge with my dreams. Could the wobbly chimney have fallen into next door’s kitchen and killed their cat? Could the roof have blown off and ended up in the Chinese takeaway down the road? Could the…?

No morning has the right to be as outrageously cheerful as this. Nature, like a teenager who has trashed his parent’s home, is trying to make amends and the sun is shining. I pass the takeaway and don’t see my roof, my neighbour’s cat is sitting contentedly on the pavement but, as I open my front door, I know something has happened.

In the box room – the room that is to be my bathroom – great hunks of plaster are tumbled on the floor while daylight splits through the gaps between the laths that once held the ceiling. A large patch of roof slates has gone and the rain has done its worst. I phone Patrick, my architect, and ask for the number of the builder he’s suggested I should use.

Never, never try and lift the pot off a chimney when you are precariously perched on a ladder and expecting the arrival of the builder you’re thinking of employing. Sadly no one has offered me this advice and I’m sure Dave and his younger brother Rob see me teetering, my past life rushing before me. Absurdly I have time to think about the woman who must once have toiled in the kitchen that the chimney served.

I safely reach the ground and Dave takes the pot from me and grins. “That’s worth something you know.” I’m not sure whether he’s talking about seeing my near death experience or the pot.

Dave is 26, he’s bright and genuinely interested in the house; Rob says not a word but goes red whenever he thinks he might have to. Standing in the loft, Dave fingers the slates through the hole in the roof.

“They’re knackered, that’s a shame – they’re not even worth salvaging.” The surface of the slate he hands me is powdery and the layers that make it up are delaminating. It’s a blow but not an unexpected one and at least as we inspect the roof timbers we find that they’re sound. Both Patrick and the structural engineer, people I would have expected to be ready to cope with such things, had refused point blank to enter the loft space because of the wasps’ nest that hangs like a stalactite from the timbers.

I haven’t seen a single wasp since I’ve had the house and now, just to make sure, Dave heroically taps the nest. What would have happened if it had been inhabited I’m not at all sure – Dave says he’s terribly allergic and the last time he was stung he ended up in casualty.

The brothers have nailed a big patch of felt over the hole in the roof. They’ve also taken down the rest of the chimney. I suspect this is principally to ensure that, rather than lying splattered on the ground, I’m around to employ them as we’ve now shaken hands on the fact that they’re to be appointed as my builders. What’s more, Rob has spoken his first words: “Thanks for the tea.”

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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…

Drain problems

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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

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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