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 3

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

It’s amazing how inanimate objects can take on such importance. I’m contemplating a cardboard box. It contains a kettle, a coffee jar, tea bags, an enormous quantity of sugar and an odd assortment of mugs which my builders, Dave and Rob, have just delivered.

When they arrived, promptly at 8am, I was relieved and smugly decided that my builders were not going to be like those in the nightmare stories told to me by friends. I was filled by a feeling of pride that I, at least, had got it right. Now, ten minutes later, Dave and Rob are gone and I’m gripped by nagging doubts.

According to Dave they haven’t been paid for their previous job so are “Going round to get heavy”. It’s not an image I can easily imagine. Dave, with his shock of blond hair and ready smile, and his brother Rob, who is painfully shy and rarely speaks, strike me as a pair hardly likely to instil fear.

I tell myself that they’ll be back. After all, it seems highly unlikely – unless it’s an exceptionally clever ploy and they have numerous boxes containing kettles and tea – that any self-respecting builder would deposit such important items of their trade without planning to return very soon.

Whatever their ‘heavy’ tactics, Dave and Rob are back – with the money. The radio is blaring and the three of us are sitting on the floor, drinking tea. It may be a day later than planned, and still no work has been done, but the talk is of lintels and blocks, roofers and carpenters.

Suddenly the project feels real but less daunting than before, despite the fact that my architect, Patrick, has warned me that it isn’t for the faint hearted. I’m not really surprised that he said this since, at the time, I was in the process of telling him that I was dispensing with his services – I’m going to see the whole project through with the builders on my own.

Patrick has always known this, though he was still surprised at my decision. Over the past months he has done sterling work, drawing up plans, incorporating my amendments and dealing with the local authority planning department, but there comes a time when the money won’t stretch any further. Already I’m walking a financial tightrope that has me more than a little worried.

Someone who has already been through what I’m embarking upon gave me three bits of advice. First, don’t do it. Second, if you do, add at least one nought to every figure. Third, be prepared to spend at least one hour every day checking that all’s going according to plan.

Dust and noise fill the air, the skip outside is filling fast. My mood has changed again and suddenly I’m depressed as I realise the huge amount or work that has to be done before any real building can begin. Dave and Rob are in the roof space systematically smashing their way through the ceilings. I hate the destruction but they’re already a botch of modern plasterboard and, because the loft is to become an extra bedroom and office, steelwork and new joists are needed.

My eighty year old neighbour laughs when I apologise for the noise. “One of those ceilings came down years ago; woke me up it did. Mrs Dixon, the old dear who used to live in your house, slept right through it. Deaf as a post of course. Found her lying in bed covered in dust, fast asleep!”

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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…

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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…

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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

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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….

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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…

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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