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 4

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

I can see daylight through the ragged hole in the roof, small wispy clouds meander across the blue sky and seagulls wheel serenely through the air. Normally I might enjoy a scene of such apparent tranquillity but it is disturbed by all that is happening below. The radio is blaring, the circular saw is gnawing its way through timber and there is a rat-tat of hammers that would do the Anvil Chorus proud. Up in the roof Dave, my builder, is leaping about in a demented sort of way and keeps muttering about the fact that the Steels are coming.

The tea breaks are far less frequent than normal but finally Dave stops, sinks gratefully to the floor and takes a steaming mug from his brother, Rob. “Who are the Steels?” I ask. Patiently he explains that they are not people but the steel beams which will go into the roof space to support the new floor of my attic office.

The steels are here but Dave and Rob are not. They mysteriously left on an important mission to the builders’ merchant moments before a huge lorry hove into view around the bend in the road and I was confronted by its agitated driver demanding to know “Where do you want them mate?”

The crane on the back of the truck is now straining under the weight of the lengths of metal as it lays them, one at a time, on the pavement. As the operation is completed, and a passing cocker spaniel sniffs the raw metal and then lifts its leg, I realise that I have made a terrible mistake – I should, somehow, have persuaded the driver to manoeuvre them into the garden.

Dave has not been happy since he arrived back. “You should’ve given him a tenner”, he complains as we try to manhandle the steels before he dismisses my feeble efforts and begins phoning the local wine bar on his mobile. At first this seemed rather inappropriate but then he explains that “It’s being refurbished and my mates there WILL be able to lift the steels”. What is more they are not only going to lift them into my front garden but right up into the attic. It sounds as if things are going to get ugly so I decide that it’s my turn to find an urgent need to visit the builders’ merchant.

It’s the first time Dave and Rob have been late and I’m rather glad I didn’t go to the opening party at the wine bar last night: Dave had warned me it might be “heavy”. Since the steels have been installed – a subject that Dave and I have not discussed but I have heard a lot about from the neighbours – a remarkable amount has been achieved and the attic is beginning to look like a room.

I pace back and forth – which is not easy since there are still no floorboards and to miss one’s footing on the joists would mean plummeting painfully into one of the bedrooms – and worry about the lack of space. What seemed at first to have opened up to become a wonderfully large room has suddenly shrunk and I begin to wonder whether my office furniture will fit. There is also the fact that the staircase that has been delivered is the wrong size and all sorts of compromise are being considered.

I pull myself together: there is something strangely reassuring that, above me, the sky is still blue and I am looking at it not via a ragged hole but through the glass of a new roof light.

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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

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

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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