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 7

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

I should have realised that it would be tempting fate to extol the virtues of my builders but that’s what I did last night. As I sat at a friend’s dinner table I couldn’t help but feel smug as one by one the other guests recounted stories of their builders from hell.

When the phone rings at 7am I’m still feeling slightly hungover but am soon roused from my befuddled state when I hear Dave, my builder, say “I can’t move, my back’s knackered”. It’s today that the scaffolding is to go up on my 1900 terraced house and, between uttering painful groans, he tells me to “make sure the scaffolders get the ‘lifts’ at the right heights.”

I’ve always thought of lifts as things you go up and down in between the floors of buildings so, for a few moments, we have a frustrating cross purpose conversation. Finally I put the phone down in the knowledge that he’s actually talking about the heights at which he wants the ‘scaff’ board walkways positioned. I’m far from sure that I’m capable of conveying his instructions to the scaffolders.

With a great hissing of airbrakes the lorry judders to a halt and four men resembling Hell’s Angels that have come to size up the opposition drop from the cab. For a moment I’m reminded of a scene from some American road movie but my mind quickly turns to trying to remember what I have to tell them.

“Where’s the guv’ner?” Looking around and ignoring me, the driver directs the question into the air. I tell him that Dave isn’t here and that I need to explain a few things. My words are lost in a torrent of abuse as several lengths of scaffold tube bounce onto the pavement.

Across the road Dave’s white van pulls up and momentarily my spirits lift but then I see it contains only Rob, his brother. Up to now he hasn’t been someone to say much but he’s carrying a sheet of paper and unexpectedly takes command, summoning the scaffolders to listen to me and look at the scribbled sketches that he’s brought fresh from Dave’s bedside.

My role as Dave’s stand-in is taking its toll and I’ve overslept. As I park around the corner from my house I’m assailed by the sound of blaring, thumping music. A few passers-by shrug their shoulders and shake their heads in disbelief; I do likewise and secretly congratulate myself that at least loud radios aren’t a problem with my builders.

When I see my house I’m convinced it’s shaking. I grapple with the front door and simultaneously try to cover my ears but, when I open it, the sound assails me like a tidal wave. I cling to the banister as it vibrates in time with the beat and pull myself up the stairs. Like a firefighter engulfed in smoke I edge from door to door trying to locate the source of the din and finally make it to the second bedroom where the radio is ‘dancing’ on the floor. In one desperate rugby tackle of a movement I fling myself at it and wrench the power cable from its socket.

The silence is almost overwhelming. It’s soon broken by a chorus of “Oi what the **** d’you think you’re doing” from the roofers. I pray for Dave’s return and promise myself I’ll never feel smug again.

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