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 8

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

It was going to the dentist that started it. Sitting in the waiting room I leafed through dog-eared glossy magazines while trying to shut out the sound of the drill in the next room. I was looking at other people’s homes; homes that had carpets, chairs, pictures, curtains and all the other things that we take for granted as being part of everyday life.

My 1900 terraced house is not like that. Where there should be a chair there’s a bag of plaster, a workbench stands in for a table, the kettle balances precariously on an upturned bucket while the awfulness of the mugs used for tea defies description.

I know it’s no different to any other building site but it’s been like it for a very long time. As I lay gripping the arms of the dentist’s chair until my knuckles were white, I made the decision that it was time to start preparing for interior decoration by removing the existing wallpaper.

“You’ll need a decent steam stripper,” remarked Dave, my builder, as, with a deft arm movement, he peeled away an enormous patch of old wallpaper without any apparent difficulty. “They’re easy to use, you shouldn’t have any problems.”

Dave has decided he needs a weekend off to placate “the misses” who never sees him so, to keep me happy, he’s “got a mate to fix me up with a stripper for a couple of days”.

Anyone happening to overhear this tantalising remark might have been envious but I’m now staring at a disappointing tangle of hose, cable and associated equipment lying on the floor of the front room.

My initial impression is that every component is totally incompatible with the next. Water dribbles in small rivers across the floor from the end of the hose as I struggle to make the thing work. But, like a dragon woken from a long sleep, it finally hisses forth an unpleasant cloud of stale steam. In confident mood I don my goggles and gloves and set out to strip the front room in time for a satisfying mid morning tea break.

It’s now midday. My goggles and gloves have long since been discarded – the first steamed up, the second became unbearably clammy – while, pressed against the wall, the stripper is huffing, puffing and gurgling furiously. I’m increasingly convinced that the decorators of the past were determined that their work should never be destroyed. To make matters worse, a layer of gloss paint covers the wallpaper’s surface.

In frustration I give an extra vicious scrape and quite suddenly I have something in my eye. I squint, I close one and then the other, I roll them. In my distracted state, the stripper suddenly gushes hot steam into my crotch so that I bend forward and become entangled in its hose. Reeling backwards with my eyes partially closed I end up on the floor crawling along the power cable until I’m able to wrench the plug from its socket.

I drive to the hospital dangerously with one eye closed and the other watering. The eye specialist is unimpressed by my story and, with a sigh, clamps my head in a device that looks as though it’s been designed for torture. He tells me to relax. Instantly I tense but, with a quick flick across my eyeball, he successfully removes a fleck of paint and I have the blissful feeling of being able to see again.

Like a naughty child I am told to go and sit in the waiting room while some eye drops are prepared. On the table is a pile of dog-eared glossy magazines. Instinctively I reach out my hand.

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