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 9

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

The reassuring purr of the mixer has been playing a background tune all morning. True it’s been interrupted by hammering, the metallic whiz of the circular saw and the screech of the drill but, by and large, the hours have passed with us all going happily about our work without incident.

Dave, my builder, and Rob, his younger brother, are making the most of the sun and have stripped off their T-shirts to show the results of their regular visits to the gym. Inside my 1900 terraced house the contented whistling of Jim, the bricklayer, echoes amongst a scene of seeming chaos as the grey blockwork of the wall between what will be my kitchen and dining room rises steadily under his skilled hands.

We’ve been lulled into a mood of complacency by the time the lunchtime gaggle of schoolgirls begin to pass but, when they see Dave and Rob’s exposed flesh, they set up a chorus of wolf whistles. I see Rob turn distractedly from the mixer just as he’s about to tip the contents into a barrow. As if in slow motion, the mixer regurgitates a huge glob of dark mortar which spins skywards before defining a magnificent, feather edged arc across the brilliant white wall and newly cleaned windows of my neighbour’s house.

For a moment we stand transfixed, then Dave steps forward and, with his hand, wipes a smear of mortar from the wall. What remains is an indelible sandy mark which stubbornly refuses all attempts to shift it by water or any one of the succession of other substances we try.

“A potted azalea, that’s what I always buy the missus,” advises Jim who has been quietly watching our fruitless efforts. Shrugging his shoulders in agreement Dave offers to drive me to the florist in his van.

On our return Jane, my neighbour, is delighted with the azalea and has accepted our offer to repaint her wall. Rob, on the other hand, refuses to remove his T-shirt in case of passing schoolgirls and is approaching the mixer as if it is a beast spewing fire.

Jim is carrying on with the air of having seen it all before and, at last, I begin to see the layout of some of the ground floor rooms. At the same time the drabness of the materials makes it feel as if the whole thing is closing in around me and I’m beginning to worry whether there’s going to be enough room for the kitchen furniture.

What concerns me even more is the size of the downstairs cloakroom. Dave has marked out its shape on the ground and insists it exactly matches the dimensions drawn on the architect’s plan; I point out that there’s not room to swing a cat let alone comfortably read a book!

Grudgingly, following a demonstration that involves me sitting on a crate holding a copy of the Sun with Rob acting as a wall, Dave agrees.

For what seems like hours I’ve been cutting a slot in the party wall which will take the end of the lintel above the cloakroom door. My hammering reverberates through the house and I pray that my elderly neighbour is out.

She’s not and, when she appears in my hallway, she’s carrying a headless black cat, or at least an ornament resembling one. “Hitler didn’t manage to break Blackie all through the war,” she says as she thrusts the broken head and torso forward for us to see. Behind me I hear Dave mumble to Rob “It’s azalea time again”.


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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

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