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9 Expert Tips for Renovating an Old House

With the current housing shortage and the rising cost of land, the chance to renovate an old, disused or abandoned home or outbuilding can appear tempting. It could be a way for you to climb the housing ladder or extend without the disruption of building from scratch. Whatever your reasons, if you find yourself renovating an old house, these expert pointers could save you time and money.

David Granger Expert Tips for Renovating an Old House

1. Firstly, get some professional advice

You should always go into any building project with your eyes wide open, so seek help from a builder at the very beginning. Don’t be seduced by the property’s location or its layout. It pays to be critical of its faults and defects.

Take the time to prepare a plan, estimate the likely costs and schedule of the time required. Depending on circumstances, the building may need a lot of preparatory work. So, it’s essential to get the basics in place to avoid having to unpick things later, with the additional costs that would incur.

For example, don’t just assume the structure of the building is sound. Fitting a kitchen or bathroom over a timber floor without thoroughly examining it first could result in the fitting needing to be removed later because you need to replace rotten or defective floor joists.

It is essential to gain an understanding of the structure of the building, whether it be traditional masonry, rubble/stone, random slate or oak framing. Using the wrong techniques or materials can lead to further damage down the line, which might not be necessarily apparent from day one. For example, the use of cement mortar to make repairs to existing brickwork built using lime will cause further deterioration of the brickwork and issues with damp. This is because lime mortar allows the building to breathe, whereas cement mortar does not.

2. See a surveyor

It may be necessary to obtain a Chartered Surveyor’s report to understand potential problems stemming from:

  • Damp
  • Subsidence
  • Drainage issues
  • Infestation
  • Roofing problems

You should be specific when asking for some of this information in your report, primarily where it affects timber work. Often the timber used in the framework a building cannot be easily inspected.

For example, a typical problem is rotten wood in the roof space that can’t be assessed adequately until the roof has been stripped. One place to look is at the wall plate – the timber member at the top of the wall to which the rafters are secured. It may have rotted from the outside due to the continual soaking and drying caused by a failed gutter. This is something that would not necessarily be apparent from an internal inspection of the loft.

3. Dealing with damp

Many older buildings are prone to damp problems. When assessing for rising damp, you might be able to undertake some investigation for yourself. Check that all downpipes are in place and that water is not leaking back into the building from guttering or pipework. Make sure the drains aren’t blocked, causing water to escape. Broken or missing gutters or downpipes can cause other failures if not attend to over a period, including damage to walls, staining, and erosion around foundations leading to the cracks in the brickwork.

Another problem area to look for is where plaster bridges the damp-proof course. This can allow dampness to transfer through the plaster into the wall above the DPC line, causing staining and failed decoration.

If, after having checked for these problems, damp is still a problem, you may need a specialist surveyor to assess the extent and then to carry out the necessary remedial treatment.

There are many other factors that can cause dampness, including condensation, previous repairs using the wrong type of plaster or even the introduction of a new solid floor where previously a timber floor existed. A new floor containing a damp-proof membrane may mean that any moisture below can no longer permeate through the floor or be vented away. Instead, it is forced into the walls, causing rising damp.

David Granger Expert Tips for Renovating an Old House

4. Retaining original features

It is always worth looking to keep any original features to add value. While contemporary lifestyles may necessitate changes to the layout of the building, period features are still much sought after. Items such as Minton tile floors, original doors, skirting boards and window frames are all candidates for retention or repair work. The careful removal of skirtings and architraves will see them salvageable, provided they haven’t started to decay. They can be treated for woodworm and, with some care and attention, have their paint stripped away.

5. Windows

It is tempting to remove existing single-glazed timber windows and replace them with more modern materials and double-glazing. This can not only alter the character and appearance of the house but also the way it breathes.

Without sufficient ventilation and sealing gaps, new windows can lead to condensation problems, resulting in mould around the windows where air circulation is poor.

When repairing windows, you should also consider the aesthetics. Changing a window’s opening or style can have a detrimental effect on the building’s external appearance.

6. Up on the roof

Something else that can affect the appearance and original character of the house is replacing the roof tiles with more modern materials. Care should be taken, if this is the case, not to increase the load on the roof by using denser tiles, otherwise strengthening work will be required.

It is usually preferable to strip an old slate roof and then re-lay the slates over new battens and felt. There will inevitably be some slates that are broken or unsalvageable. In this instance, new slates should be either randomly mixed in with the existing ones, or put on one section of the roof in isolation, for example over a bay window or in an area that’s not readily visible.

7. You can’t renovate it all

There will probably be some items which can’t be renovated. These include services such as hot and cold water, heating systems and electrical installations. A budget should be set aside to re-plumb and re-wire the property. Electrical installation needs to be carried out by a competent person who can certify the work once complete.

It may even be necessary to replace the incoming water connection back to the water authority main if you discover it’s a small lead pipe. The demands of modern heating and plumbing systems require a higher water capacity than those of the Victorian era.

8. Planning the work

Renovating an older property can be stressful and a time-consuming process. But it can also be very satisfying to create your dream home or to make money and move on to your next project.

You should weigh up your abilities and understand what works you can do yourself, and find the right builder for the rest of the project. This needs to be balanced against the cost of the work and the timescales you’ve allowed.

You may also consider extending the property as part of the works. If so, you will need to ensure you comply with planning requirements. Building regulations could also apply to the renovation as well as the extension, so it’s advisable to speak to a Buildings Inspector before starting work.

9. Managing your finances

With any building or renovation project, your budget is always an essential factor and needs to be continuously monitored. Don’t overspend on high-quality finishes when there are still outstanding bills to be met.

Seek specialist advice on VAT. If your renovation is a conversion, you should only pay 5% VAT on eligible labour and materials. Similarly, if your project is a house and it has been empty for two years or more, then again VAT is 5%. If you employ a contractor who is not registered for VAT, then ensure you don’t pay them any VAT.

When you have looked at costs, budgets and estimates you may conclude that your renovation project would be better as a ‘demolition and rebuild’ project. This is a big decision on many counts, but one of the main reasons people do this is that new build houses are not eligible for VAT. The VAT can be claimed back once, only after the completion of the project. Again, this route can bring a different set of problems, such as planning permissions.

We can help

If you are looking to renovate a property and/or extend it, please do not hesitate to ask us for advice. We have many years of experience with renovated older buildings and would be happy to have an initial consultation with you. Give us a call on 01530 560939, or contact us using the form below.


We Can Help

David Granger Architectural Design Ltd have the experience and expertise to help you make the right choice about your new home, whether that is to extend, makeover or consider a new opportunity. Please get in touch using the form below, we are here to help.


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