Restoring Victorian Buildings

Bobby Dazzler

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The MBClub collective never ceases to amaze me. Even the most obscure topics often have a few members who know quite a lot and there may even be one or two professional experts. So fingers crossed…

I’m very close to buying a large late Victorian building which will require some restoration to the roof, brickwork, and stonework. Surveys have identified some issues which need to be addressed.

There is damp in several places around the building, some of which appears to be linked to the roof and guttering, and some appears to be linked to spalled brickwork and stone window surrounds.

A roofer, bricklayer and stonemason visited the property and all quickly reached an “extreme” conclusion, ie whole new roof, all walls raked and re-pointed with lime mortar, and extensive stone window repairs.

Now it’s possible that all of this might be required, but what is being proposed by all three tradespeople is completely out of proportion with what two separate building surveyors have suggested.

I will arrange for another round of quotes to compare, but I hoped someone here might have done something similar, or might even be professionally involved in sympathetically restoring similar buildings.

I’d be especially interested if anyone has done something similar in Derbyshire or neighbouring counties, and can recommend tradespeople or businesses who could take on the full project.

Please feel free to PM me if you prefer to do that rather than post publicly. Thanks for taking time to read this post 👍🏻
 

ChrisEdu

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Sometimes, buildings might be suffering from damp due to an inability to breathe. On der builders, if a cement mortar has been used in place of lime, or as a render, it will stop the building breathing and require rectifying. You should get an inspection by someone that knows about this type of thing to give a thorough, and honest, appraisal.

With the roof, it's worth finding out how old the current one is, and also whether there are any signs of rot in the timbers, as can happen as a result of damp ingress.
 
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Bobby Dazzler

Bobby Dazzler

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Sometimes, buildings might be suffering from damp due to an inability to breathe. On der builders, if a cement mortar has been used in place of lime, or as a render, it will stop the building breathing and require rectifying. You should get an inspection by someone that knows about this type of thing to give a thorough, and honest, appraisal.

With the roof, it's worth finding out how old the current one is, and also whether there are any signs of rot in the timbers, as can happen as a result of damp ingress.
Thank you for taking time to explain, I really appreciate it. You’re spot on, it’s been suggested that the whole building has been re-pointed (at various points in time) with a cement based mortar over the top of the original line based mortar:

With one possible exception, it doesn’t seem to be causing damp at the moment, but could likely be causing lthe spalling, ie the moisture isn’t passing through the mortar so it’s trapped in the bricks - it freezes, the brick can’t expand as the cement mortar is harder than the brick - and so the face is blown off the brick.

To my very inexperienced eye there are some patches which are definitely cement based, some areas which seem likely to be lime based, and some areas I’m not so sure. The brickwork above the level of the ground floor window cills is in much better condition, which makes me think it may never have been repointed with cement, and is doing it’s job.

Around 80% of the brickwork is above the window cill so it’s possibly unnecessary. The surveyor also suggested that only patches had been pointed with cement based mortar, so I definitely need another expert opinion. I need a trusted view so I’m hoping that a recommendation here might help with that.

Regarding the roof, it’s been estimated by the surveyor to be from the 1950-60s, with the tiles, rafters and felt generally being in good condition based upon visible inspections from the ground/ladder and accessible parts of the loft.

The roofer went up there and lifted some tiles and suggested it’s in need of replacement. Again another trusted view is required, and I was hoping that there might be a recommendation or two from MBClub.
 

clk320x

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Can’t help with the technical side but sounds like a very exciting project! Good luck with it. :)
 

MikeInWimbledon

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Can’t help regarding Derbyshire but can offer that your experience is similar to mine 30 years ago when I bought the 1860 Wandsworth vicarage which had been maintained to a very low budget post-war.

Surveyors thought it was repairable / modernisable at much lower costs than the initial tradesmen estimates that came in.

The modernisation was brought in on a modest budget by finding builders by recommendation and by using a structural surveyor as the project manager. (Someone with real experience of the sector and my geographic area, not just a bossy spreadsheet jockey.)

Good luck with it.
 
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Bobby Dazzler

Bobby Dazzler

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Can’t help regarding Derbyshire but can offer that your experience is similar to mine 30 years ago when I bought the 1860 Wandsworth vicarage which had been maintained to a very low budget post-war.

Surveyors thought it was repairable / modernisable at much lower costs than the initial tradesmen estimates that came in.

The modernisation was brought in on a modest budget by finding builders by recommendation and by using a structural surveyor as the project manager. (Someone with real experience of the sector and my geographic area, not just a bossy spreadsheet jockey.)

Good luck with it.
It does sound like it might be a very similar situation, and finding the right person or people will key to the success of restoring it.
 

oldguy57

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It does sound like it might be a very similar situation, and finding the right person or people will key to the success of restoring it.
One of the things that became apparent when I started inspecting buildings was the fact that refurbishment costs can become quickly out of hand if you are not familiar with building construction. Mike's approach of using a structural surveyor as a project manager, by using a bill of quantities, is the best way. This prevents contractors from overstepping the mark - "sorry guv I thought you wanted the whole roof replacing that's why we stripped it". If you are talking about tens of thousands in repair costs, it's a false economy not to employ a suitably qualified project manager, although some contractors don't like it for obvious reasons. Depends on your experience in this type of thing.
 

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One of the things that became apparent when I started inspecting buildings was the fact that refurbishment costs can become quickly out of hand if you are not familiar with building construction. Mike's approach of using a structural surveyor as a project manager, by using a bill of quantities, is the best way. This prevents contractors from overstepping the mark - "sorry guv I thought you wanted the whole roof replacing that's why we stripped it". If you are talking about tens of thousands in repair costs, it's a false economy not to employ a suitably qualified project manager, although some contractors don't like it for obvious reasons. Depends on your experience in this type of thing.
It's not just the mortar on the outside of the walls, but also what have the insides been rendered with - sand/cement and gypsum plaster ? - that's not going to breath much either.

If water has been getting in then you can guarantee that any floor boards or wall plates any where near the stone work will also be rotten.
 

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Following up on the internal breathability theme:

- modern paints are often not very breathable, especially satin or these wipe clean or kitchen and bathroom paints. Original paints in old buildings were some form of chalky distemper, that would allow the walls to breathe much better. They are unpopular because by their nature, they transfer on to stuff (you) if you brush against them.

- If there is a suspended floor, check the air bricks are clear and in good condition and see what accumulated tradesman rubbish has been thrown under the floorboards so they don't have to dispose of it correctly. In my 1930s modest 3 bed house, I dragged out about 20 rubble sacks full of rubbish left by builders over the previous 90 years. This will retain moisture and not help airflow under the property.

Good luck. Pics please when in a position to post them 👍
 

Harrythedog

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I’ve done a couple of old properties up and have found the roof timbers to be solid. If there’s felt underneath the tiles it’s definitely been replaced at some point. The biggest bugbear to look out for is if someone has put a concrete floor in, this causes no end of problems. The majority of damp is caused from above, roof or gutters. Good luck with the project and even better luck with the paint stripping 🥴🥴🥴
 

Ted

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We had a lot of work done on the roof and attic done a couple of years ago. Cottage built in 1859, and one of the purlins had bowed (it was quite a bit smaller than the others) - we had a steel put in and new trusses installed.
just stating a couple of probably obvious things but..
There will be additional costs for unforeseen problems and also improvements that you may not have thought about. We had the balustrades rebuilt and proper coping stones rather than the blue brick coping as the roofers were in and scaffolding was up. Lots of other stuff too like bigger windows, giving us a proper room up in the attic with large windows and a knock through to the other part of the attic with a fireproof door etc.
The builder and subbys were fantastic - kept us updated weekly and asked us about any changes/additional work needed. They also billed us on a regular basis so costs never went out of control.
Despite the builders clearing the rubble there will be lots of dust and debris up there. It’s really messy.
You will need to be able to accommodate all of the vans and cars for the workers.
There will be disruption to the neighbours too- ours were very understanding.
We had an understanding that all work would be done from the outside/attic to stop people traipsing through the house. I didn’t think this would be possible but they kept to their word.
Lot’s of tea and biscuits went down well.
They will probably mess up your drive/garden with all on the coming and goings and material movement.
 

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renault12ts

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My last house was a large Victorian villa completed in 1873.

Over the 27 years we were in the house we did various renovations and refurbishments.

The house was repointed in the '90s with sand and cement...and never suffered one iota for having been done this way.

The greater part of the roof is the original to this day, though some was stripped and reinstated with new "felt" and battens.

Generally the reception rooms of victorian houses will be lathe and plaster to the external walls and some (but not all) will have a three brick deep solid wall.

The lesser rooms, ie kitchens and sculleries etc will be 9 inch wals and plastered directly on to the wall...these, invariably will be damp. They also liked to place wood wall plates in the solid walls at about every 10 courses or so...these will be rotten and should be replaced. You might consider dry lining for these walls.

Patches of damp caused by external sources are easily remedied when the source is rectified.

Spalled bricks can be easily replaced by a good bricklayer and you will not see the join.

The victorian house I was born in is still in the family after more than 65 years...and is vastly better than it was in 1957...modern techniques and materials can improve buildings. The next house we moved to as a family, also late victorian, is also still in the family and again brought up to an as new state of repair.

Without knowing your house specifically, the only cause for concern would be the roof replaced in the '50s when they really didn't know what they were doing.

Good luck with the project and above all...enjoy the process.
 

renault12ts

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We had a lot of work done on the roof and attic done a couple of years ago. Cottage built in 1859, and one of the purlins had bowed (it was quite a bit smaller than the others) - we had a steel put in and new trusses installed.
just stating a couple of probably obvious things but..
There will be additional costs for unforeseen problems and also improvements that you may not have thought about. We had the balustrades rebuilt and proper coping stones rather than the blue brick coping as the roofers were in and scaffolding was up. Lots of other stuff too like bigger windows, giving us a proper room up in the attic with large windows and a knock through to the other part of the attic with a fireproof door etc.
The builder and subbys were fantastic - kept us updated weekly and asked us about any changes/additional work needed. They also billed us on a regular basis so costs never went out of control.
Despite the builders clearing the rubble there will be lots of dust and debris up there. It’s really messy.
You will need to be able to accommodate all of the vans and cars for the workers.
There will be disruption to the neighbours too- ours were very understanding.
We had an understanding that all work would be done from the outside/attic to stop people traipsing through the house. I didn’t think this would be possible but they kept to their word.
Lot’s of tea and biscuits went down well.
They will probably mess up your drive/garden with all on the coming and goings and material movement.
I've not seen a purlin bend to such an extent!!
 
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Petrol Pete

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Bobby. I can't help directly but I can give you my interpretation of how some of the Trades think , well at least down my way.

For reasons I have yet to fathom out all of my 'pub mates' - some I have known for over 30 years - are tradespersons. Plumbers , Roofers , Painter & Decorators , Carpet fitters , Carpenters , Stone masons , Dry stone wall builders, Tilers ,bricklayers and general builders are amongst this Motley Crew . Here is what I know about them and how they 'operate' ,

None of them want to carry out what they call 'Hospital' job's anymore , meaning 'all or nothing' .

They are in such demand many will not pop round to fix a leaky gutter but will happily replace the whole system , my plumber mate basically fits new boilers and carries out services , leaky tap ? need a radiator moved ? call someone else.

The self employed carpet fitter is so fed up of what he calls the 'Christmas rush' in December he is leaving the country on the 6th December and back on the 6th January, Just last night in the pub he told be of the great deal he got his business class flights.

None of them will work off ladders these days , always scaffolding/cherry pickers etc. Again , these are just self employed guy's that I know who are all 'well sorted' so can afford to skip the small stuff, but if they wanted to work 24/7 they could . They have work coming out of their ears.

Hopefully different up your way . Best of luck.

Disclaimer: I am a qualified electrician . But I don't do 'house bashing' I found a more lucrative angle a long while back.

PS . On my own 122 year old house every single one of the damp issues was caused by something other than the actual building itself . Everything from the gas box fitted (probably in the 1960's) flat against the brickwork trapping moisture to poorly fitted windows to name just a few. The house itself (slate damp proof course) is solid.
 

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