A stitch in time…Makes good sense and saves money
What to look for:
- Worn stair nosings
- Loose joints
- Insect attack
- Chips and cracks
- Missing sections
- Cracked tiles
- Smoking flues
- Lack of draught
Doors should be checked for any warping or any ill-fitting hinges affecting their hanging or closure. An experienced joiner can rectify both of these.
Worn stair nosings, loose handrails or balusters can be dangerous. They can easily be repaired, or replaced if damaged beyond repair. A wood turner can work from an existing baluster to provide a new copy and some companies have copy lathes which can do this automatically.
Wood will natural twist and bend, especially in central heated buildings as this dries out the wood. It is can be natural for doors and windows to adjust over the seasons, however, if it gets progressively worse, then a good joiner or carpenter will be able to ease and adjust the door or window. If a door or window is getting worse, have a look for any cracks or broken stone/ brickwork in the local area, especially under a window. This should be inspected by a experienced surveyor if it progressively gets worse or changes with the weather. If the cracking is at the top of door, this could indicate that a lintel has become defected, and further investigation is also required. Hinges and latches should be kept clean and once in a while, a small drop of good quality oil can be applied. Grease and poor quality oils will only attract dirt and grit which may lead to problems where non existed.
The key principle with internal joinery repairs is to retain as much as possible and to replace only what is necessary using matching timber. Skilled joiners are adept at this. Timber affected by fungal rot or insect attack should be treated – with the source of the dampness removed.
Unless it is a serious case, then the timber does not need to be treated, however, a professional should be able to advise on an individual basis. A simple check to confirm whether timber is infected, or as commonly called wood worm, is to place a piece of white paper underneath a hole and see if any saw dust comes out over a few days. If it not possible, then the paper can be carefully secured (string or masking tape) to the area. Active beetle attack is generally easy to resolve by removing the cause of moisture, normally something like a small hole or a blocked gutter, and allowing the area to naturally dry out. Forcing the drying process, such as using a heater or a humidifier can cause additional problems. Timber panelling or covered suspended timber floors can sometimes be the perfect environment to create the perfect environment to allow dry rot to develop. An easy way to identify this is first by smell - the smell of mushrooms, and by looking for strong and dense cobweb- like substance or alternately, by the evidence of mushrooms. A specialist should be consulted, but in the interim time, ventilate the area if possible and try to remove the water source. This will change the environmental conditions, and start the curing process. It used to be recommended that the infected timber should be removed, with an additional 1m either side, this is no longer recommended.
Marble fire surrounds which have been painted can be stripped using paint removers (but do a test in an inconspicuous area first). Some timber or slate surrounds have been designed to look like marble but wood will feel warmer to the touch. Some stains on marble can be removed using a poultice of fuller’s earth or talc mixed with water. It is best to entrust any more major overhaul of marble chimneypieces to experienced conservators.
Fireplaces were often designed to be lit all day, and have a small fire which would heat the room (and the walls) and provide a long term heat. Many people today will light a fire on rare occasions, or will build the fire up to be ‘roaring’. This can cause damage to both the chimney stack and the surround, and therefore it is advisable to allow the fire to warm the surrounding area, rather than create a rapid heat.
Before checking chimney flues, have them swept first. A good chimney sweep will be able to ’feel’ the condition of the stack or flue and provide you with guidance. Don’t forget, that stoves, either wood, coal or mixed fuel, will also have a flue that requires inspection and cleaning. If the fire is performing badly try raising the fire-bed or fitting a ‘baffle’ at the top of the fireplace opening (such as toughened glass). Regular use of the fire should help as a warm flue draws better than a cold one. A damp flue, such as on an outside wall, will take time to dry-out and warm-up. Some chimney stacks have a cowl or a chimney pot installed. If these need replacing or you are advised that they are required, this will normally require LBC and/or Conservation Area Consent.
Gases from gas fires can be very corrosive, attacking lime mortar joints in the flue. If using these it is advisable to have the flue filled with a flexible steel liner. With changing legislation, some gas fires or appliances will require a vent or air brick to ensure correct and safe combustion of the gas, this is required by law, but careful consideration should be undertaken where the vent should be installed, and any impact this may have on the character, appearance or significance of your home.
Tiles can be repaired using a copy cut down in size. Matching tiles are available but are often thinner than the historical original so that plaster of Paris may be needed to achieve a level finish. If all the tiles are to be replaced, the entire fireplace should be removed as tiles are fitted from the back.
Painted metal balusters, grates or chimney furniture can be stripped using paint stripper or a heat gun (out of context) while remnants of old paint can be scraped off using a plastic or wooden implement to avoid scratching the metal surface.
If the grate can be taken out, it can be cleaned commercially, for example with controlled abrasive cleaning, and repaired with welding and the replacement of missing parts. There are specialist suppliers who stock parts of old grates. Steel grates were used from Georgian times onward and their restoration is rather a specialist job.