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2 posts from November 2010

15 November 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

When I decided to write this diary of the refurbishment of my new home it was so that what I learnt could be shared, on the basis that every build, no matter how trained and experienced you are, is effectively a prototype.

So, dear reader, some "Top TIps" for you.

If you are contemplating buying a property built around 1960 - 1980 do have an asbestos survey done in addition to your building survey. This is perhaps well recorded advice. In our case, though, we simply had a building survey done, partly because the survey identified asbestos, for which I had a straightforward strategy in terms of management.

Little did I know, in spite of inheriting the original build archive, that as we stripped out we would find a whole lot more asbestos, most alarmingly lining all four walls of one bedroom, lining a partition wall in the living room and lining another partition wall between our intended master bedroom and dressing room - plus some other bits and pieces.

Which is kind of ironic considering the man who built the building was an asbestosis specialist - and has clearly been merrily chopping up left over AIB (asbestos insulating board) to insulate the odd extractor fan and roof light too.

As with all building challenges the thing to do first is keep calm and second garner information on the same problem from a number of different sources, because I can guarantee you that they will all say something quite different. It's rather like seeing consultants in the medical world: all of them are experts but they will often have different opinions and, unfortunately, it's down to me and you to use our own judgement.

In the case of asbestos it's fair to say that there is a lot of alarmism in the industry: asbestos is a scary word and unscrupulous specialist companies exploit our fears. Having said that asbestos is not nice. Nor is it uncomplicated.

There are different types of asbestos of varying degrees of toxicity described in simple terms by a colour coding - white, brown and blue, with brown (the type we have of course) being the most toxic and white being the least. But then there are also different compositions within these categories which determines toxicity too.

The first thing to do after you have had your asbestos survey done is to have suspected asbestos tested. The test itself costs just £15 ex VAT-ish but you may want a specialist to take the sample, in which case you will be looking at £150 + VAT-ish.

One way to check for walls lined with AIB is to simply remove light switch plates and look at the exposed edges of the cut out in the wall behind: if you see a greyish 4mm-ish thick board this is probably AIB. If you don't want to do this yourself just make sure your surveyor does instead.

The test will indicate whether you need a licensed contractor to deal with the problem or whether your contractor can, so long as they have had the right training.

If you need a licensed contractor make sure you get at least three opinions and quotations: we have had prices quoted from £20K plus to £2-£3K. And in one particular area one firm quoted £2.5K for removal and another £440 for management, as per HSE (Health and Safety Executive) regulations - so be warned.

In the end we have appointed SEC (www.secasbestos.com) because the MD, Richard Greening, seemed helpful and pragmatic as well as being professional - and was extremely transparent about costs. Hopefully he can start on the minor items this week and once the 14 day period of notification to the HSE has expired he can get on with the larger items.

What this does mean though is flexibility in design. So long as asbestos is undisturbed it is not a threat so strategies I am deploying are things like:

- replacing skylights where I had planned to remove them, as the interior is lined with AIB

- rethinking the electrical and plumbing plans in affected areas so we don't have to penetrate the wall

- reconsidering how we treat the walls in the bedroom fully lined with AIB

This matter has been complicated by the massive damage we have experienced as a result of very poor protection to the roof while works have been in progress. For example, in the affected bedroom the building surveyor is recommending re-plastering. Which means removing asbestos. Do we really need to? I'll hopefully find out today. 

Furthermore where there is water damage to ceilings and walls elsewhere these need to be stripped out, but the cost is more than doubled where there is also asbestos.

So if you are having any roofing works done and the roofer tells you that he has protected everything have a good look yourself and use your common sense. And if you want more protection ask him to do it and tell him how. As an extra insurance cover everything you value inside to protect from any water.

Our parquet flooring in the living room is we are told, "unsalvageable", but I am going to experiment with salvaging parquet from other areas to make a repair - and where we plan to have a 3m x 3.5m rug simply install ply beneath.

As the poster says, keep calm and carry on.

01 November 2010

Please Don't Let It Rain

Hmmmm. Well this is an interesting trade off. As the roof gets repaired the inside disintegrates, thanks to rain pouring through the temporary "protection" applied prior to new waterproofing being installed.


The main contractor has fewer ceilings to pull down now but we were hoping to keep the floors! And the saving on demolitions is but a speck of plaster dust in comparison to the cost of remedy to the parquet.

Les the roofer promises extra protection measures but I need to be sure the bits of new insulation and existing timbers that got a soaking won't cause problems now, or in the future.

Thank goodness we're not living there.

And that the main works start next Monday 8th. Local firm Whittakers won the tender and I can't wait for them to make a start.