First impressions count. Most homebuyers confronted with the dispiriting sight of flaking paint and rotten timbers will be harbouring doubts even before reaching the sticking front door, sagging drunkenly off its hinges.
If you happen to be on the lookout for a suitable renovation project, however, blatant signs of neglect can sometimes be a blessing in disguise. Defects that deter competing purchasers will more than likely enhance your negotiating position. So, you might be lucky and bag a property that only needs a spot of decorative TLC to bring about a radical transformation.
Conversely, the wrong call can also turn that bargain into a festering money pit, and even experienced surveyors sometimes fail to spot more serious issues lurking behind flaking façades.
Shop external joinery, soffits, fascias and bargeboards for your project
Most properties have external timbers that need periodic decoration to stave off the threat of deterioration and decay. The most obvious place to start is at the front entrance. Even where the main door has long been replaced with a PVCu, steel or composite model, the original wooden frame and threshold could have been retained.
Changing main doors can do a lot to enhance a property’s kerb appeal, but may not always be the best option. The front door is central to the personality of your home, and on older properties, changing them can alter the building’s character.
Joinery Around the Roof
Things become more challenging as you move higher up the building to the joinery around the roof and eaves. Most properties have fascia boards running along the edges of the roof, covering the ends of the rafters, providing a handy fixing point for guttering. These often take the form of projecting ‘box’ eaves (comprising a fascia and soffit infill ‘ceiling’ underneath).
Soffits usually have vents providing ventilation to the loft, and may be of plywood, asbestos cement sheeting or, on period houses, lath and plaster or timber boards. Buildings with gable ends may also feature decorative timber bargeboards under the edges of the roof slopes (the verges).
All of which begs the question, why locate softwood boards on the most exposed and vulnerable parts of the house where they’re likely to suffer severe weathering and rot? This might explain why some houses were built with minimal external joinery — managing perfectly well with exposed rafter feet at the eaves, gables with corbelled brickwork, and pointed up verges.
If your house is generously endowed with exterior joinery, the good news is that, in many cases, the exposed timbers at roof level probably won’t be in too bad a condition. In older houses this is thanks to the fact that the timber was of superior quality, plus being so well ventilated, damp is free to evaporate. On the other hand, exposure to years of leaking gutters will eventually take its toll. So increasingly woodwork at the eaves and gables will have been replaced with (or concealed by) PVCu — often installed when the guttering is renewed.
Will I Need Planning Permission or Other Consents?
Planning permission is required in Conservation Areas when replacing front doors and making any obvious alterations to the ‘principal elevation’ visible from the street. For listed buildings, consent is required for any significant changes throughout the building.
The Building Regulations apply where you want to make any structural alterations, such as enlarging an existing opening to install a wider pair of double doors.
Remedying Decayed Fascias, Eaves and Bargeboards
Identification and implications
Evidence of flaking paint, staining from gutter leaks and localised rot are all signs that will require further investigation.
- Some old houses have fascias moulded into intricate gothic designs, or fabulous carved bargeboards; these architectural gems are well worth preserving. Fortunately, in most cases, any decay will be fairly localised. But in many properties the joinery is fairly utilitarian and can be replaced without the slightest qualms if decay has set in.
- Box eaves on properties built between the 1940s and ’70s commonly feature soffits of asbestos cement sheeting (often identifiable by flaking paint struggling to adhere). This is very common and isn’t normally a problem, but care must be taken not to drill, sand, grind or damage the material, as inhalation of fibres can be a health risk. If left undisturbed and undamaged, the general consensus is that asbestos sheet materials present no significant concerns.
- Most half timbering is purely decorative, so if serious decay has set in, they simply need replacing with new matching strips of treated timber.
- In some Edwardian and 1930s houses, it’s not unknown for the posts and beams around gable windows to be supporting gable brickwork and loadings imposed from roof purlins. A structural engineer will need to be consulted where timber work is load-bearing.
Defective softwood fascias can be replaced with matching PVCu fittings or more durable timber. Bargeboards can similarly be replaced or removed entirely, and any small gaps in the exposed masonry pointed up.
In most cases, however, some basic maintenance may be all that’s required.
- Small areas of rot can simply be cut out and the remaining sound timber treated and filled prior to redecoration.
- Areas of more extensive rot will need replacement with treated timber. In historic properties, original patterns can be copied in matching new timber (at a price).
- Any rot to exposed rafter feet may have structural implications and should be traced back within the roof space. Fortunately this is rarely a problem; at worst, weakened rafters can be doubled up or replaced.
- All external joinery will need to be thoroughly rubbed down and decorated. Recommended intervals between paint cycles vary from three to five years depending on how exposed the location is. Exterior painting is best carried out between June and September, when the moisture content of the wood is typically lower.
Lead: Bear in mind that on houses built before the 1960s there may be layers of ancient lead paint under later coats of modern gloss. But there’s only a health risk if lead compounds are ingested or inhaled (e.g. dust from sanding), so precautions should be taken when rubbing down.
With period properties, the best finish for external joinery is the modern equivalent of the original lead-based variety: natural linseed oil paints. These are similar but use substitutes such as zinc in place of lead, and can be applied over existing sound lead paint, or to bare sanded wood.
Cost of Associated Work
|Supply and fit bew PVCu capping fascia over existing sound eaves timbers; white PVCu boarding fixed with stainless steel screws||Fascia board (225mm wide) = £39/m²
Soffit board (225mm wide) = £43/m²
|Take down old fascia boards to flat roof, cut and fix new grooved fascia board (25 x 150mm)||£15/m²|
|Take out existing fascias and soffits, remove all nails and prepare structural timbers to receive new boarding (700mm girth)||£34/m²|
|Fix soffit vent; take out soffit board, cut back width and refix to fascia incorporating new continuous 50mm wide soffit vent||£42/m²|
Fixing Damaged or Decayed Timber Doors
Identification and Implications
Patches of soft, cracked and swollen wood, usually at lower level, are symptoms. Deterioration tends to be fairly localised, and it’s often just the base of a door frame or cill that’s rotten, or if decay has set in along the very bottom edge of the door.
There are three main options when it comes to upgrading your external doors:
- overhaul the existing door and frame
- replace just the door itself
- fit a combined new door and frame.
The right choice will depend on the size of your budget as well as the condition of the existing door and the age of the property. If the existing door is only a cheap modern model, replacement is likely to be preferable.
Replacing doors can be time consuming and expensive, so if the originals are of decent quality, it’s worth repairing them if possible.
Small areas of rot in an original door may be cut out and the affected area made good using special wood filler. Larger damaged sections can be replaced with well-seasoned wood to match the original. Damaged wood can be cut out and patch repaired by scarfing in new lengths of seasoned timber cut to size.
Common door problems include:
- Warping: a good carpenter can usually adjust or repair light warping on front doors.
- Split panels: The mouldings that retain the panel can usually be prized off and the panel replaced with new plywood.
- Loose joints: If the top or bottom rails have come loose at the join with the stiles, then the door will have to be dismantled and the joints glued and clamped.
- Rotten bottom rail: The rail can be replaced by removing the door from its hinges and a new rail cut to size.
Choosing a replacement door for older houses isn’t always easy. Sizes are often non-standard, frames may be distorted, and period styles can’t always be matched, although specialist firms will make replicas.
Doors manufactured from PVCu are usually supplied as a complete unit with an integral frame. Their main advantage is that they are virtually maintenance-free, although they are not always as attractive-looking as the traditional wooden variety and can’t be ‘eased and adjusted’ like timber doors. Some PVCu frames have prominent integral cills (a continuation of the ‘all-round’ frame) and some higher profile versions can potentially be a tripping hazard.
When fitting new doors, a clearance gap of about 3mm should be left at the top and sides, but you need to allow for the fact that the door will tend to drop over time. Note that where both the door and frame are being replaced simultaneously, they are defined in Part L of the Building Regulations as ‘controlled fittings’ and have to meet minimum thermal insulation standards. Replacement doors are required to provide a U value of 1.8 kW/m² or better for the whole door.
Cost of Associated Work
|Work||Cost (incl materials and labour|
|Take down single exterior door, ease, adjust and rehang||£72|
|Replace damaged or missing water bar with new galvanised steel bar bedded in mastic||£66|
|Take out existing door frame and replace with new hardwood frame (838 x 1,981mm)||£335|
|Replace door with new external panelled timber door with top glazed panel, including refixing all ironmongery||£396|
|Repairs to doors and frame, take down, piece in damaged sections, make good decorations and rehang||£94|
Making Good Sticking, Damp or Draughty Entrance Doors
Few things are more irritating than a front door that stubbornly sticks every time you go in or out of your house. Poorly maintained wooden doors are prone to expansion during the winter months as the timber draws moisture from the atmosphere. In the summer, they naturally contract as they dry out.
Poorly fitting doors allow draughts and rain to blow underneath, resulting in wet floors, unpleasant damp smells, and doors swelling and sticking. Rain runs down the outer face of the door and underneath instead of dripping off the front. Externally there may be large gaps between frames and the surrounding wall.
To determine where the door is sticking, open and close it a few times.
- After removing the door, you need to draw a line as a guide to the area to be trimmed before cutting it down with a plane or sander.
- Hang the door again and repeat this process until the door closes freely.
- Once it moves freely, you need to remove the door again and trim a further 3mm from the area that was sticking.
- This should be sufficient to accommodate a primer, undercoat and top coat (ideally oil-based paints).
To decorate a door, it’s a good idea to temporarily remove it at the hinges so that all the edges can be fully primed and finished. If the old paint is in poor condition, the door may be damp and must be allowed to dry out before repainting. It’s worth noting that new frames should have a damp-proof course around them to prevent damp seeping through.
Rainwater is prevented from entering under main entrance doors by means of the threshold. This might typically take the form of a raised hardwood cill to the underside of the door, typically 125mm deep projecting with an overhang of about 80mm at the bottom to drain rainwater away. Traditionally cills incorporated a projecting thin steel strip known as a ‘water bar’ cill underneath the door.
So if water is getting in under the door, check whether there’s a water bar. If not, fit a new one. This requires the door to be taken off its hinges so a rebate can be cut along the bottom edge or a seal fitted. It’s also worth fitting a ‘weather board’ that projects out from the bottom outer face of the door; this should have a thin grooved drip underneath.
Once the door is operating smoothly, the frame can be draughtproofed with special seals tacked and glued in place. Gaps between the frames and surrounding masonry wall will need to be sealed with a suitable silicone mastic, or larger gaps pointed up in a weak mortar.
To prevent cold bridging when refitting door frames in cavity walls, special insulated plastic ‘cavity closers’ should be installed. Also, to improve thermal efficiency, thin door panels can be lined with insulation boards.
Whether repairing or replacing main doors, security is obviously an important issue. Probably the best mainstream locks are five-lever deadlocks, plus a cylinder rim lock for front doors. The easiest type to use are mortises with lever handles that automatically operate a latch bolt and deadbolt.
When specifying new doors, those certified to PAS 23 / PAS 24 should provide optimum security. Locks should be specified to comply with BS3621. Also look out for those doors that meet Secured by Design standards.
About the Author
Chartered surveyor Ian Rock is director of the survey price comparison website www.Rightsurvey.co.uk and author of the Haynes Period Property Manual.
Image: John Lawrence