How to treat really old beams?

I've got some very old beams in my house. They're approximately 8"x8" (though some are round and some are larger) and there's about 35m visible. I'm pretty sure they are mostly elm.
So far, I've stripped the limewash that was on some of them, gone at the really wood-wormy ones with a wire brush, and treated them all for woodworm. I don't think there was any active woodworm, but better safe than sorry. The oldest and worst affected beams were alarmingly soft until I got to the heartwood, which is solid!
So, I'd like to treat them with something which would stabilise the slightly flaky surface of the wood-wormy beams, but would still look OK on the unaffected beams. Any suggestions?
T
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Easy enough to get a thinned down resin or whatever that will stabilise, but the punk wood will always look a bit plasticky afterwards.
best to do them all the same. Then sand a bit.Don't attempt a penetrating stain afterwards though..if you want colour, use a coloured varnish (also called stains of course!)
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Briwax is often used for this sort of thing
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snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

ask on the period property uk forum, they actually know
NT
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snipped-for-privacy@care2.com wrote:

If you know that they know, why don't you just tell us?
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Stuart Noble wrote:

Because he doesn't and nor do they?
For some reason he's trying to shill the site. Probably gets a pay per click income off it.
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The Natural Philosopher wrote:

Because you and stuart always show up on these threads giving inappropriate advice.
NT
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snipped-for-privacy@care2.com wrote:

Well you would say that, wouldn't you?
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snipped-for-privacy@care2.com wrote:

Try explaining yourself for once.
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TNP wrote:

its no secret thats what I think of your advice on this one topic. Enough people have followed such outdated advice for the resulting damage to be a known deal. That is precisely why the experts in the field no longer recommend the approaches that were common decades ago.
Stuart Noble wrote:

With respect, this topic and other PP topics come up over and over and over, and have been answered over and over and over. I'm not an automatated typewriter, if the OP wants to help themselves with a little basic reading they will. I've shown them where they can find it. If you want me to get into the same old territory with you 2 time after time, I really dont see the point. You 2 are too lazy to go read up on this stuff, and that wont change.
NT
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PP is not a seat of learning. It's a commercial self-interest group with a slightly religious flavour. Suggest it by all means, but it is the height of bad manners to re-direct people there.
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Stuart Noble wrote:

it is as much as here, and like ukdiy it has its own strengths

Its not a commercial group at all. The people involved have no more tie with the hosting company than we have with google.
And whats a self interest group? :)

Thats lame. They have views that differ from yours, and can back them up.

Last time I checked a link to relevant expertise wasnt bad manners.
I hope that when it comes to the maintenance of PPs, people take time to read both, then they'll avoid rushing in with the wrong actions, as too often happens. And where advice differs they'll understand why, and hopefully come away knowing for themselves what line to follow. Many that have failed to take the time have lost either historic fabric, and too frequently a lot of money, later.
NT
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snipped-for-privacy@care2.com wrote:

There is no right way or wrong way to treat a 'period' property. Not unless you take the religious view that there is some externally imposed absolute morality with respect to old buildings.
It all depends in what you wish to preserve, and for what purpose.
There is a huge gulf between approaching it as a museum conservation job, and merely wishing to retain a period flavour in a modern low energy, and usable. living space.
Without identifying the desired result first, there can be no 'right' or 'wrong' way to approach such a task.
Anyone who has actually studied really old house will know that they have been subject to one rebuild and extension after another: in te 17th century it was fashionable to remove wattle and daub, and infill with brick between timbers.and build brick chimney stacks where there had been smokeholes..
A timber frame cottage was of course the equivalent of a Wimpey home today - cheap, not very good, and in Victorian times, definitely something to be covered up and made more habitable.
It is the curse of nostalgia that today, everything more than 50 years old is held to be so precious it must be preserved in what ever ridiculous state it is now, forever.
Personally, if you want to live in a decent pegged joint oak frame house with lime plaster and so on, then buy a tatty old 50's bungalow, demolish it and build one.
You can then make sure that tucked in its walls, build on substantial foundatinons that wont subside or heave, is a damp proof course, and some insulation. And all the wires and pipes you want to add the ridiculously un 17th century lights and central heating.
Ok the BCO wont let you make a ladder as main access to the hayloft, or bedrooms as we would call them, but that's the price you have to pay.
OTOH if you want to spend three times as much restoring and living in a museum that requires three times as much energy input and ventilation to keep it dry and free from rot - it's your choice. Just don't foist it on the rest of us as the 'only proper way' to approach the problem.
Frankly, there are a million ways to treat fluffy punky bemas, from removing them and burning them and replacing with RSJ's to using any one of a number of stabilisation techniques. It depends on what you want to end up with.
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The Natural Philosopher wrote:

I very much agree with your sentiment that there are differing aims, and of course differing resource levels of owners, and I think thats too often overlooked. But that does not mean there are no wrong ways. Each way has its own results, and unfortunately the cement/waterproof/ dpc approach with historic properties has caused too many owners too much money to be an approach still worthy of recommending.
The reality is that the great majority of old houses now in poor condition were designed in a way that worked, and still works today if a suitable approach is taken. The end results of some suggestions I see on ukdiy are all too familiar. And thats one of the strengths of the pp forum, they are familiar with the end results of those outdated maintenance methods and the damage they have caused.
NT
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snipped-for-privacy@care2.com wrote:

Oh yes, there is no right way, but there are plenty of ways which used together, produce a result that is not what is desired.
However, to take ONE element - say waterproof rendering - and call it 'wrong' is just stupid. It ios not WRONG, it is just that it has to be part of an overall different approach, as I have said many times.
Damp control is no more than keeping humidity below a certain level.
You can tackle it two ways, by allowing it to get out faster, or stopping it getting in so fast.
There is nothing wrong with e.g. waterproof render if the damp is getting in via driving rain. Its if its getting in another way, and you are relying on a breathable surface to let it get OUT, that it is inappopriate.
Likewise the use of 'soft' mortar is not necessarily appropriate either: You can build a house to accomodate movement, or you can snsure that it doesn't move at all.
Again the key point is to keep the actual movement below what the techniques used can accomodate..
So e.g. building a modern extesnion onto an old house is a simple exercise in cost benefit: whether it's going to cost more to stabilise the existing by e.g. concrete underpinning, or build the new as sloppily and old fashioned as the old, able to take a few cm of movement without cracking away..
Neither approach is wrong. What is wrong is the mixture. Abutting a rigid well found structure against a flexible ill-found one is asksing for trouble. .

That is actually a contradiction in terms. Most old houses that are gone, are gone because the cost of repair of some pretty shabby construction exceeded the cost of replacement: Most old houses that are in a poor state of repair are that way because the cost of maintenance was too high, or the cost of heating them was too high and they weren't built very well to begin with.
You have to take a view on what you want to do with an old property. The average life of a house is about 120 years by and large. With a major - really major - refurb every 50-60 years. That's not to say that they will not last much longer if looked after, more that the conditions they were built for render them pretty inappropriate for the use they need to be put to after 120 years, or even 60..
You just need to look no further than the number of barn conversions and urban warehouse developments turning essentially industrial buildings into bijoux des rezzes, that has gone on..and even churches and chapels..
The only thing I would say about those is that they are in general slightly less hideous than the new stuff that has been and still is put up by property developers looking to turn a fast buck.

Yeah, like keeping a chimney open and leaving all the draughts in place and throwing money into heating. An open fire gets rid of huge amounts of damp from a place, and a huge amount of heat goes up the chimneys too. Fine if you can afford a parlour maid to set all the fires first thing...
OTOH of you are in the business of trying to pull your carbon footprint down, they need serious treatment throughout. Energy efficiency implies either very extensive heat recovery systems, or low ventilation rates.
Breathable hoses don't gybe with high insulation levels either. The moment you make the interior cosy, you have much colder walls, outside the insulation, from which water wont so readily evaporate.
Old houses were not designed for central heating. Period. Or electricity or plumbing, either.
If you want modern standards of heating and comfort, you have to redesign them. Or throw money at them. Whether you throw money into redesigning them, or heating them, is an individual decision. As is how far you modify them to achieve sensible standards of living, and ongoing costs, whilst preserving whatever aspect it is you feel you want to preserve.
My old house had a leanto extension on the back, that had been opened up to make a bigger room. The rearmost section of it comprised what at a glance looked like an oak post and an oak beam going across the back of the original part. Only when I demolished it did I discover it was actually an 8x8 softwood (could have been an RSJ) that had been encased in some old oak floorboards..and the black painted beams turned out to be an odd assortment of timbers, some oak, but an awful lot of patched in bits of what appeared to be quartered pine poles..the whole structure was rotten to the core with damp..some having got in at soffit level, some rising out of the exceptionally damp clay, where a pool of water was found under the raised floors.
It wasn't a pretty house, it had been totally buggered, and was thoroughly inconvenient. It got the chop. I built a new oak framed house instead, that looks like it is a conversion/refurb. Most people think its several hundred years old..in part..
I like oak, I like beams, I like old fashioned inglenook fireplaces built out of tudor brick. I also like heating bills that don't upset the bank manager, a decent kitchen, underfloor heating and bathrooms to wallow in. I don't like the smell of damp and draughts. I achieved my target.
Cost a fortune, but its a nice house. Nostalgia, is expensive.
Frankly, most of the stock of house built between 1880 and 1950 could probably be better torn down, and replaced, if only the developers had more than a half pounce of imagination and flair between them. And save a huge amount on heating bills. If I've seen one row of victorian two up two downers with a kitchen/bathroom extension on the back, I've seen a thousand, If I have seen one street of bow windowed demi-tiled 30's houses with single brick construction, and stained glass about the doorways and tiled porches I've seen a thousand..
Trash em I say. All bar a representative few. Ugly, badly built, near the end of their useful lives, and totally useless and energy inefficient an unsuited for modern living.
Thst what the Victorians and Edwardians did to all the ramshackle country hovels that no doubt you would drool over. Used to be one near where I lived, on the fens. No water, no toilet, no electricity, no access road, and just about all that was left was a central brick chimney, and a collapsing structure of rotten oak beams. Overgrown with brambles. Would have cost a fortune to put services into, although the location might have made it worth while. That old fen used to have nigh on a thousand people living on it, or off it, 100 years ago. five pubs, two churches..now its about three farms and about 50 labourers cottages lived in by god knows who..
Times change, and housing has to change with it. People are not prepared to live the way they lived 100 years ago, and no wonder..and the houses designed for that era are not fit for purpose today. You may, if you are middle class and affluent, take one and spend a lot of money making it so, but the original inhabitants couldn't afford to.
The end results of some suggestions I

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wrote:

And as I've said many times, the damage waterproof rendering causes is now known. Thats basically the definiton of 'wrong'. Whats news here? If you have a proposed method you think prevents the damage it causes, either to brickwork, stone or timber frame, I'm all ears. I've a feeling you don't though.

really, no. Attempts to control damp that cause expensive damage to the fabric of a building are all too familiar.

Another popular myth. Damp doesn't 'get in', the net flow of damp in all houses is from interior to exterior. Think about it: we cook, we breathe, we shower; if the net flow of damp werent from interior to exterior the house would flood.
Assuming the house is maintained and water isn't pouring in somewhere, then problems result when the outflow of damp is insufficient.

Why don't you go find out how it damages buildings.

of course. Houses that do move do need soft mortar. People do sometimes spend unreasonable amounts of money on underpinning without good cause.

yes quite - I wish today's BR took that and more into account. Its not so hard to do either.

Why houses are gone is another topic, mainly down to higher density redevelopment as population has increased. A house has to be in a hell of a state before rebuild is cheaper than repair.

They are mostly in a bad way with damp because inappropriate repairs and maintenance approaches have been used. The idea that century old buildings were faultily designed is just a persistent myth. Faulty designs are rare.

quite. Several times as long.

Really no. Look in any estate agent's window.

I dont think barn conversions tell us much about the ability of old houses to meet modern needs. They're old barns, not old houses.

yup :)

There are rather more sensible methods than that. You propose a straw man there.

Just insulation and draughtproofing works pretty well. If you want to take it further HRV is far from expensive.

I'm unclear if youre describing interior, exterior or cavity insulation. All 3 work fine on old houses, if done right. The large number of all 3 in satisfactory use demonstrates that.

There is just no basis for such a claim. Obviously at some point they got heating and electricity, just as a new build does on day 1.

I've seen quite a lot of old houses, and very rarely do they need redesign. I don't know why you think they do.

Are you going to claim all old construction is like that? Every era has its failed bodges, the old ones are usually long gone. That's one of the plusses of old properties: regardless of modern build regs, a century or more has proved their ability to work satisfactorily in almost all cases. The level of complete failures on modern properties will likely be higher than on the remaining stock of century old builds.

... all of which is easily achievable in either an old house or a new build.

So you're one of those people who'd rather spend 6 figures per house rebuilding than 3-4 figures insulating. The crass foolishness of such a blanket policy has been seen before. There are always some cases where it makes sense due to other factors, but as a blanket policy its just foolish and destructive.
And fwiw, the vast majority of developers either don't have imagination and flair, or more often arent willing to spend the extra to achieve it. And of course BR and planning heavily restrict attempts to make houses nicer or better featured. We have to live with the reality of these issues rather than a dream.

ditto new builds - so what

I'd say that viewpoint is well cobbled.
If you look at the market value of old versus new buildings you'll notice your view is massively outvoted.

Challenging your illogic doesn't mean I like hovels. Thats just more illogic.

Populations occasionally leave an area, and what remains isnt worth investing in... I dont know what you think that proves.

About 20 million Brits live in such old houses, and most of them work fine. Their market value reflects that fact.

Yes, we upgrade houses at times. Showers, internet, insulation... Just because your old house was a complete mess doesnt mean all others are.
NT
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In message
snipped-for-privacy@care2.com writes

Massive snip!

May I offer to hold your coats:-)
No sooner had the compressor started up to begin removing the concrete floor in my Victorian barn than the planning enforcement officer was along to do battle for the nimbies.
In fact he readily agreed that as it is agricultural and not listed there was no interest from town planning.
However, it is an excellent argument for what you are both saying. A century or so of alterations as farming needs changed has wrecked what might have been a sound building. The question now is whether I can afford to re-work the structure up to modern standards with a realistic pay back or retain a two storey stable block 10m from my front door.
regards

--
Tim Lamb

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No such thing as penetrating damp then. Is that part of the new wave thinking over at Periods.com?
Unless you're running a laundry with the windows closed, the humidity of a normal house is below the outdoor level. A building centrally heated to 18 deg C will be short of moisture during the winter. If you've ever worked in a modern office, you'll be familiar with the static build-up because of low humidity despite all those humans breathing (often heavily).
You still don't seem to have grasped the difference between water and water vapour. Materials that stop rain pouring in don't necessarily prevent vapour getting out.
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Stuart Noble wrote:

Even in those cases, the net flow of water vapour must still be from interior to exterior, it it werent the house would flood. Do you understand why?

If you mean lower RH, yes. If you mean weight of water vapour per cubic metre of air, its higher. Interior/exterior air exchange is an important mechanism for getting rid of interior vapour, even in a cold wet winter. Air holds much more water vapour as temp increases, and RH is a measure of the level of saturation, not of grams per cubic metre. If you take damp cold outdoor air and warm it to 20C, RH drops and it feels dry.

Right. Your point is?

strange thing to say

Indeed, but some do, and some have caused many a problem.
NT
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snipped-for-privacy@care2.com wrote:

No, and I don't see how it's relevant. What we are concerned with is water pissing through the walls, not relatively small amounts of vapour going in or out.

It doesn't matter how much moisture is in the air as long as the air is warm enough to support it. In a normal house this shouldn't be an issue.

I would have thought the point was clear. Moisture generated from the inside isn't sufficient to satisfy the requirements of warm air in winter, hence there is no movement of moisture outwards.

Can you think of a material that vapour doesn't waltz through with ease? Certainly not anything cement based. Possibly the spray on, never paint again, acrylic coatings. I've seen examples of water trapped behind those, but I've also seen them rock solid after 20 years. My hunch is that they work best when the brickwork was sound and they weren't required anyway. Even so, the coating has remained intact and the buildings haven't suffered. In other words they fail because rainwater gets behind them, not because of the migration of vapour.
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