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Tips for Renovating Old Dwellings on the Farm

September 201316th


Tips for Renovating Old Dwellings on the Farm

The three top rules when renovating or adding to an old stone built dwelling

  • Find out if the building is a listed building or a protected structure and obtain a declaration regarding the proposed works from the local heritage officer.
  • Retain the original character
  • Ensure any extensions respect the setting, presentation, form, scale and articulate the character of the original building.

What features should be kept and what can be discarded

  • In listed or protected structures this question will be answered by the local heritage officer
  • Otherwise this is a process of elimination and will depend greatly on the condition of the feature in question and its importance to the overall project.
  • Stone features should generally be retained and exposed where possible. Any stone retained will add greatly to quality of the finished product.
  • Natural slate roofs should stripped, reclaimed and reused or replaced with natural slate reclaimed locally.
  • The roof structure should ideally be restored whenever possible
  • Ironmongery should be reclaimed where possible
  • Cast iron guttering should be replaced with a similar product as the guttering in poorly maintained old properties is usually beyond repair.
  • Windows and doors will usually require replacing in a style and manner which reflects the original character of the building.

The best approach for dealing with outside you uncover original stone or keep it hidden

If the walls are of a reasonable quality in areas such as shape, consistency and resistance to moisture then exposing the stone will usually be a good choice depending on exposure and the character of the building. In making this decision the local knowledge of the buildings history may prove very valuable regarding the original treatment of the walls. If the building was originally clad in lime then you are best advised to do the same.

If you uncover stone how should it be treated?

Plastered stone walls should have a section of stone exposed to assess its quality, a decision can then be made to expose or re-plaster using a breathable mortar such as lime plaster. Exposed stone should have the joints raked out and re-pointed using a lime mortar in order to allow the walls to breath. Treating the walls with weather proofing is not recommended where a fully breathable construction is the goal.

What’s the best treatment for internal walls....breathable paint and why you’d use it?

Internal walls should be plastered with a lime mortar and finished with lime compatible paints to ensure a fully breathable wall construction. The idea is to avoid trapping or sealing moisture in the walls but to promote the continuous movement of this moisture which is always present both inside and outside all homes weather new or old.

What can be done with old fireplaces and chimneys.....can they be secured

Old Chimneys will require re-lining with flue liner and an expandable non combustible material used as filler between the liner and the chimney stack.
The structure of old chimneys once exposed is usually in poor condition. Shuttering formwork and a little concrete will usually reinstate the chimney structure.
Old fireplaces the wide and deep kind are impressive features and should be retained where possible

Windows....what’s the best way of dealing with them.....options regarding wooden/pvc sash

This is an area where I recommend some investment in order to achieve an authentic finish of good quality thermal resistance and reliable draft seals with excellent weather proofing for long life. I prefer timber sliding sash units for most renovations due their superior quality, which with a factory finish can last up 5 years before a repaint is required, however I can understand the wish to reduce on maintenance. There are very good PVC sliding sash windows available on the Irish market, which look like the real thing and have reasonably good levels of draft seals and weather proofing.
It is vitally important to see and test the product you are thinking of purchasing in a real life situation. Most good window and door manufacturers will be able to accommodate such a request.

Extra touches....coving/panelling/ stairs...

The stairs is also an item where quality products and skilled tradesmen should be employed. Finishing items such as panelling, coving, cornices or arches will provide the finishing touch but be careful not to overdo it in this area and try to remain true to the original building.

Dealing with damp

  • In most cases old building deal very adequately with dampness when in their original state. Over the years old buildings become the victim of poor maintenance, increased external ground levels and new materials which rob them of their ability to allow dampness to move through the building fabric by trapping, stopping, resisting moisture movement.
  • First ensure the external ground level is at least 150mm below the internal finished floor level.
  • Make sure any all-surface water is being adequately redirected and discharged away from the building.
  • Ensure all plumbing systems have been replaced and/or thoroughly tested.
  • Your walls and floors must be of good quality and breathable in order to avoid needing any remedial damp treatment. This means ensuring you use tried and tested breathable materials throughout. 
  • However if you have concrete floors or poor quality stone walls then I would recommend some form of remedial treatment such as an electro osmotic damp proofing system which is simple, inexpensive and does not require costly and inconvenient building work. The system relies on a small intermittent pulse of electric current similar to an electric fence used on the farm to repel rising water in the same way two ends of a magnet might repel one another.


Alternative heating...thermal/ to manage

  • Solar heating for stored hot water is almost a mandatory requirement in order to meet your statutory responsibilities regarding renewable sources of fuel. Thankfully it is also one of the more affordable and reliable forms of green energy available.
  • Geothermal heating systems linked to under floor heating can proof successful in large houses however for smaller houses the costs are prohibitive. Costs can be reduced where heat collection can be sourced from nearby rivers or streams with adequate levels of flow.
  • Solid fuel wood gasification boilers are also an option where the wood is freely available from fallen trees on the farm after high winds. This system has proved itself where the user is happy to feed the boiler once or twice daily.
  • Wind energy is another option for farms on high lands.
  • The alternative energy industry is moving at pace these days however most systems fall a little short of delivering the full requirement of a standard domestic home in a manner which is cost effective. Most of the technology available today may well be superseded at a time when you are just recovering your investment on the other hand that is probably a fair swop for the environmental contribution.
  • If you have a larger more constant requirement for energy such as a farm setting then a purpose designed system will be cost effective and save you money in real terms. it complicated

Rewiring an old property is straight forward in that all wiring is usually replaced along with the distribution board and meter boxes. The power supply is then rerouted underground. It is prudent to make contact with the ESB prior to selecting your location for the meter box as they will have strict requirements regarding its position relative to easy access. On listed or protected structures there may be some conflict in this area between the Local Authority and the ESB as to the meter box location. This can usually be sorted out amicably but be prepared to do some extra paperwork.


Old properties are usually re-plumbed ensuring all old lead piping is properly disposed of. Plumbing is an area where everything is upgraded for modern technology with the exception of old white sanitary ware in good condition such as Belfast sinks or hefty Armitage shanks style WC’s or sinks with pull cord high level cisterns.

In Short any item which is in good condition and speaks to you of the original age and character of the building should be restored.

Martin Shinnors Architect is an architectural practice based in Nenagh, Co Tipperary. Click to view their Business Profile.

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