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Is The Barn Of Your Dreams Ripe For Renovation?

You have found a barn that looks ripe for renovation – but how do you decide whether it has true potential or if it is going to turn into a millstone around your neck?

When it comes to renovating old buildings, knowledge is king.

Knowing the cracks in the walls that have put other buyers off can be fixed easily may mean you get hold of a money-spinning bargain. It is also important to know when it is best to walk away from a house that looks a bargain, but could turn into a money pit.

To help you decide whether that property you’ve fallen in love with is a good buy or a bad buy, the organisers of The Homebuilding & Renovating Shows have some useful tips to offer: Some are more relevant to barn properties than others, but all are worth bearing in mind.

Tip No. 1 – Cracks

Are they structural or cosmetic? Cracks in plaster walls and masonry can look extremely worrying but are frequently only cosmetic. Being able to tell them apart from the symptoms of more serious structural problems can be very useful in making your initial verdict on a renovation project.

Cracks in materials that are isolated, eg a crack in a single brick or a stress crack in a plaster wall adjacent to a window or doorway, are unlikely to be structural.

Where the cracking is more extensive and follows a pattern ie a crack running through a series of bricks, there is likely to be a more serious cause. Look for signs of movement in the building. Typical causes are subsidence (which may mean underpinning beneath the walls) or the failure of the floor or roof structure.

In a very old property, however, the structure may be perfectly stable despite twists, bows and warps and attempts at repairs may do more harm than good.

Tip 2 – Signs of Damp in Walls of Floors

Old buildings without damp are the exception, so do not be too concerned about signs of damp as they can always be solved.

First you need to identify the source of the damp and, once discovered, solving it involves simple and inexpensive repair or replacement.

In an old brick building, a damp proof course can be created by injecting silicone into the bricks both inside and outside the building. For the average three bedroom terraced house, this is likely to cost around £300-£400 plus the cost of redecorating (total cost £1,200-£1,800) as it usually involves replacing the damaged plaster from all ground floor walls up to a height above the level of the rising damp.

Tip No. 3 – Rewiring

If your barn has never been lived in, rewiring won't be an issue. But if it was converted a while ago it may be.

The tell tale signs that a property is in need of rewiring are easy to spot. Look for an old-fashioned fuse box instead of a modern consumer unit, old fashioned round light switches, round pin plugs or old wires.

Rewiring a typical three bedroom terraced house will cost from £2,500 to £3,000, including removing the old wiring, lifting and replacing the floorboards and installing a new consumer unit, but excluding and making good (eg plaster and re-decoration). The job should take a pair of electricians five to seven days.

Tip 4 – Central Heating

Adding central heating is easily one of the most cost-effective improvements you can make to a house and will always add more to the value of a property than it costs to install. Adding a wet radiator gas central heating system to a typical three bedroom terrace house will cost £2,500-£5,000 and should take a plumber eight to ten days.

Underfloor heating is an increasingly popular and cost effective choice for conversions and a subject we will be covering later.

Tip 5 – No Upstairs Bathroom

Many old houses were built either without bathroom facilities or have since had them added on the ground floor. Installing a new bathroom at first floor level is likely to cost around £800-£1,000, with a basic white bathroom set from one of the DIY stores costing around £250-£350.

Creating the stud walling for a new bathroom out of an upstairs bedroom is likely to cost £1,5000-£2,500 including finishing and tiling, but consider the implications of possibly losing a bedroom to make space for a new bathroom.

Tip 6 – Dry Rot

Dry rot is a fungus that will destroy timber very quickly. It even penetrates brick walls to get to more timber. Dry rot loves moist, poorly ventilated conditions and is usually found in the roofspace or under wooden floorboards.

Dry rot is easy to identify – the spores send out fungal strands along the timber and through or along any wall. These strands can become quite dense. The first sign of dry root is often its distinctive musty smell when you lift a floorboard or even just the carpet.

Getting rid of dry rot will cost around £1,000 for treatment by a specialist firm.

Repair costs for replacing any damage are in addition to this and can be extensive. Bear this in mind if your barn has lots of timber in its construction.

The best way to prevent a recurrence is to improve ventilation and eradicate any damp.

Tip 7 – Poor Decorative Order

A term that is likely to be applied to most buildings in need of renovation. It sounds benign and therefore inexpensive to put right, but it can be a catch-all term for problems ranging from the need for a bit of clearing and redecorating, to a total replaster throughout.

Sometimes it can be more cost-efficient, and probably time efficient, to replaster completely.

Replastering the walls and ceilings of a three bedroom terraced house will cost from £2,000-£3,000 and will take a gang of two plasterers 8-10 days.

Tip 8 – Woodworm

Woodworm is a common pest in damp timber that can cause major problems if the damage is extensive. However, in most situations the damage is superficial (providing the holes are 2mm or less) and the problem can be eradicated using pesticides.

The problem can be more serious if the woodworm has managed to get into less accessible areas of the structure that cannot easily be treated.

Before paying for any treatment, make sure the woodworm is still alive and has not already been eradicated – look for signs of sawdust around the holes.

Pesticide treatment will cost from £600-£1,000 for an average house.

Tip 9 – Windows Require Replacing

Replace your original windows with caution as they can be an inherent part of the building’s character and therefore its value.

Original windows can often be repaired and this may cost less than replacing them with new windows in a sympathetic style. In many areas, however, replacement windows are a must for all buyers and will add considerably more to the value of the property than they cost.

Make sure you pay attention to the style and proportions and which lights should be opening or fixed.

PVCu double glazed windows will cost from £100-£200 each and the same again for fitting. A new door will cost £100-£500 plus £100-£200 for installation.

Surprisingly, wooden windows are not as expensive as you might think and add much more character to a barn. Hard wood frames will be more expensive than soft wood frames, but last longer. Reclamation yards often have windows that can be reused too.

Tip 10 – Homework

Do your homework!

Get as much information as possible by buying specialist magazines, such as Self Build & Design Magazine, and visit one of the series of Homebuilding & Renovating Shows that take place around the country every year.

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