Tips for old buildings

I've come to the conclusion that pretty much everything in an old house will find a way to kill you. Some of them slowly, like mould spores, toxic dust and lead paint. And some of them fast, like crumbling wiring, unstable walls and the very act of DIYing. But as long as you go in to the renovation project with this fact in mind, and take suitable precautions, you may well come out the other side unscathed. My top tips for living through a renovation:

  • Go slowly. Make less dust. Take your time to see what's behind things that are being ripped out and don't blunder in to a problem.
  • Investigate thoroughly. Get a specialist builder in to view the property for a day and do a room-by-room appraisal of everything from the floor to the ceiling. And then peel back the layers methodically, finding where things go, and more importantly why.
  • Make a plan. Make a big list of every obvious job in every room, then number them 1-5 in order of importance.
  • Spend money on safety gear. Get a proper respirator, decent eyewear, good gloves and steel-toecapped boots, and thick trousers and shirt for manual work. Consider disposable overalls for really dirty stuff.
  • Make a rest-area away from the madness. A corner of the garden, or a bench or somewhere to be still and away from the pressure of work.
  • Make friends with neighbours, especially those who have been in the area for a while and can shed light on the quirks of a house.
  • Try to find previous residents or history of the house, to shed light on some of the strange adaptions and layouts you may discover.
  • Keep the history. Don't chuck away or demolish the character of a house, from original features through to period adaptations.
  • Invest in tools. 
  • Take a break. All work and no play makes you go mad.
And some practical tips for DIYing, especially in more rural or isolated locations:
  • Always keep a charged mobile phone in your pocket
  • Write down your nearest A&E department location
  • Signpost your house, so help can find it
  • If lone-working consider having a dead-man's call - get a friend to call or SMS you at a set time or if you're doing a particularly dangerous job. If you don't answer, they can alert help
  • Get a good first-aid kit, and do at least a basic first-aid course
  • Infections suck, clean any wounds from old houses well

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