Home Un-Improvements advice! When DIY goes wrong

A view of a swimming pool from the diving board

We have written many articles on home improvements over the years but this time we are going to tell you about home UN-improvements, or the removal from a building of misguided features or unsuitable home “improvements” added during previous renovations.

Unimprovement can take many guises and these scarily common crimes against property, major and minor, can be something like covering a stucco house with pebbledash, removing prized Victorian fireplaces, decorating with woodchip wallpaper or highly unsuitable modern additions and alterations to listed or historic buildings.

If you have any experience of this perhaps you may like to add a comment at the end?

Home Improvements can add value to your home, but only if done right.

So what exactly is an UN-improvement?

It is basically removing or altering previous work done to the house, which conversely is also an IM-provement at the same time.

Whether it is work done by a previous owner, or alterations and additions done by ourselves when thinking of fashion or our situation at the time, rather than a long term view. Research has shown that many long term home owners are guilty of at least something like this. What is “cool” today may not be so cool 10 years down the line. Avocado coloured bathroom suite anyone?

Let’s look at my top ten Un-improvements, and some practical steps that can be taken to put it all right again.

Remember some of these you can do yourself, with some DIY experience, and some may need the help of your local builder.

Top ten BAD home improvements and how to Un-improve them.

It will be interesting to see if any of our readers are guilty of any of these heinous crimes against property….

Un-improvement 1: Installing wind turbines which you think your actions alone will change the world and stop global warming.

No they wont.

Did you not realise that these wind turbines are made in a large factory, POWERED BY electricity from FOSSIL OR NUCLEAR FUEL!!!

This in turn goes to the profits of energy generating companies in the UK, many of which are owned by huge FOREIGN OWNED multi national corporations, who do God knows WHAT with all that money.

Not exactly “Sticking it to the man eh?

Not only that, if it takes a team of 5 people to make it, that is, we can presume, five separate polluting vehicles driving from 5 different houses, to work at the factory to make these turbines so YOU can proclaim the higher ground.

Some people would suggest that is ever so slightly pretentious and misguided. Some people would. Some. A few…

Did you think these turbines were hand-made from sustainable materials by ethically diverse environmental warriors all living in yurts on the side of a mountain?

How many turbines dya want maaan?

How many turbines d’ya want maaan?. …..Image (C) BBC (Who are obviously bread-heads too?)

 

…..Oh and then the turbine is delivered to a store or to your home for assembly. Is it brought on a bike or on a canoe down an ancient waterway by a jolly man in an Arran knit sweater?

No, it is (probably) delivered in a dirty Ford Transit down the M1 by a fat man in work overalls, stopping occasionally for a cigarette break and a fry-up in a motorway cafe.

Remember when David Cameron had a little wind turbine fitted to the roof of his posh London home? Does anyone know if they are still there?

Un-improving your home by removing an intrusive object such as a wind turbine, unless no other power source is available, is a good way to Un-improve previous well-meaning but misguided alterations.

And talking of being pretentious, here is my number 2 un-improvement:

 

Un-improvement 2: Installing solar panels where they don’t belong.

There is certainly no doubt that generating free and renewable electricity is a good thing, even with today’s modern solar panels, the fact that the UK and Ireland don’t generally get much sun does limit their use somewhat.

 

New paint on render wall

 

And once again, like our friend the super-pretentious wind turbine, these solar panels are made in a polluting factory and delivered by polluting vehicles to your home, so all hopes of being “green” pretty much go out the window the moment you hand over your credit card details.

It takes a long LONG time to get your money back from this sort of investment, not that I wish to dissuade people from generating their own power, but if the panels distract dramatically from the look of a period house, maybe look to re-site them or disguise them in some way as, to be fair, they generally look terrible!

 

Un-improvement 3: What to do when the wrong windows have been fitted?

This is a very common complaint from people who have bought a historic home and someone, perhaps in the boom years of the eighties, decided to remove the lovely, 150 year old wooden sash windows, and replace them with thick framed plastic windows.

Whilst that may have reduced the homeowners heating bills, it’s also ruined the house.

Ornate roof windows

What the hell? Have the Adams family moved in?

 

This situation is a common one according to planning officials, however the good news is that many local authorities are sympathetic to this particular issue when a house is old but lived in all year round.

A compromise is always sought, but  if your listed building has modern windows which are unsympathetic to the character and appearance of the building, the home owner may wish to consider replacing them with more appropriate ones.

“Replacing modern windows in a listed building still requires Listed Building Consent and this even if you are replacing them with more sympathetically designed windows”. (source Lewes.gov.uk)

There are specialist companies who make wooden framed double glazed windows to traditional designs but they don’t come cheap. Saying that if replacing windows with modern ones is something you did yourself, it won’t be long before your local planning officer slaps a repair order on the house.

“As a rule of thumb, if a building of architectural merit or importance, has been visually altered in a daramtic or aesthetically displeasing way, then those previous improvements need to be undone.

They literally need to be un-improved.

Meaning if a once nice house or building now looks crap because someone years ago bodged up a supposed improvement and subsequently ruined it, then someone needs to put it right.”

Un-improvement 4: Unsuitable exterior wall coverings.

Undoing what has already been done.

confused

What’s the writer going on about now?!

This quite a common UN-improvement and one that in some cases is easy to correct, but in some cases, does require major works, it really depends on just HOW ruined your house has been with previous alterations or repairs!

The exterior walls of any house are of course what keeps the heat out and holds the roof up but it’s generally something that requires maintenance.

Many regular readers know me (yours truly) and know that I bang on and on about the best stuff to put on your house walls because that’s my job and what I earn from running this website is what finances this blog!

On this occasion, don’t worry I’m not going to start promoting our own products (LOL!) if you want to look at them, please use the links in the menu at the top of the page.

 

Scottish stone effect wall coating

This is actually a wall covering, over render!

Anyway, what your house looks like is probably something important to you and if a previous owner of the house has done something really awful to the exterior, then it;s probably a good time to UN-improvement his …er… improvement.

If your house is in a conservation area and it has been painted the “wrong” colour then this is, in theory, something that is quite easy to put right with the aid of some paint but with some homes it is better to buy special paint such as lime wash, to preserve it’s character.

The worst un-improvement offender for exterior wall coverings is stone cladding.

URGH! Not all cladding or stone effect is bad though but of course it really depends on the quality and practicality of putting this on a house and also whether it actually looks right!

Another un-improvement related to exterior walls would be PEBBLEDASH where it should never have been applied in the first place. This stuff is evil!

Pebbledashed house Bristol

A house in Brisatol that was afflicted by some pre-war pebbledash

Part of my own work often involves the removal and making good of a house that has been pebbledashed in the 70’s or 80’s just so the owner would not have to repaint it, although that comes at a cost because a pebbledashed house that should have smooth painted walls, will often look out of place and quite frankly scruffy.

Un-improvement 5: Poor quality or badly designed extensions

A good example of a home improvement for NOW rather than the long term would be building an extension to an already large home to accommodate a large family comfortably.

A 1970's brick-faced house with a 1980's pebbledashed extension

A 1970’s brick-faced house with a 1980’s pebbledashed extension

 

OK, the extension is all well and good, but what happens when the kids grow up and leave home, maybe move abroad, and the parents are left with loads of empty space?

This extra space in the home still needs heating and maintenance, and the larger area of the house may also be attracting a larger council tax or rates bill, something that retired people, maybe also on a low income, could become a burden.

 

painted brick wall with extensive flaky paint

This extension sticks out like a sore thumb as being of a very poor quality, despite the fact it’s a 1940’s extension to a Victorian home

It is of vital importance that any extension placed on a home, fits in and looks fairly natural, looking almost part of the original design. Extensions to buildings are expensive, so it pays to think long and hard about why you want the extra space and careful thought to the look.

Unimprovement 6: Modern façades on older buildings

Progress is a good thing and times change, people change, and in many ways public buildings often change their use or their focus.

Although houses often get bad makeovers that are a total bad improvement, such as a modern UPVC porch on a 17th century church, much of the domestic housing stock is protected by laws and regulations.

Similar regulations also apply to public or commercial buildings, although architectural or structural changes are more likely to be adopted and approved on a functional building as they are often for a good reason.

In 1972 British Rail decided it would be a good idea to create this awful frontage, completely ruining the look of this historic train station.

kings cross station before

London’s kings cross station in London with it’s previous ugly frontage

The design above, often known as the “tin shed” was supposed to be temporary, but it ended up fouling the front of this building for around 40 years, until recent major works changed the entire station and the frontage was able to be removed to reveal this……

kings cross station now

The same train station but with the ugly façade removed after renovation work

Looks much better doesn’t it?

It’s easy to imagine someone slapping a carbuncle on the front of their house just because they thought it would improve the home but it actually did the opposite. Removing ugly and inappropriate additions can be a very rewarding UN-improvement.

Un-improvement 7: Flouting planning laws.

This is by far, one of the unimprovements that can actually land you in jail!

Many buildings, especially ones of architectural merit, are protected by law so the appearance can’t be changed, so imagine my surprise when I saw this once grand Art Deco building in Plymouth that has been utterly devastated by the addition of a spar-dash wall coating, which I am sure you agree, has ruined it.

how to ruin an art deco building with pebbledash

An Art Deco building, completely ruined with pebbledash

It is now a social club, so maybe the city planning officer is a regular drinker there (!) but how they got away with this is anyone’s guess.

If you live in an Art Deco home, it may not necessarily be listed or in a conservation area but nevertheless you have a moral duty to maintain it and keep the style as it should be, usually smooth rendered walls, painted in a matte white paint.

Un-improvement 8: Poor quality alterations. How to take one step back. And stay there.

OK we all love a spot of DIY and no-ones perfect when it comes to making changes around the house but one small mistake (e.g. taking a measurement on plans of 2 inches as 2 centimetres instead), some problems can arise, such as the owner of this somewhat badly located plug socket!

I don't think the builder got his measurements right when he built this!

I don’t think the builder got his measurements right when he built this!

With the boom of DIY a few years ago, everyone thought they were a builder and while DIY can be fun and very rewarding, if you don’t know what you are doing, you could make a pigs ear of the job, or worse, end up in hospital.

Undoing bad DIY can cost in some cases 5 times what it originally cost to “do” the work in the first place, so think long and hard before doing any alterations that you may regret in future years.

If a previous owner of your property has done some quite spectacular DIY cock-ups, it may be a good idea to get some professional advice from your local builder, who will no doubt walk around with a pencil in his ear and “tut” very loudly, or laugh hysterically, it depends on how bad the DIY is!

Un-improvement 9: Change of use of a building

The urban environment is in a constant state of flux and now and again, a change of use is sought for a building that used to be a house, to change into a shop or offices.

It works the other way around too, where shops close down and revert to homes, like this former rural shop below, or when old mills (for example) get turned into apartments.

 

main front picture of house in lincolnshire

Can YOU see where the old shop frontage was? Yep, me too!

Sometimes, to un-improve a building that has been used for something else, major work is needed, such as partitioning off large halls or rooms, or re-arranging the layout of a building.

A good example of this is the many pubs that have shut their doors over recent years, no thanks to greedy breweries, high taxes and the smoking ban.

Many of these, including ones in my home town, have been converted to flats, a sad shame in my view, but a sign of the times.

Un-improvement 10: Swimming pools

Unless you live in a hot climate, having a swimming pool built, especially anywhere in the British Isles, is a foolhardy and expensive addition to a home, one that can actually put people off buying your home, or at best, slash a fortune off the asking price.

a house with a pool in valencia spain

Swimming pools are rarely used in this country, unless you are an ex cross-channel swimmer or you’re crazy, or a show-off, or all of them.

A pool is a liability, is expensive to build and expensive to run, plus it’s a huge safety hazard too.

One of the best un-improvements you could possibly do is to fill in that swimming pool and never go there again. What were you thinking?

In conclusion

As you now have hopefully learned, to un-improve, to make good someone else’s mistakes, can be financially rewarding and personally satisfying and if done correctly, whatever it costs to put someone else’s bodge up right, you may actually save or make money in the long run, PLUS you get to see your house in the state it should have been in in the first place!

I hope that you found this essay useful and please share it with others using the links below.

Happy UN-improving!

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