Why not buy a former council house?

WDB5 Council house
Former council house

Why not buy a former council house?

Often RICS valuers will comment that there is a negative effect of a property being an ex-local authority house. We tend to take a different view. You can get very good value for money because ex-council houses are often solidly built and in convenient locations.

The residents on such estates have often lived there for long periods of time. Many may have purchased their houses under the Right to Buy scheme. If you can see that the properties on an estate vary significantly in the details, probably the right to buy has been exercised frequently!  For instance, look for changed window openings, roof coverings of a different style, render being applied to brick faced buildings and extensions being added.

Financial considerations

You can often buy such properties at a discount. However, be aware of an element of risk with regards to ex local authority housing that has purchased under Right to Buy. Your solicitor should check on potential buy-back arrangements or the correct time-period having elapsed between purchase from the Local Authority and the period within which there is no claw back on the price.

Designs and Acronyms

1920s Stock

Local authority properties constructed before the Second World War are often well-built and to an exact design such as the early 1920’s REA25s.  These were built in Seamills, Bedminster and Hillfields.  They were built in terraces of four houses, often with an alleyway through the middle; they have hipped roofs at each end.  A similar design is the BOA25s. These styles led the way in council housing in Bristol, designed and built by the Local Authority.

The later Bristol-designed WSA2 makes up some of the 1920’s housing stock; they are readily recognisable and found in large numbers in Shirehampton and Hillfields. These normally have a large open plan Kitchen and an open plan Lounge running front to back.

1930s Stock

In the 1930’s the WDB5 made up a large proportion of the council housing stock. These are found in Southmead, Horfield, Bedminster and Knowle, and tend to front the wider roads in the area. They were called ‘parlour houses’ as they had a separate front parlour or snug, normally later used as a Dining Room. They were also equipped with small cupboards and had a coal shed on the ground floor running from side to side across the back. The small cupboards and parlour walls created fussy little rooms; these have normally been removed and large open plan lounges and kitchen-diners created.

In the later 1930’s a collaboration between two architects created the HBA2 on council estates in Horfield and St Annes Park. These were fairly common and had a touch of flair – the four-house terraces are completed with a dutch gable type front with sloping eaves. These are becoming very popular due to their large gardens and close proximity to Gloucester Road. The valley roof constructions of this type of flared gable front can suffer from water ingress issues. However these are relatively easy to fix and once done correctly can give many years of trouble-free service.

More Acronyms

We have only touched on the extent of pre Second World War council housing around Bristol. There are many other codes that the design departments used to refer to their houses such as the A2, CEA2, D5, CNH25 and HBB2. These were normally abbreviated from the original designer’s initials. There were other speciality designs such as the “aged couples flats”.This terminology may not be politically correct nowadays, but is a reminder of a bygone era.

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Windows

Misty window

Misty Window

 

Windows

We’ve already discussed the glazing in windows, the toughened nature and e-coating present (or not!) on the glass. Now what about the windows themselves?!

A RICS homebuyers’ report might typically say “Several windows were difficult to open and will require some maintenance and repair, especially to hinges. Some gaskets/seals are detached. Two windows units at least have failed and will need replacing. Have a competent contractor quote for all works before exchange.”

The cost of replacement in an average three-bedroom house is around £5000.00 depending on the contractor you use. Hence this part of the inspection should be taken seriously. You need to be aware of the detailed extent of the work that will be required.

UPVC window frames

Unless the property is a listed building or in a Conservation area, we usually find the basic UPVC window frames. The opening parts are called the casements. In our inspection, we always attempt to open and close the windows, unless they are locked and no key is readily present. With older windows the casements do not always close correctly into the frame. This leaves a gap between the casement and frame, which is not ideal for security or energy efficiency.

In older buildings, for example with bay windows, the frames often offered support to the masonry above. We have seen many properties where lightweight UPVC windows have replaced these older stronger frames. This has caused the masonry to sag or the windows to bow, which is very common. When we are working for insurance companies on subsidence claims, if the instruction says “cracks around the bay” we ask when the windows were replaced! This is often the reason for such cracking.

Using steel-strengthened frames adds a very small extra cost; a steel frame is pre-moulded in the UPVC to add strength. However these are not often specified as they can be slightly harder to fit and would cost a little more. And in the competitive world of the double glazing sales person, it is easier to leave out the option. We see many cases where cracks and movement in the buildings has been as a result of changing older stronger windows.

Ventilation

Houses need to breathe and older draughtier windows allow some levels of ventilation. The modern option is trickle vents. These are openings through the window frame to allow air to pass. The windows themselves are normally fitted with a two stage closure. This allows them to be locked in place but still stay slightly ajar, for ventilation.

Beading

How is the glazing set into the frame? When the glass is fitted into the casement or fixed part of the frame, a mitred plastic strip is pushed into place to hold the glass in position. This is called the beading. Older double glazed windows were often externally beaded. This is poor from a security perspective as the enterprising burglar can use a steel ruler to prise out the beading. He can then remove the glass pane and gain entry inside without making too much noise. Also, if the panes do blow (mist up), they can only be removed externally. This is not ideal on a three-storey property! Nowadays windows are internally beaded to make maintenance easier and also to improve security.

 

THE BRISTOL PROPERTY MARKET

roof

Our most-read posts are ones where we talk about areas of Bristol that appear under valued or “the next big thing”. So we thought we would look at the history and movement of pricing in and around Bristol over the last seven years. We do a lot of work for first time buyers; these are normally tech savvy white-collar professionals who want to live close to the city centre.  We have noticed a swing in the requirements of these buyers!  Seven years ago, most wanted character Victorian or Edwardian property, within the postcodes of good schools.  Now the main focus is the postcode relating to the distance from the city centre. Despite Brexit uncertainty the demand and hence price has remained stable in these areas.

Location, location…

We only do Full Building Surveys rather than the lighter Home-buyers reports. And seven years ago a great deal of our work was in Bedminster in South Bristol. However, the supply/demand equation kicked in.  Selling prices were hiked out of the reach of most first-time buyers, so their emphasis shifted towards Brislington around five years ago.  Brislington then saw a sharp upswing in pricing but this did not last long, unlike Bedminster and Windmill Hill. Around four years ago, there seemed to be substantial movement towards Easton and St George. Prices there rapidly escalated and again out stripped the first-time buyer especially in Easton and the St Marks Road area. We then saw a sustained period of growth in Fishponds until relatively recently, as the properties were bigger and offered better value for money.

Where next ?!

The first-time buyer market in Bristol doesn’t appear to be as driven by London money as it was say five years ago. We are seeing people who have been resident in Bristol for more than five years now getting onto the property ladder. The focus of these buyers is often the smaller Victorian housing. This has seen Kingswood take a step up in pricing; in the 2007 boom era, Kingswood did not see the house price gains of places closer to the city centre. This movement probably reflects the growing size of Bristol’s population as it expands outwards. Bishopsworth , Stoke Gifford and Northville are now becoming more attractive to first time buyers. As they are priced out of places closer to the city centre, but these areas each have other qualities that we will explore over the next few blogs.

What about condition?

The housing in these more inner-city areas is often former rental properties that have come onto the market. Over the past couple of years, there have been big changes in tax relief on loans for rental properties. Older landlords in particular are often choosing to take the equity growth and quit the rental market. However, the condition of these properties is often fairly poor as they have simply been cash generators for the landlords and uncared for by tenants. Such properties often require significant upgrading.  This ranges from the readily-visible kitchens and bathroom facilities to the more expensive elements such as roofing, windows and doors. They often have no ‘chain’ so the cheap headline prices of such properties seem very attractive to first time buyers, especially at auction. However, the cost of the repairs required to bring them up to a good standard often makes them disproportionately expensive. More so than other houses being sold by families in similar area or further out.

So these are our observations, based on hundreds of full building surveys around Bristol. They are NOT recommendations to purchase a property in any given area – we look forward to seeing what happens in the Bristol property market in 2019 !

Surface Water Drainage

Surface Water Drainage

Our clients often ask us to inspect the surface/rainwater drainage in the ‘specific requests’section on our survey instruction forms. This is often at the behest of their Legal Adviser. At many properties the rainwater goods discharge into an open gully or grille; we can pour water down this to test the flow.  However, some downpipes are embedded straight into concrete hardstanding. These are often blocked with leaf mulch and other detritus that prevents them from draining properly.

Getting rid of Foul Water vs Surface Water

In the Victorian era there was increasing use of water closets.The main goal of the new Health Boards was just getting the foul sewage away from the property. In such properties around Bristol, the rainwater gutters and downpipes were also linked into the same system. These are called shared systems.

As towns and cities expanded, the existing drains couldn’t handle the combined outflow of both foul waste and surface rain water. So after the Second World War,separate systems started to be constructed. One served the foul water from baths, toilets and sinks etc.This was diverted to sewage treatment plants, for treatment before being released into the watercourses. Then a separate system was constructed for the cleanwater,  diverting it into local water courses. This was supposed to be for rainwater only which could be discharged with no ill effects on wildlife.

What really happens ?!

Now the complications arise. Often, we find that for ease and cheapness, builders or plumbers divert new kitchen wastes, dishwashers and sink waste into the rainwater gullies.Such gullies tend to be located fairly close to kitchens and the bathroom extensions. Hence it is very easy to surface mount the pipework straight into them – this involves no digging, excavation or the hassle of connecting pipework. Sadly, this leads to pollution of local watercourses which is poor environmental practice.

Conversely, in properties built after the war, it can be easier to connect the output of the rainwater goods to the foul drains. This may not cause a practical issue for the homeowner. However, it means that the water treatment plants have to cope with extra water to treat. This is all added onto our bills.

Often however, with extensions, conservatories and the fronts of Victorian era buildings, the downpipe simply discharges directly onto the soil or hardstanding around the front of the property. This is very poor practice and will spell trouble over the longer term – it should be rectified.

Soakaways

Soakaways are more common with later properties. Rainwater is sent to large underground chambers often filled with hardcore to help the water percolate into the ground. The placement of these soakaways becomes of paramount importance.If they are located close to the building (say within 5m) then the rainwater can cause problems with the foundations. Soakaway systems on traditional housing therefore need a front garden in excess of 5m long. Few modern properties benefit from front gardens of this size.

Water Butts

More recently, more people are storing rainwater in butts for use in gardens. This has been the cause of many a request for a damp survey and the occasional defect survey! We have followed the trail back to an overflowing water butt adjacent to the building. They can also become breeding grounds for mosquitoes in summer, which is not ideal in your pleasant garden…

Pitch fibre drains


Pitch fibre drains

We only undertake full structural building surveys hence we lift inspection chambers to inspect the drains beneath.Unless there is a very good reason not to! Such as cars parked over chambers, rusting or dangerous chambers or where they have been covered by decking or tarmac. This inspection is normally undertaken as the last part of the survey. But when we see the tell-tale black pitched fibre tubes in the inspection chamber, we know you have a problem.

What is Pitch fibre?

Pitch fibre is an organic base (such as cellulose/wood) formed into a tube, which is impregnated with bitumen.Imagine cardboard soaked in tar…Some were even reinforced with asbestos fibres to help improve their performance, which adds another layer of complexity to their removal.

They were jointed with a very basic slip-type collar which often fails, then root penetration becomes a real problem.Because of their delicate construction, flailing and rodding to remove roots and blockages will cause irreparable damage. It will scrape the bitumen away and accelerate their degradation.

When was it used?

We are on high alert for this in properties constructed between the 1950s-1970s, and commonly from the Sixties onward.

Pitch fibre drains were used mainly because they were so cheap to produce. However, the adage of “buy cheap, buy twice” rings true. Victorian properties often have perfectly serviceable drains over 100 years old, but these pitch fibre ones represent trouble.

With the design life being around 40 years, most of these systems are now time served and require replacement.Often vendors are aware of the presence of pitch fibre, as they have had issues with them during their occupation.

What are the problems with pitch fibre?

Pitch fibre by its own description doesn’t sound like a good idea for waste pipework.It has an estimated lifespan of around 40 years before the layers peel.The pipes become easily deformed due to pressure in the sub soil. Where the water regularly travels, the bottoms will blister. They are also prone to root penetration where roots can push through the joints or straight through the pipework itself.They can also react badly to certain fats and oils.

Insurance companies often specifically exclude damage to pitch fibre drains and do not cover the repair work. There have been rulings by the FCA with regards to these exclusions, but each is on a case by case basis and depends on the policy wording

Where have we found it?

We have found these systems in Clevedon, Yate, Ubley and Hanham for example.

What can be done?

We always endeavour not to recommend appointing specialists unless really essential- this is one such case. A CCTV survey will be required and this will answer most questions. As the pipes were fairly flexible and poorly bedded, the falls have often changed with settlement over the years. Hence lining them may not be an option. However, if the results of the CCTV inspections results show that the falls are fair, then lining is one repair method. Otherwise, the word that is not used as much anymore is“excavation”. The cost of this really depends on the depth of the drains. In Yate and in Clevedon they were very close to the surface whereas in Ubley they were very deep.

 

 

Drains

Blocked drains

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

What lurks beneath the inspection chamber cover?

Sewers

The ancient Romans were expert water engineers – they even had gods and goddesses to help ! The goddess Cloaca could be invoked to deal with blocked sewers.  And the god Crapitus looked after internal plumbing, constipation, flatulence… After the Romans left in the 4th Century AD, we didn’t take much notice of sewage disposal, directing it into streams and rivers. That is, until the Victorians made the link between infected drinking water and illness.

In this blog we are looking at traditional foul-water drains, sewers, not the myriad of other systems that we encounter occasionally. These are normally on larger rural type properties. To name a few, there are bio-digesters, cess pits, septic tanks, settlement tanks, bark rings and larger biological filters.

Inspection chambers

As part of our surveys we always endeavour to lift the covers of the inspection chambers at the property, the manhole covers. These should not be confused with ‘access chambers’ which are smaller and are intended to allow for say rodding a system. Inspection chambers are designed to allow inspection and potentially human entry.

The inspection chamber and its coverare a separate science, as there are many different types available.One thing we often find is cheaper A15 rated inspection chambers being used on driveways. These are only tested to 1.5tons and have splayed when vehicles have driven over them. Hence these are often hard to open! The B125 inspection chamber should be used instead; this is load rated to 12.5 tons. But is complex and will itself be the subject of a future blog.

First impressions

Opening the inspection chamber gives us an indication of where the drains run, their composition and condition. Obviously the drains run underground and are relatively small so they are not readily visible.

However, the inspection chambers can tell us a great deal. It’s easy to tell if they are blocked! The pungent aroma of fermenting sewage drifting up on lifting the chamber cover is the first sign. And often faecal matter is floating around in a dirty soup; this is the visual indicator. The first point of contact then is normally the water company to see who owns which section of the drains.

The nature of the drains, ie whether they are plastic or clay, can give an idea of their age. We can compare this to the age of the property; this gives an indication what works have been done and what is original to the building. Recent changes in drainage layouts would require Building Control approvals under approved document H of the Building Regulations.

If they are not plastic or clay, they may be pitch fibre which we will revisit in the next blog. The tell-tale black bitumen pipework has expense written all over it!

The direction of flow may suggest the drains run under say conservatories or extensions. As such,“build over agreements” should have been in place for the construction.The sewerage undertaker (brilliant job title) would have to approve such works.

Who is responsible for the drains?

Regulations changed on the 1st October 2011.This covered many private sewers and lateral drains draining into a public sewer and extending beyond a property boundary. The responsibility for these was transferred to water and sewerage companies. Hence if the foul water drain serves more than one property, it becomes a sewer and is no longer the responsibility of the homeowner whose land the sewer travels under. This means that potentially large portions of the drainage network are no longer under your ownership.However, you will still be responsible for the section leading from your house to the sewers. Depending on the depth of these drains, repairs can be very expensive.

Insurance companies often include the peril “accidental damage to underground services”. But you are not automatically covered for issues with the drains, certainly not if it is deemed fair wear and tear, or through poor maintenance. Issues normally only become evident when the building or the ground starts to move, galvanising the homeowner into action.

An example

If we can’t open the chamber – or even find one which may be buried under decking or tarmac – we usually recommend that a specialist inspection is carried out, possibly using CCTV cameras.

And If we note movement in a building in proximity to the drains then again, we would recommend further investigations.One interesting example was in Horfield recently.We noted a small hairline crack around an extension that had been constructed forty years ago for the single occupant. We advised the prospective buyers that any problems with the drains may not have come to light because the house was under-occupied. A detailed inspection revealed that although the waste water from the bathroom visually appeared to drain well, it simply discharged straight into the garden. Remedying this by laying the correct drainage to the nearest sewer was both costly and disruptive!

Storm Ali

Storm Ali

The first named storm of the 2018-9 season Storm Ali hit our shores with winds of over 80mph. It was followed quickly by Bronagh and Callum further north. The wet and windy weather following the long hot summer has once again bought focus onto roofing. During our work for leading insurance companies, we have been called to a surge of roofing inspections in the Bristol area.

Flat roofing

Older flat roofs are usually constructed from layers of felt over chipboard. Often the upper surface is only dusted with mineral chips or solar paint to reflect the sun’s damaging UV rays. This only works in the short term. During the recent extended warm and dry spell,flat felt roofs will degrade under the UV light. They will expand in the heat and will often fail. The movement can also cause the felt to rip around mechanical fixing such as nails. However, if you have these on the upper surface, it is probably time for a new roof in any case!

This can leave the surface covered with small fissures and cracks.These weak spots allow water to penetrate through the lower levels of the felt. When we see these cracks, we know the end is on the way for the roof.

An Insurance claim?

This is not “storm damage” in an insurance context. That would be physical damage caused by the one-off event of the storm, such as ripped-up felt or the cover being dislodged. Slow, simple cracking to the covering over the summer is a “wear and tear” issue, not a “one off event”.

What can be done?

For a short term repair, these small fissures and cracks can be filled using such coatings as Acrypol or various other treatments.These are only a short term fix, a Band Aid, but you will have longer to get the money together for a new roof!  If these cracks are left in place untreated, rain water will penetrate them during the winter. This water will freeze, it will expand and cause further damage. I expect that we will see many more such failures this winter due to the vagaries of the weather.

Pitched roofing

We have seen a small increase in the storm claims during Ali.With wind speeds recorded in excess of80 mph, this is not surprising.The worst damage has been on roofs that are exposed to the Bristol Channel;the wind travelled quickly over this body of water.

Most issues we see are a result of failures in the sarking felt beneath the tiles.This is when the ferocity of the wind has driven water under the tiles. If the sarking felt beneath is incomplete, worn, poorly lapped, ripped or broken down, then we get a damaging water ingress.

We often hear builders (and even surveyors!)  saying sarking felt isn’t important. It is really only to keep the roof area dry when the covering was being put on. This is often followed by a smug chortle and “what did they do before the 1930’s then?!” “My mate has a roof from the 1930’s and that doesn’t have any felt at all”. These older types of roof were often double lapped.These are the dense double layered tiles sometimes called Broseleys in Bristol.They are readily seen along sea fronts around the country.They are expensive to fit but offer two layers of tiles to protect from the weather. And they are easy to maintain when tiles do break, with a quick replacement.

However the tile covering that we recognise for most houses nowadays is half lapped.The tiles are laid in a stepped fashion and there is a weakness where they overlap. Hence a good quality, complete sarking felt beneath them is critical to their performance.

Let’s see what Deirdre and Erik bring!

How long does a roof last ??

Case Study – Clay Tiles

The background

Clay tiles have been used for roofing within the Bristol area for centuries, up to the 1950s. Most are pre WW11, so are at least 70 years old. The text books suggest a lifespan of around 40-60 years for clay tiles, before they become damaged or porous. And the tiles on most of the roofs we currently inspect are well in excess of this lifespan. Sometimes the roof has been repaired and the sarking felt renewed however the original tiles have been re-used.

We check the exterior condition of the roof with our pole cameras then inspect the condition of the sarking felt from inside the loft. This gives a good indication of when the felt was last changed. Black bitumen felt became unpopular in the 2000’s although it still in limited use today.

The property

We recently carried out a survey in the area of St. George, on a Victorian mid-terraced property with two bedrooms, the traditional “ 2 up, 2 down”. The house was generally in good order and the vendor was very open with us. Following our pole camera roof inspection and reviewing inside the loft, we noted that the roof was in a fairly poor state or repair. There were numerous localised patch repairs visible.

The paradox

We discussed this with the vendor who was surprised because she had spent so much money on the roof! She had owned the property for ten years and showed various receipts and invoices for repairs she has had carried out in that time. Replacing individual tiles and overhaul when first bought in 2008 cost £1500. Removal and replacement of 4 broken tiles in 2010 cost £80. Replacement of coping stones and render to parapet wall costing £800 in 2012. Repointing the ridge tiles at £500, with the works completed in 2015. An additional £995 to replace the bottom row of felt on the front elevation in 2017.

So, in summary in her ten year tenure, she has spent £3,875.00. That is £387.50 a year just to keep this roof going for the last 10 years. To keep this roof going for another ten years, around £1000 is required for rear felt repairs alone. So the total is £4875.00 already, with older felt still in place to the main roof.

Outcomes

When we inspected the roof, we could see daylight through the rear eaves. The older felt generally showed significant rips and tears. The repaired front eaves were showing light between the tiles where the felt had been stretched to help lap into the gutter during the repair in 2017. Hence we need to say to the prospective purchasers that the roof really requires replacement.

So the vendor obtained quotes. One builder estimated £5200 inc VAT this is a very competitive quote. This covers removing the old clay tiles and replacing them with concrete ones. The re-felting will be with a modern breathable membrane and a dry ridge system.  The builder will give a ten year guarantee on the works as well. We queried whether the builder had included gaining Building Control approvals and the roof strengthening work required? A response is awaited.

Concrete tiles?

New concrete tiles should give a working life of some 60-80 years, although the jury is still out. One of our surveyors has his 1950’s concrete tile roof still in place and it is performing very well.

It is 68 years old with only minor pointing having been carried out. We will update this again in 10 years to let you know how his roof is getting on!

 

Longhorn Beetle

BEWARE the LONGHORN BEETLE…

Being based in Bristol, the longhorn beetle or Hylotrupesbajulus isn’t something we automatically look for.  It is rarely found outside Surrey and the surrounding areas, with some localised outbreaks in London.We have worked in these areas in the past for specific repeat clients – again this emphasises the importance of a surveyor who understands local issues and the building vernacular.

The Longhorn beetle is thought to have been bought into the UK at the time of the Second World War, in imported timber. It feeds on the softer parts in softwood so there are some similarities to our own common furniture beetle. Except for the scale of damage,which is monstrous!

As we operate in Bristol, we were amazed to find a series of holes in a purlin that were 10mm in width, in a house in St George.  Yes,  1 cm in width!  At first it appeared that the purlin had been randomly drilled. But on closer inspection we could see a curve to one of the cross cuts. This type of curve would not be possible with a drill bit, hence we had to conclude it was organic in origin. You should be aware of the scale of this damage – the purlin in the image is 3” across!

WHAT WAS THE CAUSE?

Being surveyors,we encounter many specialists who have a wealth of knowledge. We are very lucky to know a former director of a leading timber and damp company who has since retired.  A great loss of knowledge to the industry! We sought his advice as this was something very extraordinary. We had researched  the files of the BRE (Building Research Establishment) which show a comprehensive map of sightings. Our specialist friend  looked at the pictures and confirmed our first suspicions:  the holes appeared to be bored by a “ Longhorn beetle”.

We had checked the cuts and age of the holes, with a lack of frass apparent. The holes were not visible in any other timbers in the loft space. Hencewe concluded the damage was historic. It was likely that the timber had been imported with the insect inside or it was present prior to cutting the timber in the 1940’s.

The beetle is so rare that had we passed the problem to a specialist contractor, the matter might have rapidly escalated. It could have become very expensive for both our client and the vendor, with the inevitable caveats and other “insurances” being required and treatments that may not be necessary or appropriate being specified.

Having the help of someone like our friendin accurately identifying the problem was invaluable. This insect causes so much damage there is a need to regularly monitor the rooftimbers for signs of further infestation. It is believed that its life cycle can extend to 10 years. At least our client was forewarned!

THE FUTURE?

Despite this outbreak being a single example, the longhorn beetle is present in a number of areas.  It has been  suggested that this is to do with the climate of these localised areas. This raises the question of what will climate change do to the spread of this most destructive of insects?

 

 

Rats and Mice

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Rats and Mice

There’s an urban myth that you are never more than 6ft (2 metres) away from a rat, but where does this come from?

According to the BBC News Magazine, it may derive from the former Ministry of Agriculture. They circulated many public health announcements to promote hygiene in homes.

An expert has recently estimated that there are around 10.5 million rats in the UK.“The maths for working out the average distance to a rat is a bit rough and ready because rodents are not evenly spread.It makes sense to discount all the rats on farms, because the phrase is most often used about cities. That leaves us with about 3.1 million urban rats.

Urban areas in the UK cover around 16,000 square kilometres. If we distribute the rats evenly across the urban areas, which is clearly unlikely but necessary for the calculation, each rat has a rather spacious 5,000 square metres to roam around in.

Assuming you’re standing at a given spot in an urban area you would be at most 164ft (50m) away.Saying you’re always 164ft away from a rat doesn’t have quite as much of a fear factor as 6ft away, but it’s a much more realistic estimate.”

However, this statistic would not help the Marketing Departments of pest control companies!

Which properties are most at risk?

Is the house near countryside, a naturalised graveyard, a watercourse  or commercial warehousing?Then rodents  (especially rats) are likely to be around in the vicinity.

There is also a known link between the increased fashion for keeping  chickens in urban gardens and rat numbers in the locality. This is most likely due to the freely available food. Chicken numbers appear on the increase as do rat numbers. So when undertaking inspections, we often have a look in neighbouring gardens for chickens. Bird feeders are also a good way of providing fast food for rats, who can climb poles with ease.

We carried out a job in  Long Ashton where the rats were bold enough to sit and watch us carrying out the drain survey-  as can be seen on our blog picture.

How can you tell ?

Anecdotally , we would suggest that 50% of the properties we visit in Bristol show evidence of either historic or live infestation by rats or mice.Rodents  tend to prefer properties that are uninhabited where they can live undisturbed.  Hence a vacant property has a greater likelihood of being actively infested.

During the course of our inspections in the less entered parts of properties such as loft spaces, drains and sub floors, we often come across evidence of rodents. This can be faecal matter, dead rodents, chewed building materials or grease marks on regular runs where rodents have been travelling.

The easy way to tell difference between rats and mice infestations is the size of the faeces. Mouse poo is very small at around 3-5mm in length and very thin, say 2-3mm. A rat poo is longer at around 10mm to 20mm in length and a lot fatter at around 5-8mm.

The drains often provide evidence of faecal matter.  This can give an idea as the extent and length of time the infestation has been live, but at least they are not in the main house. The soil pipes entering a house may offer a good route for rats to enter a loft void.

Again, it’s stated that if you can put a biro through a gap, then a rat can enter. This is a very small gap and one that is frequently found, especially in older housing.

So the presence of rodents is very common although worrying to our clients. The idea of vermin inside their house is extremely concerning for urban householders! However we have become accustomed to finding it in Bristol and we note it at the end of our reports.

What can you do about it?

Rat traps are available in hardware stores and garden centres, as well as on-line. They are much stronger than mouse traps and need setting with care. Chocolate spread and peanut butter are often recommended as bait. You can also buy a variety of poisons from branded suppliers. Mice are easier to trap – being inquisitive, they will try anything (once!).

Sonic deterrents are also available, although mixed results are reported.

If it’s a big infestation, most people assume that the local Council will arrange and pay for pest control. However, nowadays there is generally a charge for this service, even for an advisory visit. The advice may well consist of ‘Buy some poison from Wilko’ !!

Large numbers of private pest control companies operate in the sector. Some are regulated by the BPCA (British Pest Control Association) which gives an added layer of security for the customer.

But unless their sources of food and comfortable lodging are removed, the rodents are likely to return next autumn…