What’s a Desk-top Survey!

So you’ve found that dream property and you are really excited about it! Before you launch into making an offer, there are things it is worth checking yourself. In our first ever blog, we urged you to take advantage of free resources on offer and conduct your own desk-top research. First, look in the British Coal Mining Archives to find out whether there are mines below your prospective home that could cause expensive subsidence. Next, go to the Environment Agency website to check for the likelihood of flooding with its implications for insurance cover. Yes, even for new-build properties !

What more do we do?

Generations of surveyors have commented in reports that they do no research into the environmental or geographical locations of the properties that they survey. This has been left to the Legal Adviser to undertake. When most property conveyancing was done by a local solicitor who probably even knew the road, that was fine.

However, nowadays conveyancing a property can be done from anywhere. Hence the Legal Adviser may not know the geography or even the relevance of some of the surveyor’s comments, so cannot adequately advise their client. This was recently highlighted in an RICS CPD roadshow –  the swallow/sink holes in a roadway could have been spotted with some desktop work by the surveyor.

Our watchwords are “always use a local Surveyor”!  They know the vernacular style of the buildings and the likely environmental issues of the areas in which they work. As part of our professional indemnity insurance, we must not undertake more than 25% of our work outside a 25-mile radius.

Historical Map data

We start with historical map data, which provides brilliant insight into when the property was constructed. This indicates the original materials that would have been used and the style in which it was built. This is particularly useful if it happens to be a ‘listed building’, designated of special interest by Historic England. If it (or an attached property) is listed (check the Listed Buildings website!), it should be maintained in the same condition as when it was listed. So you can’t just rip out those draughty wooden sash windows and replace them with UPVC double glazing! You will need Planning Consent for any such proposed alterations. The maps can show the shape of the structure over successive decades – is that an extension or original to the building?

Map data also shows what was on the site prior to the house being built. This can indicate the geology to some extent. In Bristol for example there were numerous clay pits, which would have been back filled. Was one beneath your prospective home? If so, were the workings deep and what were they back filled with? These are not shown on traditional coal mining reports but can still cause subsidence.

Aerial imagery

When we think of aerial imagery, we immediate think of Google Earth.  This is great resource and normally you can find images in Bristol dating back to 2012. You can see what has been altered recently and view the condition of flat roofing over the years.

There are also on-line aerial images dating back to 1946 which clearly show bomb damage to some houses we have surveyed in the past. One property appeared to be genuine Edwardian. We checked the on-line images. Then we were able to tell the client that it had been completely rebuilt in the 1950s and it was demolished due to bomb damage in the war.

The Environment Agency

This is an excellent source of free information. The website shows flooding from rivers and seas and also the likelihood of surface water flooding. This was a driver of the Hull floods and happens in the most unlikely of places, even on hillsides. They also map potential floods from reservoirs which is important given the recent issues with Toddbrook Reservoir. And if the property is located in a flood-plain, you may have difficulty in obtaining buildings insurance cover. This is worth considering as our weather seems to be getting more violently stormy.

British Coal Mining Archives

This is a free resource that will tell you if the property is located in a mine reporting area where a further CON 29 mining search would be recommended. Subsidence can be very costly and again, be detrimental to your insurance cover.

The Council

Many councils run their own mapping service. Is the property in a Conservation Area? If so, there will be restrictions on what you and your neighbours can do. The Bristol maps show some of the bombing raids.  In Bath they even give refuse collection dates!

Land Registry

You can often find out what the property was last sold for via zoopla.  You can also find out from the Land Registry for £3, as long as the date was in the last twenty years. This search will also tell you the name of the owner(s) which may be useful for leasehold/managed apartments. Details of boundaries etc are also available although for a small fee; your Legal Adviser should advise on these.

Do It Yourself?

We think our desktop work is amongst the best around. You can do it most of it yourself but it takes time and some interpretation to produce comprehensive, accurate information. We will happily do it for you as part of our Building Survey product. It can save you heartache and money if this is done in the early stages, before you run up substantial legal fees.

Window Sills

Window sills are not just decorative – nor are they simply supports for window boxes!

They contribute an important weather-proofing function to the building. They should be designed to shed rainwater away from the wall. This prevents it penetrating into the wall beneath the window frame. However, to do this, the sills must be well sealed into the wall. The window frame should also be well sealed around the edges.

Stone Sills

Traditionally in stone built and Victorian era housing, stone was used for the sills. In Bristol this was normally oolitic limestone on front elevations, “Bath stone”. Sometimes other types of stone were used, such as in Kingswood were Basalt type stone is seen. These sills lasted well when regularly painted with a lime wash or breathable paint to act as a sacrificial barrier.  Now however we often see them painted with non-breathable masonry paints. This traps moisture in the stone causing them to delaminate, which is very sad sight to see, these elements seem often forget even in the grander properties that we survey.

Concrete Sills

We have seen many dampness issues where the window sills have been rendered over or around and this has caused damp to penetrate through the walls beneath. Defects in sills can allow dampness to creep in as in this case – watch our video.

The underside of this concrete sill has a throated capillary drip like a groove cut into the underside of the sill to help prevent water running back under the sill and into the walls below the window sill;

In buildings constructed in the 1930’s and 1950’s metal reinforced concrete became popular. Due to the composition of the concrete, a chemical change occurs over time; the embedded metal will then rust. This causes the sills to be blown apart, as can be seen below. This is not uncommon hence we look for any straight-line cracks on concrete windows sills, which indicates the condition of the metal reinforcements.  The best method of repair is to cut out and replace such damaged sills.

UPVC Sills and Cladding

UPVC windows normally include the option of a light weight extruded UPVC sill which finishes the window in a matching colour.  Cladding can also be used – but in the case below in Highbridge near Burnham, the UPVC has been clad over a decayed timber sill. This is clearly not ideal! The timber should have been cut out and a new extruded UPVC sill installed, which would have been fairly easy as the timber is so rotten…

Lintels

Out of sight, out of mind?!  Basically, lintels are designed to support the structure above window and door openings. They are structurally extremely important. But they are often hidden, concealed by render or within brick-work or stone-work.

So here is a brief guide to a few common ones of which to be aware.

In olden times

The original lintel was a piece of timber cut to fit each opening. These are still readily visible in many ancient properties and have lasted for centuries. However, as timber is a natural material, it is elastic and will sometimes bow over time. It may sag under the loads imposed on it. It can also prove problematic in damp situations such as when hidden behind cracked render which has let the rain through. It can suffer from decay and from wood boring insect attack.

An example of a hidden timber lintel can be seen on this Grade ll listed building in Henbury which we surveyed this year:

Wooden Lintels

Timber is still used for “lintels” in modern timber framed houses, albeit with a lot more structural calculations and tested timbers than in earlier centuries!

Victorian era

In Victorian times the brick ‘soldier arch’ was introduced as a more decorative finish. A flat horizontal row of bricks on end (standing to attention’ like soldiers!)  supported the masonry above. However, after a hundred or so years in place, these have often slipped and allowed the masonry above to drop. Sometimes this is due to deterioration of the mortar or from settlement or movement in the building. Sometimes the row of bricks can push outwards, which is called “arch thrust”.  When the soldier bricks loosen, little is bonding the brickwork in place. Hence it is imperative that this is remedied quickly, as the bricks can fall and present a hazard.

On the internal face of the wall,timber continued to be used and is normally hidden by plaster, but it suffers the same issues as described above.

1920 and 30s

Then in the 1920/30’S we started to use concrete lintels pre-stressed with internal metal reinforcement. Carbonation may cause these to fail; this is the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacting with the calcium hydroxide in the cement. However, most are still fully operational and are not suffering at all.

In the picture below, one has been exposed due to a damp issue:

Concrete Lintels

1930 to 1950s

Then in the 1930/50’s era, some properties did away with them completely; the window frame was used to support the external leaf of masonry. This did not bode well, as when windows were changed, the chunkier more solid metal or timber frames were replaced with modern lightweight plastic/UPVC. The removal of the original support caused the brickwork above to drop as the new frames bowed. And if the masonry was not properly supported during the replacement of the windows, then the masonry was also likely to drop.

An example of loosened masonry is shown along the brick on edge course in a 1930’s property we surveyed in Knowle this year:

Masonry Lintels

1960s

In the 60’s we designed the cantilevered boot lintel, which was apparently intended to be more aesthetically pleasing. The ‘boot’ section protrudes to the outside of the building; the outer ends of the lintel are not built into the brickwork on either side. One is shown in the picture below. As they were cantilevered and the protruding “toe” of the boot is not supported, they have a tendency to rotate. This causes cracking above the lintel, mainly internally, and stress on the window frames.

The below picture was taken in Patchway in South Gloucestershire on a survey this year.

Boot Lintels

Nowadays

Then we started to use metal lintels. You have probably heard these called Catnic lintels which is the brand name like Hoover for a vacuum cleaner. They began as basic L shapes at first then came box lintels. These normally incorporate a cavity tray to deflect rain back to the outside or even damp proof courses and in built insulation, but that will be the subject of another blog.

An example of a box lintel is shown in a garage on a survey carried out this year in a property constructed in the 1980’s:

Box Lintels

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!