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

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

We check the exterior condition of the roof with our pole cameras then look at 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 fell out of favour in the 2000’s,although it still in limited use today.

The property

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

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 £800, done in 2012. Repointing the ridge tiles £500, done in 2015.£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 £3875.00. 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, a very cheap 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

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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…

 

 

Airbricks through the Ages

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Airbricks through the Ages

Older properties with suspended timber floors are prone to dampness in the space beneath, in the sub floor void. This may be caused by condensation or by rising damp or by penetrating damp. It is likely to cause rot, decay and timber beetle infestation (woodworm  or worse).

Airbricks are essential to permitting air to flow beneath the floors. This reduces the condensationin the sub floor void. It removes excess moisture and helps the timbers to remain drier – hopefully dry enough to prevent that rot, decay and timber beetle infestation.  These seemingly insignificant objects are often overlooked but their role  isvital in keeping the ground floor timbers floors in acceptable condition.

What may be the consequences?

Sadly,landscaping gardens is one of the major causes of blocking airbricks. For example, the grilles may be covered by wall plates for decking or in some cases simply heaped with gravel. Building pathology is not a widely appreciated topic in all trades! Recently, we visited a property in Bedminster on behalf of an insurer where decking had been installed to the rear and caused a significant dry rot outbreak.  Unfortunately for the policy holder, this would not be an insurable peril and she will have to fund the cost of treatment and repair as well as replacing most of her stripped wooden floor.

Victorian Airbricks

The Victorians used a cast iron grille with vertical vents, as shown on the below diagram.  These have rarely been cleaned and over the years become blocked by spiders and general detritus. Often they have been painted so many times that the width of the grilles is reduced. This in turn will impair their ability to allow air to pass under the building. Hence it is important to scrape off the excess paint (wearing  gloves as the paint was often lead containing) and repaint  them.  Pipe-cleaners are useful to help clear the slots.

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In the 1930’s

At this time, the metal grilles were often  constructed in a grid pattern as shown below. Again, they suffer from the same issues as mentioned above; they require clearing out and generally maintaining. If they rust they will expand, which can cause localised cracking to the surrounding brickwork – the force is sufficient to push this out of alignment.

On a building survey in St George recently, we inspected a house that appeared to be completely Victorian, however the airbricks were clearly 1930’s and were not replacements.  We followed the trail and discovered that the house was rebuilt the late 1940’s,having been destroyed by bombing in the war. The smallest clues can help identify issues such as this!

 

From the 1970’s

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, solid floors (of poured concrete) were common hence negating the need for airbrick ventilation. After this, suspended timber floors once again became popular. The accompanying airbricks consisted of plastic louvre-type vents with a slight slope to the fins.  This helped reduce penetrating dampness problems and restricted the opportunity for rodents to enter the sub floors. Again, these vents do require clearing out.

 

From the 1990’s

Even if the floors are of the block and beam construction common in the 1990’s and noughties, air vents are fitted to help ventilate the space. They can also form part of radon control measures so again should not be blocked or removed.

Sometimes larger square vents are seen on the front elevations of houses whichare above the internal floor level.  These are usually installed to help increase air flow for internal combustion appliances such as back boilers or gas fires – they should not be confused with airbricks that are normally brick sized, used to ventilate sub floors.

The future of Airbricks

The insertion of a solar powered fan would greatly assist in ventilating buildings. This would be beneficial in reducing  the many problems associated with damp sub-floors over the last 150 years or so. Such fans are available in other countries but are not found in the UK. They are inexpensiveto produce and would offer significant savings on reactive maintenance as well as preventing decay in sub floors.

 

 

The Beast from the East is Snow Joke

The Beast from the East is Snow Joke

When we are explaining the findings of our Building Surveys, our clients often ask why sarking felt is so important. It’s only a softish layer fastened under the tiles or slates ! Why is its detailing (finish) so vital to the weather tightness of the building? It is intended to act as a defence against snow and wind-driven rain getting beneath the tiles and into the attic.  The snowfalls of winter 2017-8 have dramatically highlighted the importanceof this!

Over the past few weeks our insurance team have been visiting dozens of houses affected by the “Beast from the East”.

The first thing most policyholders notice is water dripping through the upstairs ceiling.  Then when they check inside their roof, they find soaking wet insulation. So why hasn’t the roof leaked before? The direction in which the wind is travelling and its ferocity finds even minor gaps in the sarking felt. Many roofs survived the prolonged snows of 2012, the “Deep Freeze” as it was called then. Why? Because these did not come with the same wind levels and associated snow drifts.

What about Insurance cover?

These ‘small rips’ in the sarking felt can result in a great deal of damage, especially to the ceilings directly beneath. And insurers are unlikely to cover re-felting or associated roofing work because the rips were pre-existing.

However, some owners have extra ‘accidental damage’ insurance cover to the building. Then damaged loft insulation and ceilings resulting from the snow melting into the habitable spaces beneath may be covered.

Who is at risk?

The occupants of one 1930’s house said they had had a survey whenthey bought the property a few months previously. It was a “homebuyer’s report” and the roof was flagged as amber. This indicated that the roofwas acceptable from a surveying perspective. Had we carried out our full building survey, we would have suggested replacing the roof – it had original clay tiles and poorly lapped felt. The felt was probably fitted in the 1970’s when it was common not to overlap the felt sufficiently.The consequence of the poorly overlapped felt was a very wet ceiling.

We also visited a property constructed in the 1970’s with the original roof still in place.There was a gap of some 20mm between the sheets of felt; again snow leaked into the roof void as a result.

It is not just older buildings that have seen snow ingress into roof spaces. We have visited some that are only 5 years old. Here, the clever ventilation details around the ridges and eaves have allowed the wind-driven snow to enter the loft spaces. This has caused considerable damage. Since recent insulation is much thicker( some 270 mm),  it took some time for the problem to become apparent. The result was either larger stains or in one case the insulation was so wet the weight of water caused the ceiling to fall in. These types of ventilation detail are great in helping the properties to breathe. However, water ingress had not been revealed as an issue until tested by the recent snow and strong winds.

Re-building costs

What about Re-building costs?

Sometimes people ask whether re-building costs form part of our survey. Some surveying companies will do this for you and will charge a couple of hundred pounds for the privilege. We don’t because it isn’t really necessary; it adds little value and the professional indemnity insurance cover required would increase our survey fees.

“Sums Unlimited”

So what are your options?  The comparison websites such as MoneySupermarket.com  and GoCompare have made insurers attempt to compete by giving quick quotes and on a level playing field.  Hence most of these quote are based on “sums unlimited” for the value of the property. In reality “sums unlimited” is normally limited to £1,000,000. Many insurers do not insure properties with more than five bedrooms for this reason.

Calculating Re-Building Cost

However, if you are using an insurance broker they may ask for the re-building cost. If this is something you require, it is very simple to calculate! You need to measure the building’s footprint that is, the gross external area of the property. If this is something you want us to do as part of the survey inspection,  please let us know and we will take the external measurements for you.

Count the number of bathrooms (not including any cloakrooms) and add the number of garaged parking spaces. Create a log in on https://calculator.bcis.co.uk/calculator/calculator.aspx and input this data. This will produce a cost for a property band rather than an exact value. Hence you have to make a judgement as to the quality of fixtures and fittings;  we suggest erring on the side of caution with a higher figure for these.

Index Linking and Under-Insuring

Your insurance should have these values index-linked as inflation and other costs will increase the rebuild cost over the years. Hence it is good practice to revisit this valuation every few years. If you make changes to the property such as an extension or add garages, then the rebuild cost will no longer be accurate and will need to be re-calculated. The increasing trend for “sums unlimited” cover stops this hassle unless you have a mansion or a Central London property. It also avoids quibbling should a claim arise.

It is very important not to be under-insured. Sadly, you normally only find this out when you come to make a claim and the loss adjuster checks the figures. If for example you have an out-of-date rebuild cost of say £100,000 and the adjuster says the rebuild cost is £200,000 then you are 50% underinsured.  As a consequence, you will get only half the suggested pay out of your claim.  In the event of a large loss, for example through sudden flooding,  this can be a significant sum of money!