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Conservatory

 

“IT’S GOT A CONSERVATORY!”

 

But that may be a mixed blessing…

It’s generally expected that a Conservatory will be a glass box attached to the back or side of a house.However, perceptions about conservatories have changed a lot over the years. For instance, a survey in 1991 by RICS (the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) found that only 20% of people expected to use a conservatory all year round. By 2005, that had increased significantly to around 90%. Similarly,in 1991 only 30% of people considered it part of the ‘Living Area’. Again, this had increased significantly by 2005 where 60% thought Conservatories were part of the Living Space. This increasing use of the space makes a Conservatory more valuable and the effect of constructing one should impact positively on the value of the property.

The Regulatory Stuff

Conservatories are normally exempt from Building Regulations and Planning assuming they are constructed within certain parameters.

Building Regulations state they should be at least 50% glazed. They must be thermally separated from the main by external quality doors. They must not be connected to the central heating system but may have their own separate heating system. So if you a see a central heating radiator in a Conservatory, it normally means the construction is non-compliant.Other parts of the Regulations also apply;for example,  if you are installing electric sockets, underfloor heating connections or lights, then they must conform to Part P.

Planning approvals are not normally required if the Conservatory is at ground level and the floor area does not exceed 30m². It must also be correctly positioned in relation to existing buildings and boundaries.

What are the problems?

How old is the Conservatory? Installers may guarantee the structure or elements for 3, 5, 10 years or longer – but installers often go out of business. So unless the guarantee is backed by a separate insurance policy by the installer, it may be worthless.  And if the Conservatory is in a poor state of repair, you will have the additional cost of removing it. Older ones may be constructed with aluminium frames although most modern ones are metal-reinforced UPVC, which has a projected lifespan of around 25 years.

Some Defects

Very common defects with conservatories are the vertical cracks opening up between the Conservatory and the main building.These are most likely as a result of some movement between the more secure and settled main building and the more recent addition. This is normally combined with thermal movement. Normally these cracks are ‘slight’ and not considered particularly worrying; good use of flexible sealant can fill the gaps.

What is the roofing material? Is it expensive glass, possibly optically tinted? Often cheaper twin wall polycarbonate is used as the roofing material.  This is made of lightweight plastic sheets with extruded boxes inside the construction.  These roofs tend to have problems with condensation forming inside the internal chambers; visible water droplets appear. This is mainly an aesthetic  issue and not structurally concerning. However, when the roof sheets age, they become brittle and as a result can be easily punctured by hailstones –  we have seen them damaged by seagulls!

The metal bars between the polycarbonate sheets (often called glazing bars) have been known to deflect over time. This means rainwater and snow do not run away correctly and the water can pool;  the rubber seals between the bar and the sheet fail, allowing water to enter the Conservatory. During the heavy snow falls in 2012, we visited many properties where the weight of the snow had simply snapped the bars and caused the roofs to collapse.

Rainwater Disposal

In newer cavity walled properties,a good quality Conservatory should have a cavity tray fitted in the wall of the main house above the Conservatory. This should prevent water from ingressing from the cavity and staining the tops of the walls in the Conservatory; weepholes above the Conservatory are often the only clue to whether  this has been done. If the property is a bungalow, there is likely to be an enclosed box gutter between the bungalow and the Conservatory; has the rainwater been routed correctly away from the building?

Location

As mentioned previously, Conservatories are generally constructed at the back or side of a property which may impede access to the gutters and soffits above. This makes decorating and regular maintenance very much harder. Either protection over the Conservatory is required or very costly scaffolds are necessary. Hence in most cases it is more cost-effective to remove the roof panels of the Conservatory to allow a standard access tower to be erected.

 

 

SUMMARISING THE CONDITION OF THE PROPERTY

SUMMARISING THE CONDITION OF THE PROPERTY

Over the past few months we have been unpicking the individual elements of the property for you to consider during your viewing. So have our blog open on your tablet or phone to help you follow the sequence, external elements first,  then internal ones. Print off the tick sheet below and when you have checked off all the items, you will have an idea of any potential issues prior to making an offer.

A surveyor undertaking a full building inspection would be able to spend hours looking around the property. However, the agent will often limit you to 20 minutes  – or less.  Hence this checklist cannot be a substitute for a professional building survey before signing the contract. But it can save you a lot of grief when deciding to make an offer!Buy yourself time by getting there early to do your external viewing before your appointment, or stay around afterwards.

If there are many negative responses or big queries raised by the tick sheet, then do some more research on Google or ask a competent friend in the building industry for their thoughts – and if you’ve used our services before, you know you can drop us an email too.

CHECKLIST

Please feel free to print this off and take with you as a checklist while you work through the information on our blog:

Desk research before you view:  check Environment Agency for  flooding,  check crime statistics, check Zoopla/Rightmove for earlier floorplans and sales history/prices.

On arrival: Neighbourhood? Noise in vicinity?Parking on and off peak?

External Elements

Chimneys:  Leaning?Failing pointing?

Roof: Dishing? Age and condition of roof covering?Missing or damaged tiles?

Gutters: Evidence of leaks?Vegetation? Slope away from downpipe?

Walls: Leaning? Cracks? Poor render? Blocked airbricks?

Windows :Type and age of glass and frames?

Doors: Open and close easily?

Internal Elements

Lofts:  Condition of sarking felt? Size and regularity of timbers? Insulation?

Ceilings: Cracks regular (plasterboard)? Cracks irregular (lath and plaster)? Artex present?

Partitions (Internal walls):  Thickness? Solid? Stud? Any removed?

Dampness: Any visual evidence of damp? Mould? Salts? Staining?

Floors: Solid? Suspended timber? Any movement?

Before leaving :

Outbuildings: Condition of sheds, conservatory?

Grounds and boundaries:  Fencing good? Walls not leaning or cracked? Retaining?

Plants and trees: Trees near the building? Unrecognisable plants (knotweed)?

Spoken to vendor about works carried out in the past?

Spoken to neighbours about good / bad aspects of the locality?

Damp

DAMPNESS

Damp has been found in properties since we lived in caves! During the feedback sessions after our surveys,  this is one of the most worrying issues for our clients.  They often prick up their ears at the mention of dampness in a property!  A recent survey suggests that 67% of people would consider pulling out of a purchase if damp was discovered.

Why is it such a problem? Dampness does not just damage decorations, wallpapers and paintwork. Where it has been present for some time it can damage adjacent  timbers, leading to expensive structural problems. How might you detect it without the sophisticated meters that we use? During a viewing,  your best friend in this quest is your nose – damp timbers give off a recognisable musty smell. This is often hard to mask, even with air freshener or the old favourites of coffee or baking bread.

We normally split dampness into 4 categories:

Rising dampness

This is moisture rising up the walls of the building from ground level. Look out for ‘tide marks’ around the base of the walls indoors, perhaps just darker paint near floor level. Look for salts crystallising on the surface of the wall or blistering to the paintwork finishes.  Can you see rust forming on the nails holding the skirting boards or along the metal angle beads at corners? If so, this indicates that the dampness has been occurring for a long time.

Penetrating dampness

This is dampness penetrating through the roof or walls.  Look for stains around the ceilings of the upper floor, beneath the roof. Especially look around chimney breasts and under window sills for brown staining. However, penetrating damp can be easily confused with condensation as they both normally occur in vulnerable parts of the building, such as in corners of rooms or around windows.

Condensation

Condensation can occur anywhere in the property.For dampness issues beneath a room with stripped  flooring,look at the nail heads to see if they have rusted. If so, this suggests excessive moisture in the area.

Bathrooms are notorious for condensation problems so inspect them thoroughly for mould growth. This normally appears in the corners of rooms and takes on a crescent shape due to air movement in the room. Mould can also appear behind large items of furniture so take a sneaky peek behind wardrobes. This mould suggests condensation related problems. Often painted over by canny vendors, the paintwork is still darker so inspect the corners of rooms thoroughly, especially if they have sloping ceilings.

Leaks

One of the most common reasons for escape of water claims with insurance companies is failed seals.  Look out for cracks to the grouting in bathrooms and also for failed seals around kitchen sinks, baths and showers. There might even be a darker stain on the ceiling of the room below the bathroom, a real giveaway.

Also have a look underneath the WC cistern. Modern close-coupled toilets in particular often leak –and what about that plastic tub beneath to catch any drips?!

Do you already have suspicions about dampness in a property ? If you have used our services previously, just contact our office with your invoice number and we will arrange to loan you a damp meter to use during your viewing. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say –

 

Gardens

Gardens

Landscaping

An attractively landscaped garden is a great feature, but it requires maintenance, time and effort.  Is that decking going rotten? Is it dangerously slippery? Are there broken paving slabs or loose handrails to steps? Is there a pond that may be hazardous to small children?

Boundaries

First look at the size and shape of the garden; can you tell where the boundaries lie?  Does it seem regular and consistent with neighbouring gardens?  Often concrete posts are used to divide properties and demark the boundaries; see if these are visible. Is there access from a walkway or alley at the back or side of the property? How secure is the back gate?

Fences

Are the fences damaged? The cost of replacing a simple panel fence set in concrete in the ground is around £80/linear metre. Disposal of damaged material is extra. This may seem a simple DIY job but don’t overlook the cost of materials mounting up.Some sources suggest that a fence constructed to the British Standard (1722) should last around 15 years. However,careful treatment every couple of years will significantly extend the life.

You might try gently and discreetly leaning on the fence to test for movement!

Walls

Walls are constructed of many differing types of materials. They may be retaining significant amounts of soil, especially on terraced sites.  Hence,there should be holes to allow the soil to drain. Look for cracks or significant leans. Again like fences, the cost of disposing of a damaged wall is very time consuming, heavy and costly, before it is even rebuilt. We estimate £120 per square metre to simply rebuild a wall that is 9” or 220 mm in thickness, assuming that the foundations are acceptable and that does not include disposal of the old wall.

Plants

The words “Japanese Knotweed” strike fear into the heart of any home owner, let alone a purchaser. And this is becoming more common in Bristol and we are receiving more and more calls to confirm its identification. We have found it from Clifton to St George and St Pauls to Fishponds, to name a few areas. But it can be eradicated! So, if you see a plant you don’t recognise, Google images will help, but be wary of a quick identification as many plants look very similar. Some web sites do offer free identification from photographs, but often they do not respond if they are busy so don’t expect too much for free.

Trees and Hedges

Again trees can cause concerns for even the most experienced purchaser. If you are viewing in winter, remember that full summer foliage will shut out daylight. Leaf falls from nearby trees block gutters and drains. Tree roots can damage the foundations and drains, causing subsidence issues.  Such roots can lift paving, too.  Remember the rule of thumb that the height of the tree is often the spread of the roots.

is the tree a particularly large or a striking specimen,if so ask the vendor if there are any Tree Preservation Orders in place. If so, even basic maintenance will need planning permission!

And those high, thick hedges will require cutting regularly in the growing season, as well as draining all the moisture from the adjacent flower beds.

 

Floors

FLOORS

Floors aren’t just places to put soft carpets or smart tiles. They are integral to the structure of the building, providing support for the internal walls. Hence they need to be firm and reasonably level.

They are generally either ‘solid’ or of suspended timber.

Solid Floors

These are made of concrete and can be found as the ground floors of properties of any age. They may be original to the property or put in place when the house was refurbished later. They are very  common in 1950’s housing as the shortage of timber meant concrete was a cost-effective alternative.

Such floors should incorporate a damp proof membrane that should link to a damp proof course. This is an area of potential weakness! Solid floors in older properties can be problematic as often they have replaced original ‘breathing’ timber floors. So if you find solid floors in a Victorian house, look out for blistered decorative finishes near floor level, caused by dampness. Look for any movement in the floor – is it flat and level? If not, this can suggest a chemical attack or poor laying technique.

How do you tell a solid floor from a timber one?

Some properties have solid floors in parts of the ground floor (particularly extensions) with suspended timber in other rooms. And there are likely to be fitted carpets or parquet flooring, ceramic tiles or vinyl covering the floors.

The easiest way to differentiate between solid concrete and suspended timber is the “heel drop test”. Basically, stamping or jumping on the floor! Is there is any give to the floor or reverberation of the furniture in the room?  Then chances are that it is a suspended timber floor. If it is hard and your body jars, then it is likely to be a solid floor.

Is there noticeable reverberation when you impact the timber floor? If so, this may suggest issues with the joists beneath –  perhaps they are damaged or undersized. This applies to both ground floor and upper floors.

It is also very common in certain areas for timber floors to slope. The agents refer to “Easton Creep” in BS5 postcodes, as most properties there have settled over time and the floors slope. As long as the movement is not on-going, this is acceptable. Assuming you can live with it?!

Beneath the Suspended Timber Floor

Timber floors are vulnerable to any dampness as timber will decay when in a damp situation. And the ground underneath a building is damp!

Substantial decay in timber has a very distinct mushroom smell , so use your nose! What can you smell? Take a look outside – are there plenty of airbricks?  These should be present to both front and rear of the house with suspended timber floors. They allow air to circulate beneath the house to prevent condensation and rising damp building up, decaying the supporting timbers. Even when an older property (say Victorian) has been “damp proofed”, remember that the floor joists are still likely to be built into damp walls.

 

Floor boards

Frequently in older properties, floor boards show evidence of wood worm when uncovered. Are there any lighter coloured holes or small tracks on the timber? This may suggest an active infestation and may indicate that there are further infestations out of sight, possibly in the joists or rafters.  And an infestation may prove costly and disruptive to treat to prevent it spreading.  Treatment  includes lifting the floor boards and spraying the undersides of them.

Are there loose floorboards beneath the carpets? These can form a trip hazard and make a lot of noise when walked on. The soles of your feet are useful tools! Offer to take off your shoes when entering a property  – especially if the vendor is there!  This not only shows respect but will give you the opportunity to feel through the carpets for any loose boards.When these are split, cutting new boards and securing them correctly can be very time consuming.

In newer or refurbished properties, chipboard is often laid over the joists, especially on upper floors. Chipboard will sag over time anyway.  And new floors are often installed fast, meaning they are seldom are well laid with supports where the joints meet.  So these chipboard floors often creak! How much noise can you tolerate? Can you live with the creaking?

What is on top of the floors?

Do check the condition of the floor coverings, which can be costly to repair or replace.

Where high quality solid timber or engineered floor coverings have been laid on a DIY basis,  the joints can open up or sections can lift, due to poor fitting and thermal expansion. Re-laying floors of this type is expensive.

Are those ceramic or slate tiles cracked? If so, will the pattern and size be easy to match if necessary? Runs of tiles only last say 5 years so replacements may be hard to obtain.

When laminate is mopped many times, it tends to absorb water at the joints (called crowning); then it is unsightly and can be a trip hazard.

In properties built around the 1950s – 1970s, plastic type tiles were used which often contain asbestos.  Sometimes these can be identified by their deep colouring, commonly red, green or dark brown.

And do ask what carpets will be included in the sale, as well as those matching curtains…

Ceilings

Ceilings

Ceilings are made from a variety of materials and each has different associated problems!

Did you read our blog on inspecting lofts and venture into the loft space (wearing a PP3 mask)? If so, you might be able to lift the insulation and see the type of ceiling material below.

Lath & plaster

Lath & plaster ceilings were used extensively pre 1940. They comprise wooden laths coated with various layers and thicknesses of plaster.  The plaster may contain ash, horse hair and lime.

While working for many leading insurance companies, we have inspected countless collapsed lath& plaster type ceilings.Lath & plaster can and will eventually fail. It happens in the most expensive houses which have decorative cornices that run into thousands of pounds to replace in a single room. It also happens in pre 1930 council houses.  Famously, the ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theatre in London in 2013 injured over 70 people. Such ceilings are seldom used now except in restoration work in listed buildings.

These ceilings are very thick,  normally around 20mm. The tell-tale signs of failure are cracking, an undulating surface and sagging. Finishes such as lining paper tend to mask such cracks but the undulations are easy to see.   Sagging suggests that the plaster has detached from the wooden laths above.  The cracking is not inregular, straight lines -it is normally diagonal and irregular.

Removing such ceilings is a very dirty job!  And it is a real challenge to save any ornate cornices running around the perimeter of the room. This dusty job is often expensive as few want to undertake this work.

Sometimes you can deal with lath & plaster ceilings by underboarding them. Underboarding is screwing a layer of plasterboard beneath the lath & plaster to support it. This is an inexpensive repair but will lower the ceiling height and you will lose any cornicing.

Hardboard

Occasionally in the 1950’s and 60’s, ceilings were constructed from thin sheets of hardboard, ie reconstituted timber. It is normally fairly easy to spot these from underneath, as they have tape over the joints of the boards. This gives the ceiling a grid like type of pattern!

Plasterboard

Since the 1940’s, ceilings have been constructed of uniform boards of gypsum known as plasterboard. These boards have a long service life.In the early days, when plasterboard was first used, the joints were not taped with a netting scrim. Hence minor thermal movements and stress cause straight line cracking, sometimes at right angles.  When this is the case, the joints can be taped  over and the ceiling skimmed. Sometimes nail pops are evident. As long as these are repaired properly (not just covered in filler) they are unlikely to re-appear.

Polystyrene tiles

These were most popular in the 1970’s. They were often used to disguise cracking or damaged ceilings. However, they are a fire hazard as they were not intumescent .  If they catch fire, they can rain molten polystyrene,  a scary image! These should be removed as soon as practicable. While removing the tiles is fairly easy, the plaster beneath will probably be damaged as a result. The spots of glue are also very hard to remove. So allow costs for the skimming often required after removal.

Timber cladding

Timber cladding was another old favourite. These are strips of tongue-and-groove wood and hence are flammable. So they can pose a risk, especially if they are used in a Kitchen. The cladding is not fixed direct to the ceiling; it is often nailed to timber battens which are screwed through the ceiling.  Removing  these will disrupting the finish beneath. Hence you should only undertake this if you are willing to plasterboard and skim the ceiling beneath.

Artex

Artex has been used since the 1970’s, an applied finish with various patterns from stipple to swirl. It was sometimes used on plasterboard instead of a skim, so the characteristic straight line cracks, often with right angles, are very common. Patching Artex satisfactorily  is very difficult and the repairs always seem to be obvious.  Hence when a section is damaged, it is often better to simply skim over the entire ceiling.  However, Artex applied prior to 2000 can sometimes contain traces of asbestos so scraping off the more pointy bits can be hazardous. If such ceilings appear damaged, then it is always best to have tested  it prior to purchase, because  removal of a medium size asbestos-containing ceiling costs around £800.00. And you will still have to replace the ceiling!

Lofts and Attics

Lofts and Attics

Loft spaces

You are unlikely to get access to loft spaces when doing a general viewing. It’s easy to put your foot through the ceiling below when you slip on a joist! And this will be on the vendor’s household insurance or agent’s insurance so you would not be popular. So don’t be surprised if the agent will not let you check the loft void.  Just smile, knowing we will check it thoroughly for you after you have made your offer.

However, you may be allowed to poke your head and shoulders through the access hatch, as for a homebuyer’s report. Or you may be buying a property privately.

Precautions

Checking lofts is not for the faint hearted as spiders, wasps, mice, flies and rats also make these locations their homes. If you don’t like creepy-crawlies, don’t go exploring in a strange loft!

Some of the older types of loft insulation have been known to contain asbestos. So do be careful and wear a PP3 level mask before opening any loft hatch of an older property.  And carry a torch with a long beam, as very few loft areas have lights.

There are three main aspects to consider in loft spaces:

Sarking Felt

Roofing (sarking) felt is designed to keep the roof waterproof, lying beneath the tiles. It should stick out into the gutters.

One of the best easy tests is to simply turn off any torches or lights and look to see if daylight is visible through the roof or eaves. This suggests holes in tiles and felt or detailing (finishing) problems.

If the black bitumen type felt is present, this is a much older felt.If there are large rips or tears present, it may need replacing.This is a very expensive job -say £6k+.Differing colours of felt indicate where patch repairs have been made internally. These are rarely successful and again replacement in probably necessary.

Is the felt white, blue or green coloured, with tiny dimples? This suggests that the roof has been recovered in the last 20 years with a stronger breathable type of felt and should have a long service life left. However, look for rips and tears, due to poor installation. And condensation can still cause mould growth.

Timbers

The main things to look for are split or bowing timbers in a roof structure. Cracked timbers are often very noticeable as the sharp edges and shear nature of cracks tend to draw the eye. Rafters, struts and braces can often be strengthened internally without the need for expensive scaffolds.

Where major components such as purlins have bowed, this is seldom an “easy” fix. It may have been caused by heavier replacement roof tiles, for example.  Often a new larger purlin will be required, at considerable expense.

Bowing timbers change the way that load is carried through the building. Bowed purlins and rafters do not transmit straight down at 90° and instead push outwards.This puts additional stress on the masonry. When rafters dish in this manner, it can cause” roof spread”, damaging the supporting walls below.

Keep an eye out for patches where the timbers have clearly been stained by water in the past (or at  present!) This is most likely around chimneys, where the flashing above has been damaged.  Rot may have already set in.

Insulation

With the ever-increasing cost of heating, loft insulation has been retrofitted in many homes.

Beware! Older types of insulation were vermiculite, gold shiny coloured lightweight pellets and blown cellulose which looks like tiny fragments of newspaper – which is often what they were. These types have been known to contain asbestos. If these are visible, don’t go any further into the loft – be thankful you are wearing a mask!

Sometimes the loft floors have been boarded so it is difficult to add insulation.Modern Building Regulations require 270mm of mineral fibre. This is rarely achieved as the rolls normally come in 100mm thickness so 200mm is more usual.

Sometimes the insulation has been poorly installed or has been pushed right into the eaves. Then the loft space can’t breathe or ventilate itself. Condensation then builds up inside the roof void, damaging the timbers in the unseen areas in the eaves.

Windows and Doors

domestic surveys

Windows and Doors

Windows form a large part of a building and give much of its character! They let in light but they are vulnerable to breakage, accidentally or deliberately. They can usually be opened for fresh air but  can be a security risk. Hence they need to be lockable with a key, to be “approved” by insurance companies. They can also allow heat to escape from the building.

On a viewing, you can easily see whether window locks are present . Again, doors need to be provided with locks that are approved to a BS standard.

Window Frames

The simplest test to tell whether  new frames are required?  Open and close the windows in every room whilst you are viewing. This will take minutes to perform but will indicate the likelihood of a bill for replacement – from £400 per window depending on the size. Yes, even on newer builds – as one minute into this video of our surveys in Bradley Stoke shows! https://youtu.be/1FENY2nJ24Y

There are many shapes and sizes of window, in a variety of materials. Genuine Georgian windows had small panes because glass was difficult to make. The Victorians found new methods of firing glass and so large panes, often in sash windows, became fashionable.

Wooden Frames

Into the 1960s, window frames were made of wood.Older timber frames do offer good thermal performance and can give a long service life, assuming careful maintenance has been carried out. However, they are prone to decay. Sometimes decay is visible as rotting wood. Sometimes fillers have been used. Don’t be afraid of gently prodding, to test the timbers. The filler often looks smoother than the surrounding timber.

Metal Frames

In the 1960’s, steel window frames were sometimes installed, often known as Crittall after the manufacturer. These are normally single glazed with very thin frames. Use a magnet to tell if the frames are steel.  These frames perform very badly thermally and normally have a good coating of mould to show that. These should be replaced.

Aluminium frames were used in the 1980’s. These are lightweight and do not rust. They may have a small brown-coloured layer sandwiched in their construction.  This acts as a thermal break to prevent condensation. If this is not present, replacement is certainly necessary.

As this older double glazing was a lot thinner,  replacement is normally required anyway as it is not feasible to upgrade the glass.

UPVC Frames

The early forms of UPVC were often single chamber or extruded solid plastic,hence  older UPVC windows often do not perform well thermally. Newer UPVC windows have multiple extruded chambers. These act as thermal pockets to make sure that they insulate the interior from the outside world. Combined with e-coatings, this gives one of the best performing arrangements available for the cost.The viable life of UPVC window frames is generally reckoned as 25 years.

Since 2002, new window installations should be “self-certified” by FENSA or CERTAS or in some instances Building Control will sign them off.

Ask the vendor or agent when the windows were last replaced.  Are there any guarantees? If 2003 or later, ask if the relevant certifying  documentation is present.

Glass

Single glazing is simply a single pane of glass.If this is the case, it usually indicates considerable age of a window installation. They allow a large amount of heat to leave the building and sums for replacing them should be budgeted. The reduction in heating bills should eventually pay for this alone!  Large panes of glass can also be dangerous if unmarked.

Depending on the age of the installation, double glazing may be e-coated and toughened.  We use some very special laser equipment to determine if this is the case,as can be seen on this link https://youtu.be/3fsDmGnaJjY . You will not be able to do this yourself, so look for the basics. Is there moisture (often looking like raindrops) in between the double glazed panes? If so, the seal to the double glazing has blown. These can seldom be repaired effectively and replacement is then required. This seal failure can often be as a result of pressure from the masonry, so look around these areas for cracks or distortion of the walls.

Doors

Again, doors may be timber, metal or UPVC, with or without glazed panes. The frames can warp, the locks can be ineffective. The hinges can sag. Replacement UPVC doors can cost upwards of £500, much more for French doors or bi-fold doors.  So do make sure you check them by opening and closing them.

While antique glass in doors, particularly entrances and hallways, is very attractive, it can be a safety hazard. It is unlikely to be toughened so is easily damaged by impact. If you have small children, do bear this in mind!

 

Gutters

Examining gutters and downpipes

Background

The UK is a wet place as we all know!  The Bristol area averages around 800-900 mm of rainfall a year, which is slightly above the UK average. Even more rain fell in recent years such as 2012 with weather conditions changing. Interestingly, in the past, South Bristol has been wetter than North Bristol.

So this rainwater must be diverted from your roof into your gutters, on its way to the drains. Gutters don’t just remove rainwater, they are an integral part of the house design and character!

They should prevent water from penetrating the tops of the walls and leaking gutters can often cause dampness problems. Furthermore, this is sometimes wrongly diagnosed as rising damp and a large inappropriate repair bill follows – although just replacing the gutters would have solved the problem.

Materials  and Styles

Gutters have traditionally been made from many different materials. Historically, timber has often been used in the north of England, usually lined with lead. More common to Victorian era housing is cast iron and this is prone to rusting. In older properties, especially around South Bristol and Clifton, the gutters may be hidden behind parapet walls at the front of the property. Some Bristol properties have ‘butterfly’ roofs, where the gutters run in a valley hidden behind this parapet. Hence in such cases, inspection from ground level is impossible.

More recent  gutters can be made from asbestos type cement, which therefore will be expensive to remove. Fortunately,   you can carry out a simple check for asbestos gutters and pipework with a magnet;  see our  video https://youtu.be/tfihb5NdZRk . Recently, some gutters, especially long runs, have been made from extruded metal, usually aluminium, but the most popular material is UPVC – ‘plastic’ guttering.

What to look for?

Gutters

Now, you are looking for evidence of leakages and blockages.

Can you see any organic growth sprouting out of the gutters? That’s a sure sign that maintenance has been poor. Are there any overhanging trees whose leaves may have blocked the gutters in autumn?

Next, stand back from the building to check that the gutters are set to the correct falls. They should run in a straight horizontal line towards the downpipe with no dip or deviation.

Rainwater Goods Fastenings

Gutters should normally have supporting clips  spaced at around 750 mm apart. Since the average man’s footstep is around 780 mm, you can pace the length of the gutter with an “average” man and there should be 1 clip per footstep. However, if sufficient clips are not present, the gutters can twist or bow or sag. When this happens, the correct fall is lost and they will start to leak as the weight of water causes pressure which damages the joints.

The joints between the lengths of gutter are usually located at the clips. Hence this is an easy place to look for heavily stained or soiled clips, suggesting leaks in these areas. And if a gutter has been leaking for a long time, stalactites may have formed on the underside of the gutter where water has been dripping. Another great giveaway is staining to the wall; this normally takes the form of darker streaks or patches or green algae or moss growth on the wall. Take note, because this will certainly indicate problems not only with the rainwater goods but potentially inside the property as well.

However,unless you can find a high level vantage point, you won’t be able to see inside the gutters; we use mast cameras as standard on our building surveys to check for blockages and detritus in the gutters.

Downpipes

Now look at the junctions connecting  the gutter to the downpipe; these often incorporates an arrangement of curved sections. These joints are not normally supported by clips and are vulnerable to movement hence they are always susceptible to leakage. Again, this is a very common fault so look for moss growth or staining around the joints.

The downpipes should have clips securing them every 1.8 m. Again the average man is around 175 cm in height so this is a good datum. Downpipes often become blocked with moss and other detritus. So give them a knock to see if they sound hollow; if a dull sound is heard, then they may be full of moss and need to be cleared out.

The modern UPVC extruded parts for guttering and downpipes are very cheap to buy and the largest cost with installation is normally the labour element. As a result extensive repairs to gutters are normally a bad idea! Simply replacing them and obtaining a longer life is usually a better use of your money.

Where does that water go?

Lastly, are there any water butts at the foot of the downpipes? If so, are they overflowing into the foundations of the property? Do the downpipes lead into drains or do they splash their contents over the ground beneath, encouraging dampness, especially around bay windows ? We deal with dampness in another section, but the condition and design of the rainwater goods can give you some valuable pointers!

 

Pitched Roofs

roof

Pitched Roofs

Roof repairs can be very expensive, not just the materials and manpower, but will possibly require scaffolding as well. So take binoculars or a camera with a powerful zoom to enable you to visually inspect the roof covering.  You can do this at any time, without the agent having to be present. As always, look at the neighbouring roofs see if they have recently been re-covered, a good indicator of when yours will need doing.

What is the roof covering ?

Next, focus on an individual tile and try to determine what it made of, clay (older) or concrete (more recent). In some areas, older properties have real slates. Concrete tiles indicate a post-war roofing replacement. Is there anything special or unusual about the type of roof tile? Some tiles such as Triple Deltas and Bridgewater tiles are not as readily available as more common types such as Pantile or Double Roman.Hence they are more expensive to repair or replace.

Can you see any defects?

Are there any slipped or missing tiles? These indicate a lack of routine maintenance but also water ingress is very probable.  Water can cause damage in a timber loft space which can be very expensive to repair! If there is some lighter colouring of the surrounding tiles, this may indicate a more recent break or slip.

Is the roof a “patch work quilt” of differing colours of tiles? Probably someone has made many repairs and it may be time to replace the roof covering completely. Also, look out for small grey tags known in Bristol as “tingles”; these metal (usually lead) clips are used to secure individual tiles and they indicate localised repairs have been carried out. If you see any grey coloured tape, this is normally called ‘flash band’ and is used as a temporary repair. However, it is simply a sticky tape and cannot be considered permanent – the defect should be properly repaired, not just taped over!

Can you see any ‘lifted’ tiles, ones that are not lying flat? If so, there could be a problem with the roof structure beneath. Where the property is in an exposed elevation, the tiles may be vulnerable to lifting by wind and regular repairs will probably be required.

If there are a great many slipped tiles, possibly the roof is suffering from ‘nail fatigue’; the nails have started to rust away and can no longer hold the slates in place.Although such failures may occur in a localised area initially, it is highly likely to occur more widely in the near future.

Man-made regular roof ‘slates’ can be asbestos containing. They are fixed centrally with a single nail and may start to ‘ cup’ or dish. When this happens, the life span of the roof covering  becomes  very short.

Get an overview of the roof structurally

Finally, try to check the structure. Look at the condition of any mortar such as along the ridge or the hips. If the mortar is missing, this indicates lack of routine maintenance.These areas will require repairs at the very least and possibly more extensive remedial action.

Is there any ‘dishing’ to the roof covering?Do the tiles lie in a straight line? If not, this suggests an inadequacy in the roof structure beneath, possibly very costly to remedy.