From walls and ceilings to asbestos and rising rampness, we answer your questions.
Chimneys are structures usually made of masonry or metal which surrounds and supports the flue or multiple flues that vent products of combustion from gas, oil or solid fuel or multi-fuel appliances.
The flue is the inner part of the chimney that actually vents the products of combustion.
Chimneys are usually located at roof level and are particularly exposed to the elements and it is important that regular maintenance is completed in order that deterioration of the chimney and adjacent building elements does not occur resulting in further deterioration of the structural and internal elements. Regular maintenance must be completed to the chimney and regular inspections and cleaning of the flue should be undertaken to ensure that the products of combustion including carbon monoxide are safely removed from the property.
There are stringent requirements for the location, specification and maintenance of the internal flues and occasionally the advice of a suitably qualified HETAS engineer is required following the advice of your surveyor. Your surveyor will also advise upon what, if any, maintenance is required in order to maintain the integrity of the building.
The roof is one of the most important parts of a building's structure, responsible for protecting the structure beneath from weather. Failure of the structure or unattended defects has serious effect on other areas of the building.
There are different types of roof structure and these distribute the load of the roof coverings and structure to the external walls.
Design deficiencies are particularly prevalent in housing constructed during the 19th Century period and before. This can affect the type of survey which is most appropriate for a property.
Inappropriate replacement roof coverings and alterations to roof structures can adversely affect the performance of a roof structure and as roof structures are susceptible to damage from moisture penetration it is important they are regularly maintained to prevent this and will include the roof coverings, flashing details and guttering.
During the survey the roof structure and coverings are inspected from both the exterior and interior of the property where accessible and potential for defects is one of the many reasons to commission an RICS Homebuyers Report or Building Survey before committing to the purchase of the property.
A common cause of damp penetration within properties is defective rainwater goods. Modern gutters and downpipes are formed in PVC although older properties are often still provided with vulnerable iron rainwater goods which have often been neglected and require repair or renewal.
If gutters are blocked or not of sufficient capacity to cope with the volume of water discharge from the roof, overflow can occur resulting in damage to the fabric of the building. Saturation of external walls is a distinct problem in older properties where the walls are of solid masonry and dampness can permeate internally causing deterioration to the decorations and other elements of the building. Saturated brickwork will also result in other defects to the main external walls such as spalling where frost action occurs.
Valley gutters run at the centre of inverted pitched roofs and are particularly vulnerable to failure, although are often not accessible during a routine survey. Damp penetration can easily occur internally and as far as accessible an inspection of the underside of the valley gutter can usually be completed from within the roof void. Regular inspections and maintenance need to be completed in order that deterioration of the building fabric does not occur and repairs can be costly.
The purpose of the walls in a building is to support the roof, floors and ceilings and to provide shelter and security. In addition the main walls may house various types of utilities such as electrical wiring or plumbing.
Wall construction falls into two basic categories, framed walls and mass walls. In framed walls the loads are transferred to the foundations through posts, columns or studs. Mass walls are of a solid material including masonry and concrete, stone, ground earth, cob etc.
The main walls control water intrusion and they can do this in a number of ways including moisture storage where in solid mass brickwork moisture is absorbed and then released through evaporation or where there is an external finish or cladding applied to expel the water moisture. Some buildings require ventilation within the structure and insulation is a more recent feature within both masonry and framed wall construction.
Walls constructed between individual properties are called party walls and these provide fire resistance, sound resistance and security from adjoining properties.
Internal partition walls can be of either a load bearing or non-load bearing capacity finished in a variety of different materials dependent upon the age of the property.
It is important to maintain both external and internal walls and weather exclusion properties in order that the structural integrity of the property remains intact. Failure to maintain adequately can result in damp penetration, deterioration of the fabric and in some instances structural movement.
The windows and doors in a property can be constructed in a host of different materials and these are inspected during the course of producing a Homebuyer Report or a full Building Survey.
They can be prone to a number of defects through a lack of maintenance or other factors and repair or replacement often can be quite costly.
They can be of a number of different designs including fixed and opening casement, single and double hung sash, folding, pivotal and tilt and slide construction. There are also windows and window structures incorporated into some roof structures including skylights, roof vents and lantern roof structures. Bay structures are also prevalent within properties from the Victorian era to the 1930s.
During a survey consideration is given to escape of occupants through openings in the event of a fire or other emergency and we also inspect for the presence of suitable glazing, particularly where positioned close to ground level where glazing in modern properties should be specified as toughened.
The interior of the property is inspected throughout including any accessible voids. Detailed inspection is made including to wall, ceiling and floor surfaces, internal fittings, visual inspection of the services and sanitary ware. The roof void is inspected internally to support our findings of our internal inspection. Reporting is made upon types of material present and their condition and any associated remedial works or replacements which are considered necessary at the time of inspection.
Floor structures within buildings vary considerably and floors typically consists of sub-floors to support the floor covering to provide a good walking surface. Floor structures often have electrical wiring, plumbing and other services built in.
Ground floor structures can be built on beams or joists or on a solid floor structure dependent upon the age and design of the building.
Where ground floor structures are suspended, ventilation of the sub-floor structure is required in order to maintain an environment which would deter infestations and reduce dampness.
First floor structures are supported by the internal and external walls of the property and are often of a more lightweight construction than ground floor structures.
It is important during the survey to identify any defects or set of circumstances which could lead to deterioration of the floor structures as these are an integral part of the overall structure of the property.
Whilst most RICS regulated surveyors are not qualified technicians able to provide a detailed report of the independent services within a dwelling, visual inspection of the services is undertaken and from the visual inspection advice is provided within your survey report. This can often include further inspection of individual services where it is felt that they have either been inadequately maintained, serviced or where they may be of an age where upgrading and renewal may be necessary. Due to the likely cost of repair and upgrading it is important that further investigations are completed prior to legal commitment to purchase. The specialist inspections will provide detailed information on the current requirements including safety requirements for services within a building.
The property and the site and the immediately adjacent environment is inspected and the surveyor will advise on anything which they feel may adversely affect future marketability or your quiet enjoyment of the property. This can include the risk of flood or subsidence or the presence of radon and desktop research into these particular environmental issues is completed prior to commencement of the survey.
There are many factors affecting the environment from a barking dog to an adjacent railway line or pungent odours from nearby industry; where possible these are identified during a survey in order to, as far as possible, ensure your quiet enjoyment during your occupation.
During the course of our inspections we regularly encounter building materials which may contain asbestos fibres. It is a naturally occurring rock mineral which is both fire retardant and an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator. Due to these qualities it was extensively used in domestic buildings in the post-war period through to the 1980s and some occurrences after this time.
Asbestos fibres can be inhaled and cause a range of lung related disorders resulting in severe disability and in many cases death.
Due to the associated risks to health the supplying of specific types of asbestos was banned under the Asbestos Prohibition Regulations 1985.
In many cases it is not possible to confirm whether materials contain asbestos without laboratory testing. However, where accessible if it is felt a building component may contain asbestos the component should be treated with some caution. Regard must be had to the condition of the element and those which are damaged or prone to damage, thus potentially releasing fibres into the air, require immediate attention. However, with components in good condition it is often safest to leave it in place, having an appropriate qualified person undertake any repair required.
When buying a property, particularly one constructed or refurbished during the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s or 1980s regard must be had to the likelihood of the presence of asbestos and an experienced RICS registered surveyor can flag up potential risks to intending purchasers and occupants.
Rising damp is a problem first apparent when it materialises internally evidenced by peeling and blistering of wall decorations, deterioration of adjacent skirting boards and other woodwork and occasionally a tidemark line which is visible on the wall surface.
Rising dampness occurs when the masonry walls stand in water or saturated soil where there is either a lack of a physical barrier or a defective physical barrier known as a damp-proof course.
Damp-proof courses (DPCs) were introduced following Public Health Act 1885 which introduced the requirement a DPC and properties constructed before this date were often built without a DPC.
Damp-proof courses can become defective through ground movement or bridging of the damp course internally or externally. Where the DPC is defective or non-existent it is usually necessary to consider installing a new DPC through chemical injection or the insertion of a physical DPC, although there are certain types of much older properties where this is inappropriate.
Rot of joinery within buildings can occur both internally and externally and this can occur for a number of reasons. The most common cause of rot to the exterior of the building is poor maintenance and this can lead to deterioration of the timber and other adjacent building elements. It is important that regular maintenance is completed and your surveyor can advise on the best methods of completing this.
Dampness within buildings will lead to both rot and beetle infestation in timber, including to the structural elements of the property including the roof and floors. If left untreated beetle infestation and rot can quickly result in timbers becoming fragile and structurally unsound and it is important, where accessible, the problem is found and diagnosed and a cost-effective solution is identified.
Dry rot can also occur in buildings although it is safe to say that this is not as common as it has been. Affected timber will crumble easily and if left untreated can easily spread and cause serious structural damage to the property. It is possible that the spores of the dry rot can grow through plasterwork and masonry in order to reach new unaffected areas of the building.
Wet rot in buildings can occur where the timbers are in contact with damp conditions such as external brickwork or where there are defective roof coverings.
Wood-boring weevils often referred to as woodworms are normally found in timbers that are damp and decaying and this provide a perfect environment temperature and moisture content for woodworm to thrive. Adequate protection from the external elements and the introduction of ventilation and the correct internal environment will assist in prevention of the infestation, although once infested the woodworms can spread throughout the property and it is important that these are treated.
Occasionally it is advised that a damp and timber specialist inspect the property and provide a quotation for a full course of remedial treatment ahead of an intending purchaser's commitment to purchase.
We complete many surveys on properties of non-traditional construction which can be a source of concern for buyers and mortgage lenders alike as these types of property can suffer defects not commonly found in other types of property.
These were constructed post-war to meet increased housing demands and it is important to establish the type of construction, and where possible confirm that the property is not designated as defective under the Housing Act.
In total approximately 26 specific systems were designated defective and these require significant repair and upgrading under an approved scheme before being suitable for normal mortgage lending purposes.