Buying a 1950s house – bay windows – cracking and heat loss

The 1950s was a period of extensive house building following a lack of new housing during the Second World War.  Traditionally built housing of the 1950s is characterised by cavity walls, fireplaces to the main living rooms and bay windows at the front which would provide extra light to the main reception room and the bedroom above.

This article focuses on bay windows of a traditionally built 1950s house.

 

1950s house – cracking around bay windows

It is normal for a building to settle slightly following construction, but cracking can occur where different parts of a building settle at a different rate.   Typically, in a 1950s house, the footings of a bay window will be shallower than the footings of the rest of the house and this can result in differential settlement.  Hence, it is common for cracking to occur at the junction between a bay window and the main part of the house.

If movement is minor and not progressive then cracks can be filled.  Check regularly for any signs of further movement.

If movement is excessive and/or progressive then it is possible that a mortgage valuer may request a report on the movement by a Chartered Building Surveyor or a Chartered Structural Engineer as a condition of the mortgage.  The valuer may even choose to recommend a retention is placed on the mortgage until investigations/works have been carried out.  Note that the Valuer’s duty is to report to the mortgage lender and not to the purchaser, ie, you.

Consider instructing a surveyor to inspect the whole of the building and report to you as there may be other issues of which you should be aware before deciding to go ahead with the purchase.

If you are not seeking a mortgage but have a survey carried out on your behalf then your surveyor will report on whether he or she considers whether any movement is progressive or not, and whether any further investigations and/or remedial works should be carried out.

 

1950s house – heat loss through bay windows

The wall structure to bay windows is often of lighter construction than the walls to the main part of the house.  Sometimes the walls are timber framed, possibly with vertical tile hanging, and sometimes the walls are of a single narrow leaf of masonry.  Such construction can lead to high heat loss through the wall and/or condensation on the wall surface internally.  Heat loss from the room will also be high if the house has single glazed windows.  Condensation on internal wall surfaces is often identified by dampness and/or mould.  However, if this is noted on a house that you are considering buying then this is not generally a major issue as in many instances the walls can be upgraded with insulation.  If you propose to replace the windows to the bay then this is an ideal time to check the construction of the wall to the bay and upgrade with additional insulation.

Checklist

  1. Check for signs of movement, such as cracking, to any bay windows.
  2. Obtain advice from a surveyor or engineer to determine whether the movement is minor or needs remedial works/monitoring (remember that the mortgage valuation is not a survey).
  3. Obtain written details from the vendor for any works carried out, such as underpinning.
  4. If there is significant movement (or if significant works have been carried out in the past) then bring these to the attention of your proposed buildings insurer and check whether any restrictions will be imposed on your policy.
  5. Check the thickness of any walls to bay windows. Check whether surfaces are cold and whether there are any signs of condensation, eg, mould.

See also How much does a survey cost? and  What should I do after having a survey?

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Buying a 1970s house – common defects – racking roof trusses and Artex

Houses built in the 1970s are now in the order of 40 to 50 years old.  They usually have cavity walls with a damp proof course and the roofs are often constructed using a series of trussed rafters with underlay and tiles above.  Here we will talk about two issues which should be considered when buying a 1970s house.

 

Racking roof trusses in a 1970s house

Prefabricated roof trusses were widely used in the 1970s.  They have the advantage of being quicker to install than a traditional timber cut roof and can often span greater distances than traditional roof rafters and ceiling joists.  However, they have a tendency to rack (lean) unless they have adequate diagonal wind bracing.  Trusses can become weakened if timber members are cut out, eg, to accommodate water storage tanks or create storage space within the loft.  Also, trusses can easily become overloaded with stored items and cause ceilings to deflect.

If you are buying a 1970s house with trussed rafters, your surveyor should report on any defects to the roof structure.  Roof trusses should be checked with a plumbline and if they are not vertical then bracing should be added to prevent them leaning any further.  If trusses are plumb but do not have bracing, then it is a good idea to provide bracing as a precaution against racking in the future.

If you are selling a property and your buyer’s survey reveals that bracing needs to be provided or improved then this is not normally be a major issue.  In most cases, additional bracing can easily be provided at nominal cost.  Lack of roof bracing to roof trusses is not typically a matter which would result in a buyer deciding not to purchase a property.

 

Artex in a 1970s house

Artex, and other textured coatings, were commonly applied to walls and ceilings in the 1970s to provide a decorative finish.  Artex was popular as it required less skill to apply to walls and ceilings than traditional plaster and could be applied in a variety of patterns including a stipple finish or swirls.

If you are planning to buy a house which has textured ceiling or wall coatings, such as Artex, then it is important to be aware that they may contain asbestos.  Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were commonly used in buildings in the 1970s and Artex was just one of a number of common asbestos containing materials used in the building industry at that time.

Some homes may have textured coatings of more than one age or type.  It is possible that there may be different textured coatings within the same dwelling, or even within the same room.  It is possible that some textured coatings within a property may contain asbestos while others may not.

If you are buying a house with Artex or other textured coatings then you need to be aware 0f their location and what condition they are in.  If any textured ceiling or wall coatings are damaged, flaking, friable, etc, then you must arrange for a sample (or samples) to be tested to check for asbestos content.

Asbestos containing materials are generally not harmful as long as they are not disturbed, cut into, damaged, burned, etc.  Many building works, whether major works or DIY works, may involve disturbing potentially asbestos containing materials.  Such works include drilling, sanding, cutting, etc.  If you plan to carry out any works, even DIY works such as drilling to put up a curtain rail, then sample(s) should be texted to confirm whether they contain asbestos or not.

Even if a house owner does not intend to disturb Artex or other textured coatings it is possible that they could be disturbed unintentionally, eg, by accidental damage.  It is possible that ceilings could be damaged by someone accessing the loft and walking on ceiling joists, such as when laying extra insulation within the loft, or even by a homeowner entering the loft to search through stored items.

If you plan to carry out any works which may disturb any Artex or other textured coatings, then a sample, or samples, should be tested for asbestos content before starting any works.  If any of the samples are found to contain asbestos then obtain advice from an asbestos contractor on how to manage the material(s).  Retain documentation for any asbestos tests whether positive or negative.  Most higher risk works must be carried out by a licensed contractor while other works may be undertaken by a non-licensed contractor but it is essential to obtain advice on your own situation.

This article concentrates on Artex and other textured coatings to ceilings and walls but there may be other asbestos containing materials in a 1970s house.  See also 1960s houses:  common defects.

If you are selling a house and have had any samples of textured coatings tested for asbestos, then it is helpful to provide a copy of any tests to your buyer.

 

Other common issues with 1970s houses include high heat loss and condensation, wall tie corrosion and pitch fibre pipes, and for more information on this see 1960s houses:  common defects.  It is important to remember that this information is for general guidance only and advice should be obtained on any items specific to the house you plan to buy or for the house you are selling.

See also How much does a survey cost? and  What should I do after having a survey?

Ref:    http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/

 

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Buying a 1930s house: what to look for – wall ties, dampness, lath and plaster, textured coatings

Many people are attracted to buying a 1930s house.  Their style and accommodation often meets modern needs with larger rooms and larger gardens than their modern equivalents.  This article deals with some of the issues commonly encountered when buying a 1930s house of traditional construction.

Buying a 1930s house

1930s houses are now in the order of 80 years old.  Some may have been updated long ago and may need updating again, whilst others may not have been touched for decades.  Consequently, when buying a 1930s house there are a number of common defects to look out for.

Roofs

If you are buying a 1930s house with the original roof covering then yes, it will definitely need replacing.

If the roof covering has been replaced using reclaimed tiles then it is possible that the nibs to some of the tiles may deteriorate and lead to early failure.  It is important to check the roof slopes for any slipped tiles.  Also, check that ridge and hip tiles are adequately bedded in mortar and that hip irons are provided at the lower edges of hips to prevent slippage.

If the roof covering has been replaced then check that there is sufficient ventilation into the roof space.  If insulation is provided at ceiling level this creates what is known as a “cold roof” and the roof space will need to be ventilated to reduce the risk of condensation within the roof space.  Ventilation is often achieved with ventilation openings in the soffit.  Sometimes when additional insulation is provided at ceiling level the ventilation openings at the eaves are blocked.  This can lead to condensation (and dampness) within the roof space and this can lead to rot and/or woodworm to the roof timbers and a reduced life of the roofing felt.  Ensure that insulation does not block any ventilation openings and check for signs of rot and woodworm.  Also, ask the vendor whether any timber treatment works have been carried out and whether there is warranty.

Wall tie corrosion

In the 1930’s many houses were built with cavity walls with steel wall ties.  With cavity walls, wall ties are needed to tie the two leafs of the cavity wall together to prevent separation/bulging.   However, steel ties corrode over time.  When the steel corrodes it expands and can cause cracking to horizontal mortar joints at tie positions and in some cases bulging of the outer leaf can occur.

Corrosion of wall ties is a particular problem in coastal locations and where black ash mortar has been used.

In some instances only part of a property may be affected, eg, the side of the property facing the prevailing wind.  If wall ties are thought to be corroded then a sample of ties should be checked by a specialist wall tie contractor or an independent surveyor using a borescope (instrument used to view inside the cavity) to inspect the part of the wall ties within the cavity.  In addition to installing new ties, some wall ties will require removal to prevent further cracking as the steel ties will continue to corrode and expand if they are not removed.  If the walls are rendered externally, then re-rendering may be required after the remedial wall tie works.

Dampness

Dampness in 1930s houses can be due to a variety of causes including cavity bridging, high external ground levels, a defective or bridged damp proof course, lack of cavity trays above openings, defective rainwater goods and/or plumbing leaks.

It is important to investigate the cause of dampness so that you know what works are required and who will be the best person to employ to carry out the works.   Don’t automatically employ a damp contractor.  A damp contractor may be the right person to deal with rising dampness and timber treatment, or tanking, but if the dampness is due to an overflowing rainwater hopper then it would be better to employ a general contractor.  It is possible that there is more than one cause of dampness, e.g., lowering external ground levels may help but dampness may persist if there are other defects which may be contributing to the dampness.

Don’t confuse penetrating dampness with condensation.  If corners of rooms have mould then this could be due to condensation, particularly if the house hasn’t been heated and ventilated sufficiently and if there are areas lacking in insulation.

Also, if wall plaster contains salts this may give damp readings even if the original source of dampness has been rectified.  Salts often remain in plaster which have previously been affected by dampness and will absorb moisture from the air.  Any plaster which contains salts should be hacked off and replaced as part of any damp proofing works.

Suspended timber floors

Suspended timber ground floors require ventilation to the sub-floor void to prevent high moisture levels which can lead to rot and woodworm to timbers.  Check there are sufficient sub-floor vents and make sure they are not blocked.  If suspended timber ground floors are springy this may indicate rot and/or woodworm to the floor timbers.

If the house has an extension with a solid floor check that there is still adequate ventilation to any remaining sub-floor voids.  Depending on the configuration of the house it may have been necessary to provide ventilation via ducts through the solid floor.

If timbers are built into damp walls then they may be damp and/or rotten and/or have woodworm.

If there has been insufficient ventilation to the sub-floor void  now, or at any time previously, then there may be beetle infestation/woodworm.

When buying a 1930s house, if there are any signs of rot, woodworm and/or dampness then it is a good idea to investigate the condition of the hidden floor timbers before exchange of contracts.  It is also a good idea to get quotations for any repair works and timber treatment before exchange of contracts.

Lath and plaster ceilings

Lath and plaster ceilings are common in 1930s houses.    They are formed with a series of timber laths fixed close together.  Plaster is then applied, using the laths to form a key.  Lath and plaster ceilings can become bonded over time and fail, i.e, collapse.  Failure of lath and plaster ceilings can occur due to water damage/leakage, rot or woodworm to the timber laths, or vibration.

When buying a 1930s house, check any lath and plaster ceilings for cracks and tap at regular intervals in each room to check whether there are any hollow areas.  Replace any defective  lath and plaster ceilings with plasterboard (unless it is a Listed Building with restrictions on the ceilings).  A cheaper alternative may be to line be the underside of the ceiling with plasterboard.  Replacing ceilings is an extremely dusty and messy operation and if possible it is better to carry out this work before moving in.

Textured wall and ceiling coatings

Some textured wall and ceiling coatings (including Artex) contain asbestos.  These were widely used during the 1970s but have also been used in other decades.  If such coatings are damaged, or if are likely to be disturbed by any planned works then samples should be tested to check for asbestos content.  If works are planned to more than one area of a property then it may be necessary to take samples in a number of locations as it is possible there could be different coatings within a single property (coatings may have been applied at different times).  It is also possible that the same area of wall or ceiling has more than one layer of textured coating.

Some works to textured coatings can be carried out by non-licensed workers and may not need to be notified, whilst other works may require notification to the HSE.

Visit the Health and Safety Executive website for further information on textured coatings:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/essentials/coatings.htm

Wiring

Even if a 1930s house has been rewired, unless this has been carried out recently the electrical installation is unlikely to meet current standards.  If you are having a survey carried out on the building then this will not include a test of the electrical installation as this is a specialist matter.  Have a qualified electrical contractor inspect and test the installation to check whether any works are required to update the installation.  Many buildings insurance policies require electrical installations to be checked at regular intervals.

Lead pipework

Check whether any parts of the water main, including any hidden areas, are lead.  Replace any lead feed pipework with potable pipework.

 

The above are some of the common issues which should be considered when buying a 1930s house.  However, this list is not exhaustive and is intended as general guidance only.  When buying a 1930s house, consider instructing a surveyor to find out the true condition of the property.

See also How much does a survey cost? and  What should I do after having a survey?

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1960s houses: common defects – asbestos, condensation, wall ties, pitch fibre pipes

1960s houses are now around 50 to 60 years old.  Construction methods have improved since that time particularly with regard to thermal insulation and safety.

This article deals with just some of the defects commonly found in traditionally built houses built during the 1960s (some can also be found in houses of other decades).

 

Asbestos Containing Materials (ACMs) in 1960s houses

Asbestos containing materials (ACMs) were commonly used in buildings in the 1960s.  Common uses include:

  1. Textured coatings to walls and ceilings, including Artex. Some may have had an additional coating (or coatings) applied over the years.  In any one property there may be different finishes which may have been applied at different times.  It is possible that some may contain asbestos while others may not.
  2. Asbestos cement products including soffits, verge boards, corrugated roofs to garages, flue pipes, water tanks, cladding to walls/panels, gutters and downpipes, pipes, man-made slates.  Asbestos cement products at eaves level are sometimes hidden by new PVCu fascias and soffits.
  3. Vinyl floor tiles particularly to solid ground floors, often hidden below carpets or sheet flooring.
  4. Asbestos insulating board (AIB), loose fill insulation, lagging, sprayed coatings.

If any asbestos containing materials are damaged, or if any planned works, eg, drilling, sanding, cutting, are likely to disturb any ACMs then have sample/s tested for asbestos content and obtain advice from an asbestos contractor.    Most higher risk works must be carried out by a licensed contractor while other works may be undertaken by a non-licensed contractor.

Visit  http://www.hse.gov.uk/asbestos/

 

High heat loss and condensation

1960s houses have walls which typically allow high heat loss compared to properties built to meet the requirements of current Building Regulations.  High heat loss not only results in higher heating bills, it leads to colder surfaces and often results in condensation.  Condensation isn’t just water running down windows.  Condensation can occur within the structure and on furnishings and it can lead to mould on affected surfaces.  In some instances, condensation can be reduced or avoided by increasing the level of heating and ventilation, but where surfaces are cold, eg, window reveals, corners of rooms, walls behind furniture and where cold bridging occurs, it can be difficult to eliminate completely.

High heat loss (and condensation) can be reduced by increasing insulation.  One popular method is to install cavity wall insulation.  However, not all properties are suitable for cavity wall insulation.  If you plan to buy a house with cavity wall insulation then check the property has been assessed by a CIGA registered installer to ensure it is suitable for cavity wall insulation.  Some properties may suffer rain penetration if they are not suitable for cavity wall insulation.   Following installation, the installer will apply for, and issue, a guarantee.  The CIGA guarantee can be passed on to subsequent owners of the property.  (Similarly, if you plan to install cavity wall insulation in your property then contact a CIGA registered installer to check the property is suitable first).

Visit https://ciga.co.uk/about-ciga/

Lack of safety glass

Some 1960s houses have large windows and glazed doors which incorporate low level glazing.  These houses predate the requirement under Building Regulations for glass in critical locations, eg, at low level, to be safety glass.  Full height or low level glazing which is not safety glass will break easily and this presents a danger to occupants, particularly children.  The glass can easily be upgraded by replacing with safety glass or by applying an adhesive safety film.

 

Wall tie corrosion

The inner and outer leafs of cavity walls are usually tied with wall ties.  Houses constructed in the 1960s were often built using galvanised steel wall ties.  The steel corrodes over time and can cause cracking and/or bowing.  While wall tie corrosion is more common in older properties this is becoming more common as housing of this era ages.  If there are any signs of wall tie corrosion the condition of the ties should be checked to see if additional wall ties need to be installed.

 

Pitch fibre pipes

Pitch fibre pipes were widely used in the 1960s.  They have a tendency to deform under the load of ground, walls, traffic, etc.  This can lead to blockage of the drains or settlement of any structures above the drain runs.  If you plan to buy a property with pitch fibre drains and suspect there may be a problem then it is a good idea to arrange a CCTV survey to check their condition and establish whether they require lining or replacing.

See also How much does a survey cost?  and  What should I do after having a survey?

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Buying an old house

When choosing an older house it is important to establish the condition of the property and be aware of any works which are required in the short, medium and long term.

Buying an old house – old versus modern

While some people prefer the benefits of a modern house, others might only ever consider buying an old house.  To some people, the characteristics of an older house can outweigh the disadvantages.  This article has been written with Victorian houses in mind, although some of the points can be applied to houses of other ages.

 

Choosing an old house

When choosing an old house it is important to establish the condition of the property and be aware of any works which are required in the short, medium and long term.  Some properties may require extensive works but this usually has the advantage of allowing the owner to carry out works to their own taste.   On the other hand, it is possible that a property has been maintained and modernised by the present owner, leaving a buyer able to move into their new home and carry out any minor works when time and budget allows.

Whatever condition the property appears to be in, the first step is to arrange a survey.  This will:

  • Help you establish what works are required so that cost estimates can be obtained from contractors. You can then decide whether the works fall within your budget and whether you are prepared to proceed with this particular property with full knowledge of what is required.
  • Help you decide whether to renegotiate the purchase price. However, you must remember that the vendor is under no obligation to reduce the purchase price (and in some cases cannot afford to), and if another potential purchase is ready to proceed then it is possible that you may lose the opportunity to buy the property.

 

Advantages of buying an old house can include:

  1. More character and individuality.
  2. Larger rooms, higher ceilings. Some modern houses, particularly those on high density estates, have small rooms and minimal circulation space.
  3. Interesting features, eg, fireplaces, picture rails, deeper skirtings, plaster cornices, window seats, and exposed beams.
  4. Traditional materials, eg, stone walls, stone floors; slate, clay tiles or thatched roofs rather than concrete tiles.
  5. Original walls and partitions are more likely to be of solid construction rather than modern lightweight partitions and are likely to provide better sound insulation.
  6. Mature gardens.
  7. Useful outbuildings.

 

Disadvantages of buying an old house can include:

  1. Higher heating bills. Solid walls (instead of insulated cavity walls) will allow greater heat loss.  More heat will be needed for larger rooms with high ceilings particularly hall/stair/landing areas.
  2. Draughty windows and doors (unless they have been replaced). Draughty fireplaces.
  3. Lead pipework. Any water supply pipework which is lead should be replaced with modern potable pipework.
  4. Sloping floors and distorted door openings.
  5. Check the cause of any cracking, eg, settlement, expansion and contraction, wall tie corrosion, etc.
  6. If a property is a Listed building then approval will be required to carry out certain works.
  7. Increased maintenance, particularly if windows, doors and joinery at roof level are timber.
  8. Dampness, rot and/or woodworm.
  9. The electrical installation may need upgrading or rewiring may be required.
  10. The heating and hot water system may need upgrading or replacing.
  11. Presence of asbestos containing materials, eg, textured coatings, floor tiles, sheet board materials, rainwater goods, man-made slates.
  12. Mice and/or rats particularly in rural areas. Also, possibility of bats nesting in roofs or outbuildings.

 

See also  How much does a survey cost? and  Is a Mortgage Valuation the Same as a Survey?

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