Choosing replacement windows: things to consider

When choosing replacement windows there are many options to consider but don’t overlook important issues relating to Building Regulations, Planning, fire safety, means of escape and management of condensation.

Plastic or wood?  Fixed or opening?  Side hung or top hung?  Or even traditional sliding sash? When choosing replacement windows these are only some of the options to consider.  But there are important issues relating to Building Regulations, Planning, fire safety, means of escape and management of condensation which can easily be overlooked.

When choosing replacement windows:

  1. Check the installer is FENSA registered and obtain a FENSA Certificate to confirm compliance with Building Regulations. Keep a copy to pass to your buyer in the event that you sell the property.
  2. Consider matching the existing style, especially if only some of the windows are to be replaced.
  3. Try to choose a style which will maintain the character of the building.  This is particularly important for older properties. Think about the position of opening casements, and whether they should be top hung or side hung.  
  4. Have handles which can be locked in an ajar position.  This will aid security particularly at ground floor level, and and will make it safe to leave windows open slightly overnight. 
  5. Have trickle vents fitted into the frames to aid ventilation, reduce condensation and mould. The small additional cost will help comfort within the home.  
  6. Ensure that windows can be opened sufficiently and are of sufficient size to allow escape in the event of a fire.  This is particularly important for windows to upper rooms.  
  7. For flats, check the terms of the lease. In some instances windows will be the responsibility of the individual flat owners and in others they will be the responsibility of the Management Company.  
  8. For flats in blocks constructed with cavity walls, ensure the required cavity barriers/fire stopping remain in place to ensure the safety of residents within the block.

So when choosing replacement windows, don’t simply make your choice by appearance alone. Your final choice may be a compromise after considering all relevant issues.

buying and selling a house

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Advantages of using a local surveyor when buying a house

If you instruct a surveyor in a local practice you can be fairly sure that the survey will be carried out by someone with local experience.

Most prudent house purchasers will arrange a survey, but there are advantages in using a local surveyor when buying a house.  Some surveyors cover a wide area and inspect properties in locations which vary considerably.  However, if you instruct a surveyor in a local practice you can be fairly sure that the survey will be carried out by someone with local experience.

  1. Firstly, a surveyor who is already known to you or who has been personally recommended, either by a friend, family member or solicitor, is more likely to be a local surveyor.  Most people would prefer to instruct a local surveyor when buying a house who has been recommended to them by a reliable person rather than someone who is not known to them.
  2. A local surveyor is more likely to be familiar with properties in the area, their form of construction, local materials and associated defects.  A local surveyor may have inspected other houses in the same road, or possibly even the house you are considering purchasing.
  3. Local knowledge is important particularly for items which cannot be seen.  For instance, a surveyor from another area may not be aware that a particular housing estate has pitch fibre drains.  Sometimes the drains are not visible, eg, if a manhole cover has been concealed by paving or decking or is simply too heavy to lift.  A local surveyor who has experience of inspecting other properties in the area will be able to warn of the possibility of pitch fibre drains where present in the area, and recommend further investigations prior to commitment to purchase to avoid unforeseen costly repairs at a later date.
  4. Similarly, a local surveyor is more likely to be aware of areas where black ash mortar has been used, which may sometimes not be visible, eg, behind rendering.  It is important to know whether back ash mortar has been used as this can increase the risk of wall tie corrosion which requires costly repairs.
  5. A local surveyor is more likely to be aware of areas which may be affected by mining.  Be aware that not all areas affected by mining will be obvious, particularly to someone who is not local.  Some green rural areas and built up areas of cities, such as parts of Bristol, may have former mine workings, with no or few visible signs.
  6. Some surveyors from outside the area may not recognise ex-Local Authority properties which have been rebuilt.  A local surveyor is more likely to have such knowledge and be aware of which properties are traditionally built and which are non-traditionally built.  This is important as some non-traditional properties may be defective and not be mortgageable.
  7. Many purchasers view flood maps which show a potential risk of flooding, but a local surveyor is more likely to know whether a particular area has actually flooded in recent years or within living memory.
  8. Similarly, some searches indicate that properties in a certain postcode area have a higher risk of subsidence.  A local surveyor is more likely to be aware of areas with a higher incidence of subsidence and is able to warn of the risk even if there are no visible signs.

For indication of the cost of a survey visit how much does a survey cost? 

To find a local surveyor when buying a house visit RICS Find a Surveyor

buying and selling a house

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What type of survey do I need?  Building Survey or Homebuyer Report 

What type of survey do you need before buying a house?  Surveys come with a variety of names such as Building Surveys, Structural Surveys, Homebuyer Reports, and Condition Reports.  Whatever the name, and whatever the type of survey you choose to have, you need to know that the contents of the report are going to give you the information you need to decide whether or not to proceed with your proposed purchase.

A survey isn’t only necessary to advise on the condition of the property and whether there are any defect.  The surveyor may also note issues which require input from your solicitor, or further enquiries or investigations.

Most house buyers would like to know the following:

  1. Are there any defects which need urgent attention?
  2. Are there any defects which require costly repairs which may exceed their budget?
  3. Are there any “unseen” items which are likely to require attention, e.g., wiring, drains, cavity wall ties?
  4. Are there any legal issues such as trespass, eg, overhanging gutters, overhanging eaves, trees, etc?
  5. Are there any factors which may affect buildings insurance such as a flying freehold?
  6. If any recent works have been carried out do they have Local Authority consents? This not only applies to extensions, but other works controlled under Building Regulations including formations of openings in walls, works to kitchens and bathrooms, works to service installations such as wiring and heating.
  7. Does the property contain asbestos? Asbestos can be found in many common materials in residential properties including textured coatings to walls or ceilings, floor tiles, sheet board materials, rainwater goods, some water tanks, man-made slates, etc.   The presence of asbestos containing materials is likely to increase the cost of any repair and alteration works if these need to be disturbed.
  8. Whether there are any known issues in the area such as subsidence, black ash mortar, pitch fibre drains, etc.


A mortgage valuation is not a survey

If you are taking out a mortgage on the property then be aware that the mortgage valuation is not a survey.  The purpose of the mortgage valuation is to confirm to the mortgage lender that the property offers sufficient security for the loan.  It is not intended to inform the buyer of the condition of the property and some mortgage lenders do not even pass a copy of the valuation to the applicant (the buyer).

For an average 3 bedroomed house a mortgage valuer is likely to spend around 20 to 30 minutes  carrying out the inspection, compared to around 3 hours for a survey (possibly more or less depending on the age and condition of the property).  For a mortgage valuation the valuer does not normally enter  into the roof space (head and shoulders inspection only) whereas for a survey the surveyor will carry out a detailed inspection of the roof space (subject to safe access being available).


The governing body for Chartered Surveyors is The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  The RICS has produced information aimed at home buyers about the importance of getting a home survey.

View the following video entitled The Importance of Getting a Home Survey

What type of survey should I have?

One of the most common types of survey is the RICS HomeBuyer Report.  This is a standardised report format suitable for most types of traditionally built property and is based on a visual inspection.  The Homebuyer Report will be carried out by a surveyor with one of the following qualifications – FRICS, MRICS or AssocRICS.

The Homebuyer Report was revised during 2016 and is now available either with or without a Market Value (Valuation) and an insurance rebuilding cost. The Homebuyer Report was previously only available with the Market Value and insurance rebuilding cost.

The Homebuyer Report includes a description of condition, colour coded condition ratings, comments on defects, advice on maintenance, an overall opinion and summary of condition ratings.  However, the Homebuyer Report does not include a detailed description of the construction of the building or detailed advice on specific defects.  It also excludes cost estimates for any repair works.

However, many Chartered Surveyors produce reports in their own format as an alternative to the Homebuyer Report, many of which offer more detailed information.  When you request a quotation for a survey ask what type of survey they offer.  Also, ask for a sample report and the surveyor’s terms of engagement to make sure the service you choose meets your needs.  The inspections for some types of survey will be visual only, while others may be more detailed and include lifting a sample of floorboards to inspect the floor structure where this is possible without causing damage.

If you plan to carry out any alterations then inform the surveyor prior to the date of the survey so that these can be considered during the inspection.   For example,  if you plan to build an extension it is useful to know where the drain runs are located, also, if you plan to remove any walls you will need to know whether they are load bearing or not.

Decide whether you require any additional services to the basic survey, such as an insurance rebuilding cost or valuation, prior to instructing a surveyor.  There may be additional  costs if the surveyor has to return, for example to take measurements to calculate the rebuilding cost.

View the following video produced by the RICS entitled Choosing the Right Survey (for consumers)  h

The different types of RICS surveys are described in the following 13 page document entitled A Clear, Impartial Guide to Home Surveys

Choosing a surveyor

It is a good idea to ask friends, family or your solicitor for recommendations before instructing a surveyor.   Remember you do not have to have the survey carried out by the person who carries out the mortgage valuation, you are free to choose a surveyor of your choice.

Obtain quotations from Chartered Building Surveyors but remember that the level of detail within reports may vary and so choosing a surveyor is not solely down to cost.

The governing body for Chartered Surveyors is The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  They hold a register of all Chartered Surveyors and their fields of practice.  To find a suitably qualified surveyor in your area visit RICS Find a Surveyor

Finally, whatever the name of the survey report, and whatever type of survey you decide to have, ensure the surveyor you instruct is local and experienced.  Also, ensure that the survey report will provide you with the information you require, in the detail you require.

See also 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.


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).


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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