Top 10 crimes against period homes

Graham Ellis MRICS

Associate Director Residential (RICS)

There are over four million Victorian and Edwardian houses in the UK and many are crying out for some serious care and repair work. Here we identify the common pitfalls.

Edwardian terrace

Buildings of Victorian and Edwardian age account for a high number of the 'essential repairs' listed in mortgage valuations and survey reports.

One cause of problems arising today can be traced back to the Victorian builders who were not always averse to taking shortcuts and skimping on materials, with the result that ‘inherent defects’ developed in later life.

Experienced surveyors will know how to identify common problems like damp, timber decay, and structural movement. But they will also know when not to worry, when apparent defects are not significant.

To make matters worse, large numbers of homes of this era have suffered from a long-term lack of maintenance. Worse, many old buildings have been subjected to inappropriate repair work, leading to a loss of valuable original features. In some cases well intentioned repairs have had the effect of exacerbating the problems that they set out to solve. Works such as re-pointing and rendering in modern cement-based materials, the use of plastic paints and the retrospective application of unnecessary damp-proof treatments can all be detrimental to the health of such buildings, in time leading to accelerated decay and irreparable damage.

The top 10 inappropriate works commonly carried out on traditional buildings

  1. Replacing original good quality sash windows with inappropriate modern aluminium or PVC-U casements and stripping out original period doors.
  2. Unnecessarily injecting chemical damp-proof courses (or injecting them incompetently), and re-plastering or rendering main walls with cement-based materials rather than traditional lime, thereby  trapping damp in the walls.
  3. Encouraging damp, rot and beetle infestation by blocking ventilation to floors and roofs, and by allowing high ground levels (such as flower beds) to build up against external walls.
  4. Removal of chimney breasts or load-bearing internal spine walls without providing adequate support to the remaining masonry above.
  5. Neglecting badly eroded mortar joints to external masonry, allowing damp to penetrate and frost damage to occur.
  6. Re-pointing walls with cement mortar that prevents walls from ‘breathing’, and re-pointing in visually dominant ‘show off’ styles (such as protruding ‘weatherstruck’ pointing).
  7. Botched repairs to flashings to stacks and roofs with short-life materials such as self-adhesive tapes or mortar fillets.
  8. Failure to provide enhanced structural support to roof structures where original lightweight slate coverings have been replaced with heavier concrete tiles.
  9. Not lining old flues before lighting fires or using appliances, and failing to cap and ventilate disused flues.
  10.  Weakening floor joists with excessive cutting for cable and pipe runs.

RICS members have a pivotal role to play in both these areas to ensure that the future of our important stock of traditional buildings does not continue to be carelessly endangered. To find a local, trusted chartered surveyor in your area who can help, use our free Find a Surveyor service.

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