Labour MP Frank Field has urged council landlords to take action against the “grossly unfair” changes that are due to be made to housing benefits, even going as far as telling them to “brick up doors and Knock down walls”
If you were thinking of undertaking some “re-modelling” of your property and are tempted to “knock down a wall” be sure to employ the services of a qualified structural engineer before taking the hammer to the wall, and always consider what re-modelling your house could do to its future saleability and value!
A report released by RICS this week suggests that more than a fifth of home buyers bought their property without first having a survey to ascertain the true condition of the house.
Their survey shows that over 90% of the people were aware that they should have a survey carried out but almost a third of them didn’t. The failure to have a survey conducted on a property before you buy it could leave you liable for some sizable repair bills on your new home, these problems may not rear their ugly heads immediately and maybe unnoticeable to the untrained eye at first, such as structural problems, dry or wet rots, subsidence and many more, which is even more reason to have an independent surveyor cast their expert eye over what is probably, one of the most expensive purchases of your life.
Over 60% of the houses in England are almost 50 years old and many are a lot older than that, approximately 40% of the houses in England were built before the 2nd world war.
A combination of the age of our housing stock and the unpredictable climate in recent years in the UK has only increased the importance of monitoring your property for signs of cracks and movement in order to keep your home safe and reduce the need for expensive repairs.
There are a number of things that you do and look out for around your property to catch a potential problem before it worsens –
Check for any signs of damage or cracking in your brickwork on a regular basis
Not all cracking is serious, it may be down to shrinkage and expansion over the years but it could also be related to subsidence. All signs of structural damage should be checked by a qualified structural engineer if the problem worsens or even just for peace of mind.
Keep an eye on your drains
Regular checks on your drainage system are hugely important, a regular lift of the inspection chamber to check if the drains are flowing well should be enough, if you have a chamber at the front and rear of the house flush some toilet paper and check that it gets from A to B. If you find that the drains are not flowing properly or are blocked, which may in turn lead to “wash out” of the sub-soil around the drain and your foundations, which can cause subsidence, employ the services of a drainage company to clear and then CCTV survey the drainage system. Please do be careful when lifting manhole lids, they are sometimes heavier than they look and also chambers may be very deep.
Trees and root damage
Trees can also be the cause of structural damage to your house, tree roots love drains and will wrap themselves around a pipe and breach it which will cause blockages and tree roots can also remove the moisture from the soil around your foundations and cause them to move. Think carefully before planting any trees and if you need to remove an existing tree seek information from the council about tree preservation.
Taking out walls within a property to open up rooms is very popular with home owners but many are wary of the costs. Removing a wall and inserting an RSJ can start from as little as a few hundred pounds. It is important that you inform your local authority building control department that you intend to carry out these works. This is usually done through a building notice building regulations application which needs to be arranged prior to works commencing. The building control department will require calculations from a structural engineer to show that the proposed RSJ or steel beam will comply with part “A”, of UK building regulations. With smaller openings it can be possible to use lintels and these come with calculations that allow you to use them without the need for structural calculations. You will still need to inform the building control department. Once the works has been done to the satisfaction of the building inspector they will issue a building control completion certificate. These can be checked if a property is sold or re-mortgaged and when a property is surveyed the surveyor will highlight this type of alteration.
A surprising number of properties require underpinning or have at some time been underpinned or suffered from some structural defect. Many people are greatly concerned when underpinning or structural issues are mentioned. They can be resolved for a few hundred pounds but can also run into tens of thousands depending on each individual property and the volume of work involved. So what is under pinning? There are two main types of underpinning used, the first and most common simply involves excavating under the existing footing or wall and providing a new concrete footing. The second is with the use of pile foundations these are holes that are drilled under the footings and filled with concrete and steels and are often connected with a ground beam. Ground beams can either be poured on site or arrive to site pre-cast. The process is simple but there is a high level of skill and experience required to make sure that the work is done correctly, safely and will stand the test of time. This is particularly important when you are dealing with buildings or sections of buildings that are dangerously unstable.
Many home and property owners rely on their architect to design their new roof and they are the right people for the job. They will look at the existing structure and tie it in with the new home extension or roof alterations but for more complex roof designs it is always best to employ the services of a structural engineer. Many people are put off by the thought of additional fees but the majority of these types of projects require input from a structural engineer so the additional costs can be manageable. This has to be considered along with the build costs, a good structural engineer will often be able to come up with a clever design. Their design could potentially save thousands of pounds in material and labour costs and also can allow for a more impressive design allowing for the opening up of rooms and the removal of intrusive load bearing walls and other structural elements. With the use of items like cranked steel beams and steel ridge beams designs can be far grander and sometimes at less cost. So it is worth considering all the option rather than going for a less impressive off the peg design.
Older properties often suffer from some structural issues, some serious and some are just a matter of an ongoing schedule of maintenance. Older buildings are often designed for a way of use or living that is less suited to modern needs and can benefit and become far more useable once structural alterations have been carried out. You will need to inform the local building control department of your local authority before you carry out any structural alterations. They will require calculations from a structural engineer to prove that the building works and alterations will confirm to part “A” of the UK building regulations this covers the structural element of the UK building regulations. If you are carrying out structural repairs it will be less lightly that you will require the involvement of a building control officer but it is always best to check. It is also important that you chose a competent builder to carry out the works. It is best to use a building contractor who has a good understanding of the repair techniques and specialists materials used in structural building repairs. This only comes from experience so select a builder who is used to carrying out structural repairs. The most common structural alteration is the removal of load bearing walls and the insertion of a steel beam or RSJ. Again these will need to be specified and calculations completed to make sure you have a beam strong enough to stand up to the loads placed upon it. A structural engineer will take into account the loadings and weight transferred down from the roof structure and any issues like point loading. Point loading is when there is an area of the new steel beam or RSJ that will be placed under a greater load at one particular point. This is usually when another structural member like a roof support or joists are transferring loads down onto the new beam. So make sure you do not suffer from an inexperienced contractor who is looking to either completed the job quickly or undercut his competition by taking short cuts or avoiding the involvement of a structural engineer or building control officer.
Most property owners need various building refurbishments and repairs doing from time to time. These range from simple roof repairs through to electrical and building works. Many homeowners and in fact some building contractors are either unsure or unaware that even some repairs will trigger the need to inform the local authority building control department. This is usually done through a building regulations building notice. These vary in costs dependant on the value of the works being carried out, the building inspector will usually be required to conduct a site visit at various stages throughout the building works to check each element of the works as items are covered in. They will want to see drainage, insulation footings details and structural elements that fall under part “A” of the UK building regulations. Good building contractors will take care of managing the building notice as part of their service but ultimately the responsibility lies with the property owner. So make sure you check with your local building control department if your works will require a building regulations building notice application. Some works may not require a building regulations application when you start the works but a change to the works if an unforeseen issue arises can trigger the requirement for an application. Very often this is an issue under part “L”, of the UK building regulations. This is because if more than 25% of any external surface for examples roofs, floors or walls are being repaired it will require a building notice and site inspections.
Many properties both old and new have solid concrete floor slabs, these have both advantages and disadvantages over suspended timber floors. The main disadvantage with older concrete floors is that they can be prone to cracking and can sink or rise up if the substrate the soil or other matter below them has been either disturbed by things like tree roots or defecting water pipes and drains or have simply been constructed badly or damaged from some form of structural damage. The other disadvantage is that older floor slabs often lack both a DPM or damp proof membrane or any insulation and can act as a cold sink drawing heat from the property. It is also more of an issue if you need to retro fit pipe work or cables if you move or add items like sockets and radiators. Often these issues are raised by surveyors when a property is sold or remortgaged and they usually recommend that a structural engineer be commissioned to write a report on the possible causes and recommendations for the removal and remedial repairs to the floor slabs. It is usually recommended that the defective floor slab be replaced and a new DPM and insulation be installed. This will automatically trigger the need for a building notice and the works to be inspected at various stages by the local authority building inspector. Your building contractor should be able to take care of this for you but you should check to make sure they have the paperwork in place and the inspections booked at the appropriate time.
Home owners are often looking to add a bedroom or master suite and often with houses or bungalows that have large loft spaces a loft conversion is the answer. Loft conversions vary in cost and complexity dependant on the size, specification, layout and design of the existing construction. With more modern properties the roof structure is often constructed using roof trusses rather than the traditional stick built method of purlins and larger rafters. This means that members of the roof trusses are often in the way of living space and need to be removed to make the loft space useable and ready to be converted into a loft room. However when the roof trusses are altered or sections removed this can affect the structural integrity of the roof and this can be potentially dangerous and costly to repair if not done correctly. So your building contractor or architect will need to employ the services of a structural engineer to make sure that the new design conforms to part A of the UK building regulations and is safe. The alterations can be made if the existing structure is upgraded this is usually done by adding additional timber and steel supports usually in the form of steel beams or RSJ’s as they are more commonly know. These are often used to support the new floor joists and upgrade the roof structure once sections of the roof trusses have been removed. These new steels transfer the weight or loads from the new floor and roof structure down onto existing load bearing walls. It is important to select a building contractor who has experience in working with structural steels and carrying out more complex projects as the positions of these steels is critical to the structural integrity of the roof. This is particularly important if you currently have a trussed roof and you are installing ridge or cranked beams to carry the loads that have been transferred from the trusses that have been altered or removed.