After the Survey on a Period House
You have received the survey of the period house you want to buy and it
is full of doom and gloom.
Take a deep breath, relax, and understand that most surveyors
will be careful to cover their backs; their professional future
depends on it and house problems are often difficult to diagnose.
Furthermore, in the time available, he or she cannot investigate
a problem fully - to determine the seriousness of it or indeed
Here is an excerpt from a typical survey:
- There is evidence of dampness to ground floor walls. Timbers
in contact with them may be defective. Further investigation is
required to know the full extent of any damage.
- The damp proof course is bridged and may not be fully effective.
You need to lower the external ground level to 150mm below the
level of the damp proof course.
- Sub-floor ventilation is inadequate which may have allowed defects
to occur. You should instruct a specialist to investigate the
full extent of the defect and carry out the necessary repair work.
- Instruct a specialist to evaluate the need for a new damp-proof
Let us review this point by point.
- The moisture meters used by most surveyors are not helpful.
Individual meter readings are worthless when it comes to assessing
Electronic moisture meters are designed to work on wood only; they do not
give accurate readings on brick, stone or plaster. Hydroscopic
salts or condensation will produce artificially high values.
However, these meters can be used for profiling; this
means taking a
large number of readings at different points on the wall (vertically
and horizontally) and then plotting graphs from the readings.
Different damp and/or salt configurations produce different profiles.
can borrow a meter, test the ground floor joists; a moisture
content of less than 15% is satisfactory. Alternatively, have
a feel around the walls inside, low down.
Do they feel damp or much colder than higher up? Is wallpaper
or paint discoloured, peeling or powdery? Sniff (literally)
the bottom of skirtings and between any exposed floorboards.
Is there any mushroomy smell? Bounce on the floors close to
walls. Do they give? If you answer "yes" to any of
these then it would be worth taking up a board if the seller
would allow it to look underneath. If not, factor in say, £500
per room in your sums.
- This is recommended; if it is just soil
then a few hours' digging will do the trick.
- As long as existing airbricks are not blocked, then nothing
should need doing. In, say a long thing house, there should be
airbricks at the narrow ends - two at each ideally, but obviously
not where there are solid floors.
- You really want an independent specialist - not a
damp treatment company. Unfortunately, these are relatively scarce.
The obvious option is to go ahead and get a chemical
DPC, but these are
rarely as effective as promised. Most old walls have some rising
damp in them but only for one or two courses of brick. However,
in many cases excess moisture levels
are caused by other factors such as high external ground levels,
poor drainage from adjacent tarmac or paving, inadequate ventilation
etc. It is more cost-effective to make sure that these causes
the damp are eliminated first before, for example a new damp-proof
course (DPC). Our section on damp
gives more detail.
The survey may also comment on signs of woodworm; again this
needs independent advice from an expert with more time to discover
whether the infestation is active.
The surveyor is often not
saying that there is a definite problem; only that there may be
one, and indicating the likely remedial action that would be
needed. The sad conclusion
is that by getting these 'problems' documented and drawn to the
attention of the mortgage provider, the prospective buyer is
cajoled into spending money on immediate work which may be un-necessary
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