A stitch in time… Makes good sense and saves money
Carrying out the Inspection – what to look for
There is a difference between a casual inspection, and a planned periodic inspection. The formal periodic inspection should be undertaken at least once a year, ideally in rainy weather – there is nothing like a down pour for identifying roof defects or blocked gutters. However, the most important thing is to be logical and methodical. You know your home better than anyone.
In the section on Individual Elements, we have provided a sample template on which to note your findings, and remind you what to look for. It maybe worthwhile forming a file in which to keep all the information together – a log book for your home. This will not only help you in future inspections, but can assist a professional or subsequent owner.
It is sensible to wear old, comfortable clothes as attic spaces (don’t forget, if you have bats in the attic, do not enter the space) can be dusty, and gutters will contain muck. The following items are useful:
- Note book or paper, with several pencils (you always drop one)
- Pocket knife
- Small mirror
- Magnet – for identifying iron or steel
It is usual to start a survey outside. Begin at the top of the building with the roof, and work your way down, picking up each element. Use binoculars to pick up high level details, look at the roof covering and chimneys. Look for any ‘odd’ shapes; things that are missing – such as tiles, sections of render; and any cracks, etc. Remember health and safety and if you don’t feel comfortable, then you are at risk of damaging yourself and your home. Look for missing sections of rainwater goods (gutters, down pipes, etc.) or broken joints. Check the windows for rot or flaky paint.
Then move inside. Again, start with the top of the house, and work down, ensuring that you open all built-in cupboard doors, nosing in the dark corners, and hidden spaces.
When in the loft space, remember to take care where you put your feet, a stray foot slipping off a board may result in a hole in the ceiling. Remember to always check before you move through the loft to see how secure things are before venturing further.
Check all pipe work for leaks, poke the knife into any timber that looks soft, and where there is evidence of saw dust or cracked or crazed paint. Keep all senses working, dry rot can sometimes be found by a smell of mushrooms or onions.
Record the condition of things – the paint work, any damp or mould for example. Ensure that you also note historic damp stains or timber infection, though not important now, may help in the future. This can all be simply done on a copy of the floor plan. Do not be despondent – it would be unusual not to find these things in an old building. The challenge is to determine whether the defects are historic and of no consequence, of a minor nature and something to keep an eye on, or something that warrants further investigation. This is where carrying out regular inspections over time helps.
When things go wrong… finding the correct help
General day-to-day maintenance and basic repairs can be undertaken by a competent DIY person.
The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), some local authorities and other organisations offer day courses on traditional building techniques, such as lime mortars and pointing. When the repairs go beyond your capability, then seeking advice from an appropriate person is recommended. If the works are small, and you have a reliable, competent builder who is used to dealing with historic buildings, then they should be able to undertake the work for you.
If the works appear to be complicated wide-ranging, you should consider seeking professional advice from a specialist architect, surveyor or other conservation specialist. They will examine your property and recommend repairs in order of priority and then over-see the work. A professional is there to look after your interests and that of your building. It is recommended not to go to a ‘damp specialist’ in the first instance as they will naturally want to sell you their product. A good professional will be able to guide you through any legal permission or consents you might require.
The best way to avoid ‘cowboy’ companies is to hire experienced professionals, independent advisers and competent trades- people who are knowledgeable about old buildings.
There are reliable independent experts in various fields such as timber decay, rot and infestation, who have nothing to sell you but their advice. They will help you avoid unnecessary or inappropriate remedial treatments and guide you towards responsible specialist contractors and targeted repairs.
It can be a daunting task to find the right professional help to undertake a maintenance inspection, produce a report that recommends repairs in order of priority, and then over-see the repairs, but the following advice should make the process easier. It is important that you are guided by your professional, not led by them. They may be the experts, but it is your home.
Word-of-mouth is often the best way if possible, either through people you know, or by simple asking other home owners when you see good work being undertaken. Some local authorities have a list of competent trade people and professionals that they can supply. Make sure you speak to several, and follow your instinct and don’t be afraid to ask for references. There are now systems available online which provide consumer support in checking for suitable trades-people and these can give you confidence in your selection and choice.