Renovation Structural Issues And How To Deal With Them

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During any renovation we hope that everything runs smoothly and there are no unexpected issues that crop up, and in so many renovations this is the case.

There are however some structural issues that are common, particularly with older properties or homes that may have been neglected over the years.

It's also important to consider any potential issues when you are extending which might mean your project is not as straightforward as you initially thought, again adding to the work required and the overall cost.

The prudent thing to do going into any renovation is to set aside a contingency budget which will go towards unforeseen issues. 

We chat with RICS Chartered Surveyors Squarepoint Surveyors who share with us what we should be looking out for when planning a renovation and how to deal with issues as they arise.


What are the key structural issues to look out for when I’m looking to buy a home to renovate? 

If you have in your mind that you are looking to renovate then you can often look past minor aesthetic issues. However, it is still very important to understand if there are any structural issues at the building. 

Whilst most structural issues will have a solution and a remedy available, the cost of any required structural remedial works will ultimately impact on the budget available for the works you wish to undertake.

Alternatively, if any underlying structural issues are ignored, then after undertaking your renovation project issues and damage will persist and could prove costly to address at a later date.   

Key structural issues that a surveyor should be on the look out for and that can impact all properties are:

 

Cracking to external and internal walls

Cracking to external walls is often related to subsidence or heave in the ground that has caused the building to move. 

It is important to understand if any movement is current or historic and understand the severity of the movement that has occurred. 

A surveyor will be able to inform you if any cracking requires minor repairs or if more significant works such as re-building or foundation underpinning are required.

Water ingress / damp

This is often a problem in older buildings with solid external walls. 

A surveyor will be able to identify if any damp is present, the likely cause of the damp and the works needed to remedy. 

Longstanding water ingress can often lead to wider repairs being required and for example can cause timber structural members (e.g. floor and roof joists) to rot which results in a loss of strength and them needing replacement.  

Drainage issues

Any issues with the drainage system can result in blockages and leaks which result in flooding. 

A surveyor will open any manholes where possible and will often test the drainage system to see if any blockages occur within the manhole. 

We often recommend that a CCTV survey of the underground drainage is undertaken to ensure the condition of the underground drainage pipes is known. 

It can also be helpful to chart the drainage routes if a renovation project is planned and the location of kitchens and bathrooms are to be altered or additional facilities added.

 

What are the most common structural issues that crop up during a renovation? 

The most common issues are often found when the finishes (e.g carpet and wall plaster) have been removed, exposing the underlying structure. 

A lot of older properties are constructed from suspended timber floor structures and if these areas have been affected by damp issues or inadequate ventilation, then rot damage can occur. 

A surveyor can help anticipate any such issues and through using instruments such as a protimeter (damp meter) and a thermal imaging camera, can identify where there will likely be issues, even if the underlying structure is not visible and cannot be exposed.

It is also common to expose poor quality alteration work that has been undertaken by previous owners. 

This can range from openings created in load bearing walls without adequate support being provided, to poor construction detailing with new extensions. 

A surveyor will comment on if they feel alterations have been made to the original form of the property and if they feel any specialist advice (e.g. from a structural engineer) is required.        

 

In terms of dampness or rot, are there particular types of properties that are more prone to these issues and how easily can they be fixed? 

Typically, damp and rot impact older properties that are formed from solid external walls rather than cavity wall construction which is now required. 

Cavity wall construction became more common around the 1920’s so Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian properties are commonly formed from solid walls. 

Whilst this doesn’t necessitate that all buildings from this period will have damp issues, it does mean that if there are any defects or issues with the external fabric (e.g. missing mortar pointing, cracks to render finish, leaking rainwater downpipe) it can lead to internal water ingress. 

These issues can usually be easily fixed and often require repairs to the external walls and the replacement of any damp internal wall plaster. This is why it is important to ensure the external fabric of older buildings is kept in good repair to prevent any issues before they occur.

Internal leaks can be caused by plumbing leaks and even small, regular leaks can lead to significant damage if undetected or ignored. A lot of people are now incorporating extra waterproofing and leak detection in renovation projects and a small amount of additional up front cost can save significant expenditure in remedying damage from a leaking pipe.

 

If I am planning an extension, what ground checks should I do and who can help with this? 

If you are planning an extension, then it is important to consider the proximity of trees and tree roots and the soil conditions. These will impact on the design of the foundations and the depth any concrete will need to be poured too. 

It will also be important to understand the drainage routes (including underground pipework). It is common for extensions to be built over manhole covers and a ‘build over’ agreement will be required from the Local Authority Water Board and your builder will have to follow certain guidelines. 

You should also consider if the extension will impact on the waste and rainwater drainage at the property and if these will need to be altered to facilitate the intended design.

A new extension will require Building Control sign off and will need to comply with the standards established by the Building Regulations.

 

What would be your advice if my builder comes across any ground or structural issues during the renovation work?

These should be taken seriously as ignoring any issues is likely to lead to more expensive and disruptive repairs being required in the long run. 

Whilst people are sometimes put off by the additional up-front cost of a surveyor or a specialist such as a structural engineer, this upfront cost will often save money in the long run and we always encourage clients to plan for the worst case scenario and set aside some of their budget for this. 

All being well this money will not be required, but it prevents projects from grinding to a halt if issues are discovered and the funds to remedy are not available. It will also provide peace of mind that any issues have been properly addressed and that your dream project will not turn into a nightmare.

Published: September 3, 2021


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