Assessing the condition of your property
Whether you're thinking about redecorating, or just moved into a new property, carry out a survey to make sure your home is weathertight, safe and thief-proof before you do anything else. Here's a list of everything you need to check for.
Get your priorities right
There’s no point in decorating if the roof is letting in rain, or installing new light fittings if the wiring is dangerous and needs replacing. And if the house isn’t secure, filling it with expensive fixtures and fittings before making sure that all the exterior doors and windows have good locks would be getting your priorities wrong.
Take it from the top
Start your home survey with the roof. A pair of binoculars is useful for inspecting it without having to climb a ladder. If you can’t see the whole roof surface from your garden or the street, ask to view it from a neighbour’s property.
Check the controls
Before you start any DIY, make sure you know where the water and gas stoptaps, and main electricity supply switch are located. Keep a torch by the electricity meter, plus some fuse wire if the system has fuses. Locate all drain inspection chambers (manholes) and check that the covers can be lifted easily if a drain becomes blocked.
Inspect the loft
Go into the loft to inspect the underside of the roof. Look for water stains on the timbers, or wait until there’s a heavy downpour and then look for signs of rain getting in.
There should be ventilators along the eaves, at the ridge, in gable walls or on the roof slope. Shine a light along the eaves if there are none to be seen, because a badly ventilated roof space can be liable to dry rot, and this often sets in along the eaves.
Lastly, examine the roof timbers for woodworm.
Stacks of trouble
Chimneys are the most exposed part of your house, so check them closely for signs of damage. Look for cracks in the pots and in the flaunching—the mortar bed in which the pots are embedded. If a stack is built against an outside wall, examine it for straightness.
The combination of coal gases condensing inside the flue and rain soaking through the mortar joints can set up a chemical reaction which makes the brickwork bulge outwards. Repointing the brickwork and lining the flue can arrest the problem, but a severely damaged stack may have to be completely rebuilt.
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Include the garden
Remember to survey the garden at the same time as the rest of your home. Fences may be in poor condition, a shed roof may be leaking, garden paths may need lighting, and nearby trees may be undermining boundary walls. A gate or door into the garden might need a lock fitting to it.
Look for overflows
Check the gutters and downpipes for blockages. Stains on the house walls can reveal where previous over¬ows have occurred. The next time it rains, check where gutters are over¬owing or where water is leaking from downpipe joints.
Is the woodwork sound?
Prod the external woodwork with a bradawl to detect rot under the paintwork and look around the edges of door and window frames for gaps where rainwater can penetrate—especially on north and west-facing walls, which are the most exposed to the weather.
Safe and secure
As you work your way around the house checking the woodwork, look at how windows and external doors are secured. You may need to fit new locks or upgrade existing ones.
That sinking feeling
Subsidence is the most serious problem you might detect. It occurs most commonly on clay soil, which expands when wet and then contracts as it dries out. Look at the corners of your house and at the door and window openings. Are they vertical and square?
Zigzag cracks running down the walls from the corners of door and window frames, and between the main house and an extension, are signs of possible subsidence. Inside, doors and windows may start jamming for no apparent reason, and wallpaper can crease or tear.
Barriers to rising damp
Look for a damp-proof course (DPC)—visible outside between the second and third courses of brickwork above ground level. This is a horizontal band of slate, bituminous felt or black polythene. In an older house built before DPCs were introduced, you may see a row of small mortar or rubber plugs indicating that a chemical DPC has been injected into the walls in recent years.
Where the air gets in
Airbricks or grilles are built into the outside walls, just above ground level, in houses with suspended timber ground floors. These allow air to circulate in the underfloor space, helping to keep it dry and to discourage rot. Make sure they are not blocked or obstructed in any way.
Testing timber floors
Jump up and down on timber ground floors. If they sag noticeably, the joists may be rotten because their ends are built into walls suffering from rising damp.
Prod the skirting boards with a bradawl to see if they’re rotten—another indication that there may be problems beneath the floor