Beautiful red brick homes look amazing and have real character, however you should be aware of 10 Common defects in Victorian Properties.
Below is a useful guide of things to consider when looking at purchasing a Victorian property or even if you already own one and would like to know more. Please do contact us if you need any further questions answered or if you would like to arrange a survey or architectural design for an extension or refurbishment.
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One of the main defects in Victorian properties as they are solid walled is dampness; this is the reason for the development of the cavity wall along with its improved thermal performance. There are two main ways to avoid dampness within these properties;
2, Keep the water out
Defective rainwater goods, guttering and downpipes are simple inexpensive items which channel the rainwater from the roofs into the drainage system. If they have been neglected and the guttering has been allowed to become leaky or wavy, there could also be a poor mix of steel and U‐VPC components or not enough downpipes to drain the property effectively (a common fault on Victorian terraces). These faults could lead to the building fabric being intermittently soaked filling the pores within the brick’s structure and creating a path for moisture into the building.
While surveying a building, we would need to see if the property has sufficient drainage including downpipes and the guttering was correctly detailed to any extensions, porches or dormer windows which have subsequently been installed. Also to check for debris and weed growth within the guttering as this is a simple but common reason for overflowing and consequential dampness. Where there is damage or blocked down pipes, the brickwork will be subject to intermittent wetting and perhaps freeze thaw action in the winter months. A tell‐tale sign may be water staining to the brickwork close to the joints of the guttering or downpipes.
3, Let it breathe
High ground levels and blocked underfloor vents can lead to dampness and damage to the component parts of a building. The ground levels should be 150mm below the Damp Proof Course, in Victorian properties this may be slate or tar and sand, however often the properties did not have a Damp Proof Course. A series of drilled holes may indicate an injection Damp Proof Course installed later possibly due to a damp problem, however if the walls were not dry when this was installed injection D.P.C’s often will not be effective.
Ground levels naturally rise over the years and as these properties are often upwards of 130 years old the levels are often high. These effects can be compounded by tree or shrub growth close to the property shedding leaves and the roots anchoring into the brickwork joints. Concrete or hard paving surfaces are also laid on the high ground levels leading to rainwater splashing back onto the walls.
Many properties have chimney flues which have been removed at various points in a property to create more space or to open up the rooms on the ground floor. A common Victorian plan was to have two flues running up the party wall with fireplaces on each floor then corbelling up within the loft space. Often there would be a chimney to the rear extension which would have served a range. It is important to make sure the chimneys are contiguous or where they have been removed they have been properly supported. Where the rear chimney has been reduced down to the roofline this needs to be properly capped off and flashed around to avoid internal dampness in this area.
5, Timber floors
Most Victorian properties had suspended timber ground floors although the poorest ones may have tiles laid to a bed of ashes. With suspended timber floors the most important item is to ensure that the airbricks have not been blocked and there is a clear air path beneath the floor. These can be blocked or isolated by areas of concrete over‐site floor, normally installed in the areas prone to water damage i.e. ground floor bathrooms, kitchens and often hallways. This isolates the cross ventilation leading to damp and humid conditions where wood rotting fungi can grow.
To the ground and upper floor inappropriate cutting may have taken place both to the floor boards and joists where water pipes and electrical services have been installed or internal walls reconfigured. This is normally indicated by excessive deflection to the floor surface.
Many rear extensions on Victorian properties were ½ brick thick or a single brick laid stretcher bond, this would have very little resistance to dampness and poor thermal efficiency. This was usually for the kitchen and pantry to the rear of the property which was not considered an important area of the house. In some cases this was continued up to two storey extensions which are not structurally stable, these have usually been rebuilt over the years, however there are some still in existence and the mortgage companies may not lend on these properties unless the back extension is re‐built.
The original water supply into the property would have been a lead pipe which then formed the internal distribution. Internal distribution would have been limited to the larger and grander properties with the traditional terrace having a supply only to the scullery sink. In the intervening years since the property’s construction, the distribution pipework would normally have been replaced by copper pipe, however the supply can still be in lead which will lead to lead within the drinking water. This is now quite rare but lead pipework is often still evident in Victorian properties.
Dishing (internally sagging or bowing) roofs are quite often noted. Victorian properties were usually covered in slate, these slates depending on their grade and type can last up to 100 years and often Welsh slate will last longer. That said most of the Victorian roofs have reached the end of their lives and have now been re‐roofed, often with concrete tiles.
Concrete tiles will lead to the deformation of the roof, this may take a number of years to appear but in some cases it can be quite severe. The reason for this is the roof timbers were sized for lightweight slates and the concrete tiles are much heavier, requiring the roofer to reinforce the timber structure of the roof which was not always carried out before the tiles were re-laid.
Lintels were often stone, brick segmental or flat arches with timber lintels behind, in the case of the brick arches they relied on the mortar bond between the bricks. The bricks are built over a timber former which is removed when the mortar is dry. In the flat arches the wedge shape of the bricks and the mortar joints provide the support for the brickwork above.
Common faults are cracking to the lintels especially to the corners and the dropping of individual bricks which will eventually lead to the failure of the lintel. The internal timber lintel within a solid brick wall will also be subjected to dampness which can cause it to decay, leading to shrinkage and movement which results in internal and external cracking as the wall settles.
10, Modern repairs
There are many faults caused by modern repairs – a common one is unsuitable re‐pointing. Victorian properties were constructed with soft lime mortars which allowed a large amount of movement and were permeable allowing the water to evaporate through the joints, it would erode at a faster rate than the brick or stonework. Where properties have been re‐pointed with ordinary Portland cement and especially with a strong mix, this is not permeable and the water vapour evaporates off the faces of the bricks or stone, leading to erosion of the faces of the materials recessing them back behind the pointing.
This is a brief synopsis of over 30 years of training and experience, if you would like your Victorian property surveyed or repaired please contact us on 01376 573877 or 0207 078 7114 for a free consultation and we won’t just save you money, we will add real value to your project.
Gerry Dolden MRICS Nebosh Cert. Director of G Dolden & Associates