Sadly Victorian houses aren’t perfect. They look perfect but things do go wrong with them from time to time. It might have something to do with the fact that even the youngest example is now nearly 120 years old. Age waits for no man or house in this case. I’ve decided to concentrate on the most common faults with Victorian houses and how to fault find. Most useful if you are in the market for a new house. So here are the 10 common faults with Victorian houses. They are in no particular order but I always start at the roof!
The roof is with the foundations of the house the most important thing to look at. There are lots of things that can go wrong with the roof but luckily they are relatively easy to spot unless the previous homeowner is deliberately trying to hide them! The most obvious thing is the tiles but it is usually what is going on beneath these where the fun really starts.
The felt under the tiles could be rotten. This wouldn’t be original but it has been installed on lots of houses and it could be badly damaged. In many cases it can seal in unwanted moisture. This moisture then seeps through the wooden beams and causes damp. The beams then might need replacing.
10 common faults with Victorian houses – this roof needs attention!
Another problem could be with any roof junctions. Basically anywhere there is a join in the roof. Chimney pots or dormer windows will have junctions in the roof and these are weak spots. Check the flashing around these areas and for any leaks. Best to get into the loft space and leave the light off so you can see any gaps of light shining in the roof.
More obvious is the tiles themselves. If any are loose or missing you will be able to identify this easily and replace or re-fix them. Ridge tiles are also very important. Make sure they are not damaged and are straight. If there are no leaks and everything looks good, make sure your loft space has enough insulation and is well ventilated. Ventilation is fundamental to keeping your roof fully functioning and water tight. Insulation makes a huge difference with the heating bills! It can also adversely effect ventilation. You need to make sure air flow is good before you start putting extra or new insulation in your loft.
The next thing I would look for is any pipework or plumbing in the loft. Check for any damage and also look to see if the side walls have any water running down them. This could be from your neighbours property if your house is not detached. Then check the guttering. This is really simple but could save you a lot of money.
Damp and subsidence is a common problem with the foundations. Subsidence is relatively easy to spot as there will be cracking, bulging, uneven door frames and skirting boards. There will be many visible signs of movement. Damp is fortunately also easy to spot or smell. If it is just the smell of damp that is giving the game away then you’ll need to investigate closely to spot where it is coming from.
Under floor ventilation is also very important. The moisture needs somewhere to go. Blocked air bricks can sometimes be the culprit. Victorian houses often have suspended floors and it is this space underneath the floor boards that needs adequate air flow. Most of this would come up in a survey but you really ned to be able to spot this when you view a house.
Damp walls can be a real issue. It can be a sign that lots of things are wrong! Leaking ceilings, penetrating damp, rising damp and all kinds of lovely things! One of the things I would look for first after the ceiling is the gap between the inside wall and the outside wall. The moisture could be coming from this area. This happens when there is a link or bridge from the outside wall to the inside wall. Water forms on the bridge and takes water to the inside walls. You will spot the damp in patches. Feel the walls with your hands, look for wall paper that has peeled off.
This is a tricky one to stop. Nearly all Victorian houses have condensation issues of some type. If condensation is only light then you won’t notice it too much but heavy condensation will make the house feel damp. You’ll see it as water on the windows and feel it if you touch the walls. The main thing to look for is when the inside walls are colder than the inside air temperature. I’ve lived through this situation and it isn’t good. The air quality is terrible and you will get mould. The only real way of stopping this if it is bad, is taking the inside walls down and stripping it right back to the outside wall. You’ll then need to insulate and build new inside walls. This is obviously very expensive as you will need to do all of the perimeter walls.
10 common faults with Victorian houses – condensation can be a real issue.
The really good thing about doing this is that you can solve a number of issues in one go. Damp walls can be dealt with at this stage. Air bricks can be installed or fixed. Bridging ties or any damp linking material can be taken away. Grouting and brick work can be done on the inside of the external wall whilst the internal wall isn’t in the way but the main thing for me as well as dramitically improving the air quality in the house, is that you can put in modern insulation in the gap between the inside wall and the outside wall. This will drastically reduce heating bills. Most importantly make your house significantly warmer. I am going to cover this in next weeks post. How to make your Victorian home warm.
Leaking bay windows.
Easy to spot and to deal with. look for signs of wear with the roof on the top of the bay. The flashing is often the culprit. Not a massively expensive job to repair. You could probably sort this yourself.
Blocked Air bricks.
I’ve mentioned this before and it is an easy thing to spot and deal with. Even if you don’t have any real issues else where in the house just make sure that the air bricks are working properly as it will keep problems from arising later on. If they are damaged then replace them.
Easy to spot. The bricks are cracked! They’ll need replacing or repairing but I think this much was obvious!
Rotten or distorted timber
The flooring or the timber underneath the first floor of your home could be either rotting or just be completely out of shape. Sadly this could be an expensive and potentially messy job. It depends on how much of the supporting beams are out of shape or rotten. To fix this you will need to pull up the floor boards and anything that is on top of them.
Definitely a job to do when the house is empty so to avoid too much upheaval. If the house is in pretty bad shape, then the chances are you would be restoring the floor boards. Not a huge problem. It is a real pain to do this if your house is fully restored and you are having to pull up perfectly good tiles, you could ruin work that has already been done to a high standard.
Again a leaking roof will often be the culprit. The guttering will also need to be looked at. When that has been addressed and if there is still a problem, then it could well be the drains themselves. The drains have a definite sell by date if they haven’t been replaced.
Victorian drains are made from clay and they won’t last for ever. These are more tricky to get to as it involves moving lots of earth to get to the pipes. You’ll need a digger and to put a big hole in your garden! It is worth it as you don’t want to fix the roof and install new guttering just to have all the excess water soak in to the ground around your house. The actual pipes aren’t expensive to replace. It is just the actual labour cost that is the expensive bit. You can do this yourself. Hire a digger and get to work. Just be careful not to dig up anything else.
I left the best one until last! I could probably write ten thousands words on this and it still wouldn’t be enough. Rising damp is where moisture rises up through the brick work into your building. Or not! This is a very contentious issue. Some people don’t believe in rising damp at all. They say it is impossible. Literally not scientifically viable. I’m not an expert but from what I have read, rising damp is scientifically possible. Just incredibly rare. There are builders who have built brick walls in water and waited years to see if damp climbs up the wall. It doesn’t!
It is of course possible to get damp to rise through the brick work in a laboratory but it takes time. Rising damp is usually the name given to damp in the walls, bridging problems and other moisture getting into the lower walls. It is commonly just a catch all name for some other problem.
Sadly there have been lots of cases of companies visiting your home, using a damp meter on the wall and announcing after about five seconds that you have rising damp. Fear not though as they have the solution! This is where they quote you for some work that will cost thousands. It will almost certainly not cure the problem you have. You have been warned!
Rising damp could actually be a sign of a faulty damp proof course, rising earth levels or anything leaking or causing condensation over the damp proof course. It could be all of these things. Damp can effect any part of the house and can be seen in any number of ways. You can see damp if the skirting boards are rotten. You may even see a tide line on the wall. This is often brown or yellow and can be seen on the plaster. There may also be mould. I found a really in depth article on “rising damp” here.
So there are the ten common faults with Victorian houses. fairly easy to spot. Just not that easy to deal with in some cases, so be careful! I’ll be looking at how to make your Victorian house warm next week. This is a particular favourite topic of mine as I’m pretty much always cold! See you next week.