Monday, May 2, 2016

External Decorations – Routine Property Maintenance - Part 2



Nature gives us the choice of whether to ignore our buildings externally and let them deteriorate or to undertake regular maintenance and improve their life expectancy and aesthetical appeal.  We have no control over nature but we do have control over how we react to it.

Source: www.napoleon.cc
I am not a mechanic but like most people I am aware that if I do not take care of my car then it will eventually break down. Regardless of what you may know about cars, most people (but not everyone!) can do basic things such as checking oil and water levels, checking and maintaining tyre pressures as well as filling up with fuel and occasionally even cleaning the car!  In a similar way buildings require 'regular basic maintenance' in order to prevent more long term issues manifesting themselves, which if not carried out can prove to be very expensive to rectify.  Last week I discussed the importance of undertaking maintenance to buildings and introduced a number of routine basic maintenance tasks including clearing rainwater gutters, cutting back trees, shrubs and vegetation and washing down UPVC.  This week I offer some further advice in respect of external decorations.

Extensive Splice Repairs - Source: sashwindowskent.co.uk
How many times do you walk or drive past a building, which is in a very poor state repair and asked yourself why the occupants have allowed this to happen?  Allowing the external envelope of a building to deteriorate will not only give a very negative visual impression, but also create an environment for materials/components to deteriorate and decay.  As an example let us consider softwood timber, which is used extensively for numerous external building components including windows, doors, soffit and fascia boards, barge boards, cladding and so on.  Different treatments are available, including oil and water based preservatives, which are designed to reduce the risk of moisture ingress into the timber and therefore protect and increase the serviceable life of the material.  These however do not last forever and even in the event that pre-treated timber is used it will still require regular coatings to maintain the protection.  Where pre-treated timber is not used, it is necessary to provide an alternative protection, which in most cased will be a painted finish.  Once the protective coating to the timber deteriorates, be that preservative or paint, the timber then becomes vulnerable to decay, particularly wet rot. As a general rule of thumb, the time frame for routinely carrying out external decorations is between three and five years, however this will vary depending on a number of factors;  

Firstly, preparation of decorated surfaces.  Even if timber is in the early stages of decay, it is still necessary to deal with the decay before applying the decorative finish.  There is not much point in just painting over decaying timber (and I have seen this many times), and hoping that the problem will somehow rectify itself!  In these situations, depending on the extent of decay it may be necessary to cut out effected parts and introduce new timber (something called a splice repair), if the decay is less serious it may be more appropriate to remove areas of decaying timber and then fill with a good quality timber filler, or in serious cases it may be necessary to replace the whole component. Whatever the circumstances the repair must be appropriate depending on the extent of decay.

Secondly, quality of materials – It is essential that the correct products are used when undertaking external decorations.  You only need to visit one of the large national DIY outlets to see that there are numerous manufacturers who provide a range of products for all sorts of applications. This seemingly unlimited choice is sometimes the problem. Many people do not read the labels properly (sometimes not at all) and end up buying a product that is not appropriate.  A common example of this is where internal quality gloss paint is used for external applications.  

The other issue in respect of quality of materials is cost.  The quality of products can vary significantly and the cheapest price very rarely represents best value.  It often proves to more cost effective to use more expensive products because they are likely to be better quality and therefore last longer. More expensive products do not always guarantee this however a little bit of research into a product (nowadays with the internet you can read other customers reviews) will help you to decide.  Using well know established brands may also be worth considering.  These again may prove to be more costly, however they are well known brands for a reason!  

Finally, quality of workmanship – You do not need to be a trades person to undertake decorations to your building, as most people can lift and use a paintbrush!   This may be true for applying a finishing coat and works of a simple nature, however a little more knowledge is required when undertaking the majority of external decorations.  

Depending on the surface to be decorated, after preparation, it may be necessary to apply an undercoat or primer, followed by a number of finishing coats.  Certain products will also come with a list of ‘manufacturer’s instructions’, which must be followed in order to make the finish effective.  Failure to understand and apply an appropriate level of workmanship will result in a sub-standard finish, which will undoubtedly require addressing much sooner than you would want.  I would suggest that poor workmanship was the most common factor for many of the external defects that I come across when undertaking inspections.  Therefore, in some circumstances it is likely to be more cost effective to employ the services of someone who has got the correct level of knowledge and expertise, than you attempt the work yourself to try to save a few pennies.

Decorating externally on a routine basis is fundamental to maintaining and improving the serviceable life of building components and materials.  For the purposes of this article I have considered external joinery, however all materials/components should be considered in a similar way. Nature gives us the choice of whether to ignore our buildings externally and let them deteriorate or to undertake regular maintenance and improve their life expectancy and aesthetical appeal.  We have no control over nature but we do have control over how we react to it.  I will again finish with the following question - Why Is Regular Routine Property Maintenance So Often Overlooked?

The video below shows a method of repairing a timber window frame which has suffered wet rot decay.  If the timber had decayed any further it is likely that a splice repair would be necessary.




Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog

Monday, April 25, 2016

Routine property maintenance – Why is it so often overlooked? – Part 1



By adopting a planned approach to maintenance an occupier can help to avoid the need for unplanned emergency repairs. This will also help to maintain the value of a building and in some cases even help to add value.  

Source: quotationcheck.com 
I am not a mechanic but like most people I am aware that if I do not do take care of my car then it will eventually break down. Regardless of what you may know about cars, most people can do basic things such as checking oil and water levels, checking and maintaining tyre pressures as well as the filling up with fuel and occasionally even cleaning your car!  In a similar way buildings require 'regular basic maintenance' in order to prevent more long term issues manifesting themselves, which if not carried out can prove to be very expensive to rectify. As a Chartered Building Surveyor it never ceased to amaze me when I would see significant defects or damage, which had resulted from what would have originally been a very simple thing to fix.  On occasions this was down to lack of knowledge or awareness on behalf of the occupier, however it can also be said that laziness was also a common cause. This is because many see and are aware of problems in their building but do not see any urgency as the building is still ‘functioning’. Basically, the issue is ignored!  Going back to the example of the car, it would be the same as hearing a rattling noise in your car as you drive along and instead of getting this rectified you turn the radio up, because the car is still  'functioning'. Eventually however the car will break down and the cost of repair is likely to be much more expensive than if you had dealt with the problem in the first place.  The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’, is something that immediately comes to mind and this is particular relevant in respect of buildings.

By adopting a planned approach to maintenance an occupier can help to avoid the need for unplanned emergency repairs. This will also help to maintain the value of a building and in some cases even help to add value.  The value of a building can be significantly affected by its condition; in fact there are many examples of properties of similar size and type, in very close proximity that can vary by many thousands of pounds as a result of the difference in their conditions. If regular un-costly maintenance can add significant value to a property, then you would have to ask why so many people fail to do it!

Source: www.todayshomeowner.com
There are a number of routine basic maintenance tasks that can be undertaken in a building (both externally and internally) in order to increase the serviceable life of various components and to prevent more serious, often costly problems occurring in the future.  As you can see from my suggestions below, in most cases you do not need any specialist knowledge or training and you will only need to engage the services of a building contractor for the more risky or complicated activities or possibly where it may be more physically challenging than you are able.

Clear rainwater gutters - Blocked gutters will allow rainwater, sometimes in high volumes, to discharge onto external surfaces.  Over a period of time this can result in problems such as penetrating damp, condensation and timber decay to occur.  Large volumes of water discharging into the ground can also affect the ground bearing capacity of certain types of ground under foundations, sometimes resulting in very serious problems such as ground movement such as settlement or subsidence.  Therefore regularly checking that gutters are clear can prevent some very significant defects occurring in the future.

Cut back trees, shrubs and vegetation - Trees, shrubs and vegetation provide a much softer appearance than buildings and structures and are an important feature for many when considering purchasing or occupying a building.  Whereas they have many positive qualities, if not maintained they can prove to be extremely detrimental to a building.  Trees and particularly tree roots can undermine foundations and damage drains and are often found to be the cause or significant contributing factor to ground movement. Therefore, trees need to be monitored and maintained when they are located within a distance that could affect a building. If trees become an issue, specialist advice is likely to be necessary from an Arboriculturist in order to provide accurate remedial measures to address the problem.

Vegetation in close proximity to a building will retain a large amount of moisture.  Ivy is a common example of vegetation that grows rapidly and can cover large areas of external masonry walls.  Whilst this may provide a certain amount of ‘charm’ for many, in prolonged wet conditions, the ivy will retain a large amount of water, which will be in contact with external walls.  This will result in colder surface temperature for the wall, which in turn can increase the risk of condensation internally.  Add to this the fact that ivy provides a habitat for all sorts of insects which can use it as a route into window frames, air bricks and other weaknesses in the building at high level and suddenly it starts to lose a little bit of its charm. This is issue is not exclusive to ivy, in fact any vegetation that is allowed to grow in close proximity to a building has the potential to cause the same issues, and should therefore by regularly maintained and controlled.

Wash down UPVC  - Over the last thirty years UPVC has become increasingly popular as a material used for external building components, particularly for guttering and downpipes and window frames.  UPVC external cladding, soffits and fascia boards are also now commonly used in place of timber due to the perceived reduction in maintenance and improved life expectancy.  To a point this is correct, however it is a complete misconception that once UPVC is installed that it can be left forever and does not need any maintenance. Have you ever notice that when first installed that UPVC has a ‘shiny gloss’ finish.  However over a period of time being exposed to external elements, the surface will dull down. This can be due to photo-oxidation which causes bleaching (staining) and loss of pigmentation of the UPVC.  Once this occurs the UPVC will pick up dirt, dust and other particles and become discoloured.  Simply washing down UPVC surfaces every six months with warm soapy water will significantly reduce the risk of this occurring.
Next week, In part 2 I will discuss some further routine maintenance tasks that can be undertaken in a building (both externally and internally) in order to increase the serviceable life of various components and to prevent more serious, often costly problems occurring in the future.   

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Energy efficiency in residential dwellings



One in every five UK households are currently in fuel poverty. Coupled with the fact that energy providers are continually raising their prices, this issue is becoming increasingly prominent; the basic necessity of keeping warm can no longer be taken for granted. It is estimated that a minimum of 5.5 million people within the UK are living in houses that are inadequately heated

Source: www.eco-uk.co.uk
Fuel poverty occurs when a household spends 10% or more of its income on fuel; figures show that one in every five UK households are currently in fuel poverty. Coupled with the fact that energy providers are continually raising their prices, this issue is becoming increasingly prominent; the basic necessity of keeping warm can no longer be taken for granted. It is estimated that a minimum of 5.5 million people within the UK are living in houses that are inadequately heated due to self-rationing, made necessary by insufficient funds (The Guardian 2011). Modern new build properties benefit from legislation such as Part L of the Building Regulations, which ensure that construction is adequately insulated. Efficient methods of heating property are also being implemented more regularly; this however, provides no relief for the millions of people living within existing housing stock. 

While there are ways in which home-owners can improve thermal efficiency, methods often require financial investment (sometimes substantial), and exhibit long payback periods. Improving thermal efficiency, using external wall insulation for example, can result in payback periods of 12 years and cost as much as £65 per square metre (Oxford Solar n.d.). This can mean that while people may want to improve their homes, the same financial concerns which mean they are subjected to cold living conditions, prevent steps being taken to make improvements.  In addition to financial benefits, increasing efficiency will also result in fewer carbon emissions. The Climate Change Act 2008 has made the UK the only Country which has introduced a legally binding framework intended to address climate change by reducing emissions by at least 80% by 2050, when compared to the levels seen in 1990 (Committee on Climate Change n.d). Ensuring that existing homes are used efficiently is a cost effective way of contributing towards this target. The former coalition government saw Green Deal as a vehicle for meeting these targets; however Green Deal did not have the effect that the government had hoped. 

A Thermostatic Radiator Valve (TRV) - Source: abodesolutions.com
Daniel Coghlan, a recent graduate of mine at Coventry University, considered energy efficiency in residential dwellings as part of his final year dissertation, and undertook some very interesting research. The purpose of the research was to ascertain whether heating costs could be reduced by using an existing heating system more efficiently. If this was possible then this would allow savings to be made with little or no financial investment. The research involved taking meter readings in a selected residential property both before and after alterations were made to the use and set-up of the heating system. The usage during both periods was then compared to ascertain whether the alterations that were made have affected the efficiency of the central heating system, and if they have, to what extent.  The property selected was a detached 1970’s house with insulated cavity walls. The heating system comprised of a condensing combination boiler which fed a wet radiator array; heat was controlled using a programmer integral to the boiler, a central room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves on each of the radiators.

A meter reading was taken on the 1st October 2011 and one was obtained from the resident for the 1st September 2011. The resident at the property was then left to utilise the heating system as they normally would; repeat readings were taken at the first of each month for a total period of 3 months, ending on 01st December 2012. The purpose of this was to ascertain energy usage over a set period of time prior to any system alterations. Following this, alterations were made to the system. These alterations included:

       1. Bleed radiators to remove trapped air
       2. Balance System
       3. Discuss room use and set TRVs accordingly
       4. Reduce temperature of system slightly
       5. Remove restrictions surrounding TRVs
       6. Set a programme timer suitable for general daily use
       
The results from the case study showed that alterations made to the set-up and use of the central heating system within the property resulted in a reduction of 18% in energy usage. It is understood that there were a number of limitations to the research, however this result  provides a strong indication that considered use can improve efficiency. In addition to the case study a questionnaire was devised to establish the levels of understanding of the use of a central heating system. Of the returned questionnaires, only 14% of those who responded used their central heating systems efficiently. Therefore, the combined result of the research shows that the efficiency of a central heating system can be improved by altering use, and currently, there is a deficiency in understanding or common practice of incorrect central heating system use within the UK.  

Limitations with the research were; 

Within the case study, monitoring was undertaken for three months in each period consecutively. This meant that varying weather conditions will have affected the boiler efficiency and the consequential energy consumption may not be completely representative of the alterations made. 

Another consideration is gas usage within the case study property as gas is not used exclusively for heating; the cooker hob is also fuelled using gas. This means that, while the same number of residents were residing within the property during both periods, varying eating patterns may have introduced further inaccuracy into the results. December for example is a time when residents are off work, and likely to entertain, again resulting in more cooking, higher gas usage and less reliable results. 

Different families are likely to have different comfort requirements and eating habits for example. In addition to this, differing windows, doors, thermal insulation, boiler type and radiator sizing for example would all make data obtained from different properties less directly comparable.  In addition there are a number of potential limitations commonly associated with observational information gathering techniques, such as when individuals or groups of individuals are aware they are being watched, they can sometimes change their behaviour, a phenomenon known as the Hawthorne effect (Kumar 2005: 120-121).

Despite these limitations the research demonstrated that energy and consequently cost savings can be made by educating and encouraging people to use their heating systems more efficiently.  Notwithstanding the fact that buildings also need to be made thermally efficient in the first instance, otherwise all of the heat created is likely to disappear through the walls.

(The above article is a summary of research undertaken by Daniel Coghlan BSc(Hons) as part of his final year dissertation at Coventry University and is published with the express permission of Daniel)

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

House hunting? - Look beyond the decorations!



No matter what the condition or quality of the decorations and other finishes, most people will usually re-decorate to their own taste anyway.  It is important that your mind is focused on looking beyond this, which will allow you to focus on the condition and layout of the building

Source: www.ibtimes.co.uk
Throughout my career as a Building Surveyor I have been lucky enough to have undertaken many different types of surveys of all types of buildings both large and small and in varying degrees of condition. This experience has given me the ability to identify 'possible issues' in a building without undertaking an intrusive inspection. In simple terms if you know where to look and what to look for, you can quickly establish issues that may need much closer attention.

Whilst house hunting fairly recently and viewing properties for the first time you may be surprised to learn that even as a Chartered Building Surveyor I am in the same boat as everyone else. Most properties that my wife and I recently viewed were both occupied and furnished and for a first viewing most sellers would expect a quick tour of the building followed by few questions. I think they would be a little shocked if I walked in with my surveying equipment and then started to systematically take their house to pieces so that I could decide if it was worth returning for a second visit! Something tells me that even if I wanted a second viewing the seller is unlikely to want me back! Even though my natural instinct is to be more intrusive I have to extend the same courtesy as anyone else.

Source: www.repointer58.com
When undertaking the viewing (notice the term 'viewing' and not 'inspection') there are some key things that I look for which will give me a good idea of the general condition of a building. Although I would always advise anyone to have an inspection carried out be a qualified surveyor I also thought it would be worth sharing some tips, so that those with limited or indeed no knowledge of buildings may at least be able to identify issues that they could question and bring to the attention of their advisers. This basic knowledge could also be a deciding factor which may lead to a decision not to pursue a particular property and to focus your attention on others.

Externally, I will always look at the condition of the external walls for signs of cracking, distortion (possibly bulging) and also the condition of the materials generally.  Cracking and/or distortion can occur for many different reasons and the consequences can sometimes be very serious.  It is however worth noting that if cracking or distortion in an external wall is noted that it could be historic and less significant than the damage may suggest.  There is a natural reaction by many people to panic when they see cracking in a building, however in many cases the problem can be rectified reasonably quickly and cheaply.  If you do identify cracking in a building it is always worth obtaining professional advice to arrive at an accurate prognosis.   Also, look out for signs of 'new' pointing.  Pointing refers to the horizontal and vertical mortar joints that 'bond' the masonry units together.  If you see a slightly lighter (in colour) or a different colour, area of pointing, particularly if this is in a vertical stepped position, this would suggest that recent cracking may have occurred and the cracking has been infilled.  Again, bring this to the attention of your professional advisor.

External ground levels should also be looked at closely, particularly at the junction of external walls. A damp proof course is installed in external perimeter walls to prevent moisture rising through masonry by capillary action and into a building.  Current Building Regulations require the damp proof course to be installed 150mm above external ground levels. The importance of the damp proof course is often not appreciated and you will often see raised flower beds installed abutting external walls, new driveways installed at a higher level that previously and render being applied to walls.  All of these have the potential to 'bridge' the damp proof course and provide an easy path for moisture and damp to find its way into a building.

When viewing internally it is important to look beyond the internal decorations and furnishings. Everyone has different tastes and often the conversation after the viewing can focus on 'that hideous room' or 'those awful carpets'!  This however is missing the point.  No matter what the condition or quality of the decorations and other finishes, most people will usually re-decorate to their own taste anyway.  It is important that your mind is focused on looking beyond this, which will allow you to focus on the condition and layout of the building. Try to focus on the potential of a house and this will open your mind up to think about what you can do rather than what you do not want to do.  In the whole process of buying a house, decorations and furnishings should be the least of your concerns, given that there are so many other serious problems that could arise.

Internally, you should look closely at the internal wall surfaces for signs of dampness.  This will include visible damp patches, peeling or flaking paint or possible peeling wallpaper. Dampness can occur in a building in many ways such as rising damp, penetrating damp and also condensation. In ground floor rooms pay particularly close attention at low level especially on the inside surface of external walls. Any damp identified above a metre and a half above ground level, will not be rising damp and may be a result of leaking plumbing or possible damp penetration from poorly maintained gutters and downpipes.  It is not uncommon for condensation mould to be present, especially in kitchens and bathroom.  This is due to the activity and subsequent high concentrations of water vapour in these rooms. Condensation could suggest poor ventilation, poor thermal insulation to external walls or possibly inadequate heating, or a combination of these.

If you identify dampness or cracking during your visit then bring these to the attention of your professional advisers. Hopefully the above information will help those who are unfamiliar with buildings to identify some warning signs that would suggest further investigation.  A Surveyor will undertake a detailed and comprehensive survey, if instructed, and this will provide you with an explanation of the condition of a building together with the likely cause and recommended remedial works.  So if you undertake a viewing and you identify some of the issues discussed above you may decide not to pursue that particular house any further or to seek further professional advice.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Modern House or Older House? – ‘Quirky’ can come at a cost!



Opinions are often divided between those wanting to live in an older building, compared to the relative comfort that a more modern building can offer.  That is not to suggest that older/quirky buildings cannot be warm and comfortable, however in these types of buildings this can come at a cost. 
  
Source: theirishaesthete.com
‘Quirky’ is a word often used by people to describe features in a house that are unconventional compared to ‘the norm’, particularly when compared to modern houses.  The term is used frequently by those viewing or living in cottages, Tudor or medieval houses or in fact any house that exhibits unique features or characteristics compared to the more standard features of modern houses.  These features could include things such as low ceilings, narrow doorways, exposed timber beams, out of plumb walls, uneven and creaky timber floors, inglenook fireplaces, window seats and so on…… Opinions are often divided between those wanting to live in an older building, compared to the relative comfort that a more modern building can offer.  That is not to suggest that older/quirky buildings cannot be warm and comfortable, however in these types of buildings this can come at a cost.  

It has been a requirement for many years under UK Building Regulations to construct buildings with high level of thermal efficiency and this is something that is constantly being amended to make buildings even more thermally efficient and air tight than ever before.  So, the decision to live in a more ‘modern’ building will often revolve around this higher level of thermal comfort and modern facilities that these buildings offer.  Many people seem to be prepared to accept these, sometimes characterless, standardised houses, with perfect right angles and flush plastered walls, which seems to be the conventional ‘norm’ which is referred to at the beginning of this article.  Accepted, there will always be some exceptions where those constructing new houses will try to incorporate architectural and period features however these are few and far between.  The reason this is so rare is usually because of a desire to cram as many plots onto a site as possible, to be built as cheaply as possible and to therefore maximise profit.  There is also a general reduction in traditional craft skills, which are being lost as older craft workers retire and colleges fail to teach new ‘apprentices’ these types of skills.

Source: www.ctge.co.uk
When undertaking surveys of older houses I was always disappointed when someone had refurbished an ‘older’ house and in the process removed many (sometimes all) of the features and characteristics that gave it its character and identity.  Once refurbished it would look like any modern house and it made me wonder why they had not purchased a modern house in the first place and just left the original features alone.  Seeing a building treated in this way could be likened to watching your grandad trying to rap – completely inappropriate, uncomfortable and just not right Nowadays many of our older buildings have been given listed status and are protected.  There are however many others that do not have this protection and are vulnerable to the army of future property developers who are likely to pay little regard to maintaining the original features and place more priority on simplicity and profit.

If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in an older house and want to maintain it and enjoy it for the purposes it would have been originally constructed for, then there are a number of things you need to be aware of. Firstly, find out if the building is listed (protected) and if so what type of listing it is.  It is against the law to undertake any work to a listed building without first obtaining permission.  The type of listing will determine what type of permission you need and also the type of work you can do to the building.  You can contact your local authority to find out this information.

I recently moved house and purchased a cottage.  The main entrance to the building leads directly into the old cottage and at the rear there is a large modern extension.  It is quite fortunate that we have a modern extension at the rear, as the main front entrance door is fairly small.  Also, the stairs in the cottage are quite narrow as is the head height on the stairway.  On the day of the move we soon realised that our wardrobes would not fit up the stairs and that our three piece suites were not going to fit through the door openings. It was necessary to bring everything through a large set of patio doors at the rear and leave them in our kitchen.  The following day I had to dismantle the wardrobes, piece by piece, carry then upstairs and re-assemble them in each bedroom.  In order to get one of our three piece’s into our front lounge it was necessary for us to pay a glazier to remove half of our UPVC double glazed bay window and then put it back when we had lifted the three piece through. This may have cost us £120, however the three piece was fairly new and it was much cheaper that having to buy a new smaller one!

The timber floors in the cottage are creaky, we have a log burner in the front lounge and the cottage have a real sense of history too it.  Having lived in a modern house, I honestly would not swap this new one for the world. When I undertake any work to the cottage I have no intention of taking away its ‘quirky’ features, in fact it is these features that makes it what it is! I appreciate that not everyone will have the same taste as me, however, the more people that can understand the significance of the heritage of our older buildings and also appreciate the craftsmanship that is part of the fabric and structure of these buildings, then the more people that will experience the same privilege as I do by waking up each day in such a quirky house! 

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Condensation in Buildings - Part 2 – How to reduce the risk!



There are a few very simple, but nevertheless very effective ways we can reduce the risk of condensation, just by simply being aware of some of the activities we would normally undertake without even thinking

Source: thevideo.biz
In order to understand how to reduce the risk of condensation it is important to first understand how it occurs. If you have not already done so I would recommend reading last week’s article (Link), ‘How condensation occurs’, before going any further. You will then understand that the ‘ingredients’ necessary for condensation to occur are moisture vapour and cold surfaces, which are exacerbated by poor heating and poor ventilation.  The cold surfaces could be present due to thermally inefficient walls and surfaces, particularly in older buildings.  In fact there are a whole host of reasons why the internal surface temperature of the internal fabric of a building may be cold (walls, windows, ceilings etc.,) including poor maintenance of external walls, rising damp, penetrating damp due to leaking rainwater guttering or downpipes, leaking roofs, single glazed windows, poor weather sealing around openings and cold bridges, which are areas of the building fabric which are less thermally efficient than the surrounding construction.

To reduce the risk of condensation occurring there are two things we should consider. Firstly, dealing with the cause of the condensation and secondly, looking at the way we use a building and trying to find ways of reducing the amount of moisture vapour we emit.

In order to rectify the problem, we first need to establish the cause. This is where you may need the advice of a Building Surveyor, who will be able to undertake a thorough inspection and establish which factors or combination of factors are contributing to the condensation. This is important because if you do not deal with ALL of the contributing factors, you may slow down the amount of condensation occurring, however you will not actually solve the problem. For example you may decide to improve the heating system, but if you do not deal with the thermally inefficient walls, then all of that increased heat will just disappear through the walls, and will have a limited effect. So depending on what is established as the cause, it may be necessary to increase the internal surface temperature of the walls by either insulating internally (dry lining) or externally (insulated render system), replacing windows, improving ventilation (possible a mechanical extractor fan) and upgrading the heating system. As you would imagine, this could become very expensive, which highlights why you may need the advice of a professional to ensure that the correct remedial measures are undertaken. All buildings are different and the way we use buildings will also be different, therefore we cannot assume that the cause of condensation and the remedial works required will be the same in every situation.

After dealing with the building we must also consider ways in which we can reduce the amount of moisture vapour we emit in buildings.   There are a few very simple, but nevertheless very effective ways we can achieve this, just by simply being aware of some of the activities we would normally undertake without even thinking.

Source: www.prokil.co.uk
Bathing, washing and cooking are activities that we cannot avoid however all produce large amounts of moisture vapour. We must undertake these activities on a day to day basis, however when showering/bathing, try to not leave the shower or bath taps running more than you need, switch them off as soon as you can.  If you have extractor fans, ensure that they are working, adequately sized and switched on when needed. Although it may be cold outside, when you are leaving the bathroom, open the window to let fresh air in, which will soon clear the moisture vapour and prevent it condensing on the walls and windows.

If you are using a tumble dryer ensure that it is vented to the outside.  I have undertaken a number of previous inspections where I have seen the flexible tumble dryer vents extracting into a room, rather than outside.  This was due to in both cases to lack of thought of the location of the tumble dryer and a general lack of understanding on the part of the occupiers. Also, when drying clothes try to avoid placing them on top of radiators.  This is usually done for convenience, however again produces large amounts of moisture vapour.  Whenever possible washing should be dried outside, or if weather conditions do not permit this then consider using an appropriately vented tumble dryer, or maybe a trip to the launderette.

When cooking use an extractor hood if you have one above your cooker and keep lids on saucepans as much as you can.  Avoid using bottled gas and paraffin heaters these produce large amounts of moisture vapour. 

Finally, but very importantly, try to ensure you have a regular flow of fresh air around your house/buildings.  This effectively dries out any moisture vapour and prevents it reaching concentration levels where condensation may become an issue.  Granted, nobody wants to release all of that lovely heat from a building in the depths of winter, however, opening windows for a short period of time may result in the internal environment becoming temporarily cooler, but it will also significantly help to reduce the risk of condensation.

Hopefully, now that you know how condensation occurs you can start to thing about ways in which you can help to reduce the risk.  In future articles I will discuss other forms of damp in buildings such as rising damp and penetrating damp.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Condensation in Buildings - Part 1 – How it occurs



If left untreated condensation can become a significant problem so it is important that people understand how it occurs and how to deal with it.  Due to the fact that condensation produces water/moisture it can also act as a catalyst for a number of other defects that can be found in buildings

Source: www.biocraft.co.uk
Most people will have seen damp in their homes in one form or another, and in fact damp is one of the most common problems encountered in houses.  Damp can manifest itself in a number of ways including ‘wet patches’ on surfaces, mould growth and sometimes a musty smell.  If left untreated damp can lead to deterioration of internal surfaces and finishes, provide a very unsightly appearance and in certain circumstances lead to health problems, particularly for vulnerable user groups such as the elderly, young children and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma. There are a number of different types of damp that can occur in buildings including rising damp and penetrating damp, however for the purposes of this article I want to focus on condensation.

In order to understand how we can deal with condensation it is important to first understand how it occurs.  All air contains a certain amount of ‘invisible’ water vapour.  You may not realise it, but as a human beings we are emitting water vapour constantly, you may not see it but it really is happening. Water vapour is also emitted by the activities we undertake in the home including washing, cooking, drying clothes, using portable heaters such as calor gas etc.  Basically, there are large volumes of water vapour being emitted in your home and the amount of water vapour that is emitted is determined by the activites that we carry out and the number of people in your house at any particular time.  Condensation occurs when this water vapour comes into contact with cold surfaces and the air no longer has the capacity to hold any more water vapour.  In order to understand this we need to first understand relative humidity, which is a generally poorly understood term.


Source:m.google.com
Relative humidity relates to the actual water vapour present in air to that which could be present and is routinely expressed as a percentage. The reason we refer to ‘relative’ humidity is because air has a varying ability to hold moisture vapour depending on temperature.  Warm air can hold more water vapour than cold air.  Once relative humidity reaches 100% it no longer has the ability to hold any more water vapour and it will start to condense on cooler surfaces (something referred to as ‘Dew Point’), which is the physical change into a liquid (condensation).

As an example, think about your bathroom.  When you have a bath or shower large quantities of water vapour are produced.  Sometimes this will develop into a ‘fog’ in the room until you open the window or turn on an extractor fan.  Have you ever noticed that you get water developing on your windows and walls?  This is condensation.  Have you ever wondered why this happens more readily on cold days, and in the warmer months it is hardly noticeable?  This is because the air in your bathroom on colder days has less capacity to hold moisture than the air in your bathroom during warmer temperatures (remember warm air can hold more water vapour than cold air).  Windows, particularly in older buildings are generally less thermally efficient than the surrounding structure such as the walls.  Therefore the internal surface temperature of the windows will be a few degrees cooler than the surface temperature of the walls.  This will mean that once dew point occurs (100% relative humidity), it will start to condense on the cooler surfaces first, i.e the windows, before it starts to condense on the surrounding walls.

Condensation can occur in any room in a house or within the structure of a house (interstitial condensation), including roof and floor voids, basically anywhere, where there is water vapour and cold surfaces.  If left untreated condensation can become a significant problem so it is important that people understand how it occurs and how to deal with it.  Due to the fact that condensation produces water/moisture it can also act as a catalyst for a number of other defects that can be found in buildings, namely timber decay such as wet rot or dry rot, as well as causing mould growth and potential health problems.

You do not need to be a damp specialist or building surveyor to be able to deal with condensation or at least reduce the risk of it occurring.  There are numerous products on the market that claim to reduce or remove the risk of condensation in homes including paints and sprays.  These types of products may temporarily remove condensation mould that may have already occurred, or cover over damp mould, however the only certain way of removing the risk of condensation is to understand the root cause, which will vary from building to building, and to rectify these root causes.  The usual factors that result in condensation are poor thermal insulation, inadequate heating and inadequate ventilation, or a combination of these.  In the next article I will explain how you can reduce the possibility of condensation in your home and if you already have problems with condensation I will tell you how to deal with it.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.