Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to avoid ‘Cowboy Builders’ – 5 Practical Tips



Trust is something in which we expect that services provided will be as advertised or discussed and that those who claimed to deliver such services will be competent to do so.   Unfortunately, there are endless examples where this trust has been mis-placed, as there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are waiting to exploit this situation.

Source:www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk
There are times when we need to engage the services of a builder, contractor, tradesperson, (call them what you will), when we are considering building work or indeed in the event of an emergency. Selection of ‘the right person’ is often determined by random selection based upon a brief search through Yellow Pages, a quick internet search or a card displayed in a newsagent’s window. This leads to us placing our trust in people we know very little about and allowing then access into our homes/buildings. Trust is something in which we expect that services provided will be as advertised/discussed and that those who claimed to deliver such services will be competent to do so. Unfortunately, there are endless examples where this trust has been mis-placed, as there are plenty of unscrupulous people out there who are waiting to exploit this situation.

Knowledge of home repairs and building works is something many people no little to nothing about and therefore prefer to pay to have these types of work carried out. Therefore, if a ‘builder’ is invited to give advice and a quotation, most people will not have the expertise to assess whether the work they are proposing is appropriate or indeed necessary, or whether it represents good value for money or not. So why do we seem to make these rash decisions? This is likely to be due to the urgency of works, our trusting nature, confident, sometimes intimidating behaviour, cheap price etc. It is decisions made on this basis that can lead to very significant problems and disputes, and this approach should be avoided at all costs.

In March 2012 the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published their Home Repairs and Improvements Toolkit which in the introduction states: ‘In the 18 months from January 2009 to September 2010, advice service Consumer Direct received over 146,000 complaints from consumers about problems they had experienced with home repairs and home improvement projects’. As a result the OFT together with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Trading Standards and Local Authority Building Control and Planning departments, launched a campaign to raise awareness amongst consumers around how to manage home repairs and building works.  The toolkit considered that raising public awareness through the media would be the most effective way of dealing with this issue, however, below I offer some practical suggestions that should be considered when engaging building and repair works:

1. Do your homework

Always take the time to do some research to find out about the people you are thinking of using. How long have they been trading?, do they have a website, if so are there examples of their work?, are there previous customer reviews. Have they got a track record for the type of work you require? Do they have the accreditation they claim?  If you cannot find this information on-line, then ask for details of previous similar work that has been carried out and contact details. Good builder/tradespeople are proud of their work and would be more than happy for you to talk to their ‘satisfied customers’. If a builder/tradesperson is not willing to provide this information for you then do not employ them!

2. Obtain alternative quotations

Never appoint a builder/tradesperson on the basis of one quotation. When you go to a supermarket you often have the choice of numerous similar products, which you will assess at in terms of quantity, quality and cost. You will consider these factors and then make an informed choice. This is exactly the same approach you should take when considering home improvements or building works. If you instruct building work from the first quotation you receive it is the same as going into to supermarket and picking up and paying for the first thing you see. How can you be sure you have got good value for money.

3. Get things in writing

All quotations should be received in writing.  Failure to receive a written quotation can lead to disputes and misinterpretation in what you ‘thought’ you had been told and what is actually provided. Legally, there is such thing as a verbal contract, the problem is, how can you prove someone had said something, if they are claiming otherwise?  Written quotations will avoid this, however it would also be wise to have the quotation broken down into as much detail as possible.  A detailed breakdown, with costs attached to each item, will reduce uncertainty, for yourself and the builder. Also, do the costs include VAT?

4. Payment

It is common practice for a builder/tradesperson to request an upfront payment for ‘materials’. I would suggest that as part of accepting the quotation that you also agree a payment schedule, which will include any upfront payments. Payments should be spread over the duration of the works and based on progress with a final payment held back until the work is complete. Never pay large sums of the works cost upfront. Only pay the builder/tradesperson for the work they have completed. Always be mindful that you are in a position that if the builder/tradesperson failed to complete the works (for whatever reason), have you got enough money left in the project to pay someone else to complete it? If the answer is no then you have probably paid too much too soon.

5. Never accept cold callers

Never be tempted into considering ‘deals’ from cold callers. Many of the horror stories we hear relate to those who have felt pressurised into paying for work they did not need, was far too expensive (sometimes extortionate), and completed to a very low standard (or sometimes not completed at all). Avoid cold callers at all costs. We have possibly all been in a situation where we open our front door and are greeted by someone who appears to be plausible and knowledgeable, however do not be fooled! You will undoubtedly be offered the deal of the century, however in life you get what you pay for, so to quote a popular phrase, ‘if it appears to good to be true, it probably is’.

Typical ways in which you may be approached may include:

‘I am working over the road and noticed that you have some damaged tiles on your roof.  While I’m here, I’ve got my ladders and just happen to have some spare tiles, do you want me to take a look?  Answer - NO!

‘I’ve just re-surfaced your neighbour’s driveway and I’ve got materials left over. While I’m here I can do you’re drive for a really cheap price, but I can only do it today. What do you think?  Answer – NO!

‘We are in the area today only and offering significant unrepeatable discounts for a small number of customers who agree for us to use your property for marketing purposes. We will take pictures of the work we do and include it in our marketing literature’ Answer – NO!

‘You will need to sign up now. The manufactures price is increasing after today’Answer – NO!

‘I will give you a good deal for cash’ Answer – NO! - If this is suggested it should immediately raise alarm bells as, firstly it is illegal and will undoubtedly be work ‘off the books’, thereby avoiding tax and VAT payments. Anyone who is prepared to suggest work in this way is not the type of person you can have an faith or confidence in as there honesty is already compromised.


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, May 16, 2016

10 Tallest Buildings in the World - In Pictures



The World's 10 Current Completed Tallest Buildings (at May 2016)

In last week’s article I discussed the human desire to construct high rise buildings and posed the question: Is there a limit to how high we can build?’.  The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), have formulated a list from their database (link) which shows completed, under construction and planned ‘skyscrapers’ over the coming years, demonstrating that construction and demand for high rise buildings is on the increase.   This week I wanted to publish details of the 10 current completed highest buildings in the world, as detailed the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) database:

Number 1

Burj  Khalifa  - Dubai - UAE  - 828 Metres  - 2717 Feet - 163 Floors - Completed 2010 

Source: foundtheworld.com
Number 2

Shanghai Tower - Shanghai - China - 632 Metres - 2073 Feet - 128 Floors - Completed 2015


Source:www.latimes.com
Number 3


Makkah Royal Clock Tower Hotel - Mecca - Saudi Arabia - 601 Metres - 1972 Feet - 120 Floors - Completed 2012

Source: www.independent.co.uk
Number 4

One World Trade Centre - New York - USA - 
451 Metres - 1776 Feet - 94 Floors - Completed 2015

Source: www.aecom.com
Number 5

Taipei 101 - Taipei - China - 508 Metres - 1667 Feet - 101 Floors - Completed 2004 

Source: www.taipei-101.com.tw
Number 6

Shanghai World Financial Centre - Shanghai - China - 
492 Metres - 1614 Feet - 101 Floors - Completed 2008
Source: www.telegraph.co.uk
Number 7

International Commerce Centre - Hong Kong - 484 Metres - 1588 Feet - 108 Floors -Completed 2010

Source: www.architecturalrecord.com
Numbers 8&9 

Petronas Towers - Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia - 452 Metres - 1482 Feet - 88 Floors -Completed 1998

Source: blog.123hotels.com
Number 10

Zifeng Tower - Nanjing - China - 450 Metres - 1476 Feet - 89 Floors - Completed 2010 

Source :skyscrapercenter.com

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, May 9, 2016

Is there a limit to how high we can build?



On May 6th 1954 when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, there were many who thought that this would never be beaten.  The record has been broken a further eighteen times since then..... This also seems to be the case with high rise buildings, motivated by our human desire ‘to go one better’ than the previous best.

Burj Khalifa Tower - Source: www.youtube.com
Sometimes we have to stand in awe at the creativity and innovativity of the human race, where we are constantly stretching the boundaries of possibility. This is well demonstrated around the globe with the large amount of high rise buildings that are either in the process of being constructed, or have actually been completed. Demand for high rise buildings is on the increase, which is demonstrated by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), who have formulated a list from their database which shows completed, under construction and planned ‘skyscrapers’ over the coming years.  Click on this (link) to take a look at this list where you will notice that if all of the proposed and under construction buildings are completed, then by 2021, only three of the current top 10 buildings (Burj Kalifa, Shanghai Tower and Makkah Royal Clock Tower), will remain in the top 10 buildings, and in fact only five of the current top 20 buildings, will still appear in the top 20 by 2022.  These statistics are staggering, however they demonstrate our inate desire to build big.  At the top of the list of proposed tall buildings is the Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This is now under construciton and projected for completion in 2018. It is expected to cost in excess of $1.2bn, and form the first phase of a wider Kingdom City scheme that is estimated in the region of $2bn.  Kingdom Tower will rise to 1000 metres, which will exceed the current completed tallest building (Burj Kalifa – Dubai), by a further 172 metres.

The tallest building in the European Union is currently The Shard’ in London. Completed in 2012. The building stands at what now seems to be a modest 309.6 metres, when you take into consideration the buildings on the CTBUH list.  In fact if all of the under construction and planned buildings on the list are completed, The Shard will not even appear in the top hundred and fifty buildings in the World by 2021, even though it currently sits as the 80th highest completed building in the World.

Kingdom Tower, Jeddah - Under Construction - Source: www.youtube.com
There are a number of reason that may motivate investment in a high rise building, including, scarcity of land in large cities (often their central business districts), increasing demand for business and residential space, economic growth, human aspiration to build higher, innovations  in structural systems and products and ultimately prestige. However, planning and constructing a large building comes with many challenges that are less of an issue for smaller buildings.  This includes things such as finance, planning restrictions, energy use (although many new buildings are adopting renewable and other technologies), structural considerations, circulation in what effectively becomes a vertical street, external fa├žade (fixing, maintenance and cleaning), internal environment to achieve human comfort, and so on.  The more high rise buildings that are built, then the more these issues are better understood, however as we stretch the boundaries and construct even higher, then we are likely to encounter further obstacles that we may not have previously contemplated.

As an example let us consider one of the fundamental needs, water supply, in a very high building.  If we consider the provision of a water supply pipe from the bottom of the building to the top, it is easy to imagine why this could prove to be problematic.  As previously stated the current highest building in the World is 828 metres high.  Therefore trying to ensure that the water supply travels such a long distance in a vertical direction and can be used at the right pressure when needed is never going to be straightforward:

‘Plumbing is one of the more challenging problems to solve due to the loss in pressure as water travels up a vertical pipe. Plumbing engineers found out that as you lift water above a datum, you lose 1 pound per square inch for every 2.3 feet of elevation. This small but incremental loss makes achieving high water pressure at the top of a water column very difficult. Most water fixtures require at least 25 psi to operate or flush properly, so measures to ensure consistent water pressure throughout the building must be implemented. As the building get taller, another problem arises as the water pressure at the bottom of a vertical pipe becomes too great for safe operation and building codes’
                       
‘The early solution to this problem was a water tank mounted on the top of a building with fill pumps at the bottom of the building.  Water is supplied to occupants through a simple gravity down feed system.  Today, a system of pressure-reducing valves and sub-risers are used to manage the inconsistent water pressure throughout a skyscraper. Pressure-reducing valves reduce the pressure at the bottom of the building, while sub-risers increase the pressure for the skyscrapers upper floors. Today’s systems lack a main tank, but rather integrate the whole system within a buildings walls and basement’ (Source: http://www.allaboutskyscrapers.com/)

The above discusses a single issue to demonstrate the complexity of design issues in respect of building higher. Other issues such as sewage, lifts, emergency escape, fire fighting provision, earthquakes (and many others ) etc. could equally have been selected, as they pose significant design challenges for very high buildings.  Despite this it appears from buildings on the CTBUH list, that these issues are not standing in the way of buildings becoming evermore higher. This then poses a question. ‘Is there a limit to how high we can build?’ Well, at present it appears not, but surely there has to be a limit?  On May 6th 1954 when Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile, there were many who thought that this would never be beaten.  The record has since been broken a further eighteen times since then, with the current record being held by Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj achieving a time of 3.43.13 in Rome in 1999.  This also seems to be the case with high rise buildings, motivated by our human desire ‘to go one better’ than the previous best.

Who knows what human ingenuity will produce in the future? The possibilities seem endless. In fact take a look at the list of ‘all’ tall buildings on the CTBUH database and you will see that there is a ‘vision’ to build at a height of 4000 metres in Tokyo, Japan. This is four times higher than the Jeddah Tower which will become the new highest building in the World when completed in a few years time. This vision appears hard to believe however I am sure many thought the same about a human being running a mile in less than four minutes prior to 1953, so you never know……..

Try to take the time to look at this fascinating documentary which shows how the current highest building in the World was constructed.


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, 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.