Document 196637

How to inspect
your home
A do-it-yourself
guide for
Written by
Mangal Singh
Contents Introduction
Page 3
All rooms and areas
Outside windows
Paths and fences
Casement windows
Outside doors
Natural lighting and ventilation
Special dangers
Page 4
Page 4
Page 4
Page 4
Page 5
Page 5
Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10 Page 10
Page 10
Page 11 Bathrooms
Page 12
Shared areas
Page 14
Page 15
Page 16 Page 17 Electrical light fittings
Electrical power fittings
Wall structure
Flat roofs
Pitched roofs
Parts of a roof
Parts of a Chimney
Gutters, downpipes and soil pipes
Diagnosing problems and sorting them out
Outside doors
Wall structure
Flat roofs
Pitched roofs
Gutters and downpipes
Page 18
Page 18 Page 18 Page 19 Page 19
Page 20 Page 21
Page 22 Page 23
Page 23
Page 23
Page 23
Page 24
Page 24
Page 24
Page 25
Page 25
Page 25
Page 25
Page 26
Page 26
Page 27
Finding a builder
Page 28
Employing a builder
Page 30
Page 32
Useful contacts
Page 34
Introduction This guide is to help you identify common faults which need repairing. It will give you a
clear idea of the kind of problems to look for as you walk around your home. The guide
concentrates mainly on items which just need repairing, but also covers some items that
could be a danger and make your home unsafe.
This guide will cover:
questions which apply to all rooms and areas; bathrooms; shared areas such as landings and stairs; kitchens; and inspections outside. The main problems to look for are: • dampness;
• any part of a property that doesn’t work in the way it should;
• any service (for example gas, water, electricity or drainage) which does not work as
it should;
• any items that could affect the health, safety or comfort of any person in the household; and • any part of a property that is damaged by dampness or wear and tear or has perhaps been damaged by other repair work. This is not a full list. We have to include less frequent problems which need more detailed
explanation. The checklist should help cover over 90% of faults you are likely to find.
Please note
While we have taken care when producing this guide, it does not replace specialist advice
in appropriate cases. As a result, we cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage
caused by you relying on the accuracy of the information in it.
1 All rooms and areas Ceilings
These are usually made of plaster and plasterboard.
• Are there any cracks, holes or uneven areas?
• Is there any dampness or mould growth?
• Is the surface of the ceiling firm and secure?
• Is it crumbling?
• Is the ceiling cracked or bulging and likely to fall in some areas?
• Check kitchen ceilings for gloss-painted polystyrene tiles as these can be easily set
on fire and the fire will spread quickly because of the paint and the tiles.
These are usually built of bonding plaster or plasterboard.
• Can you see cracks, holes or uneven areas?
• Is there any dampness or mould growth?
• Is the surface firm and secure?
• Is it soft or crumbling?
• Is the plaster cracked or bulging and likely to fall off in some areas?
• Is the skirting board securely fixed to all walls?
• Has it got holes in it or is it soft, damp or rotten?
• Are the decorations discoloured? Can you see blisters or other faults (for example,
peeling wallpaper due to damp)?
• Have dangerous materials been used, for example, asbestos, gloss-painted
polystyrene tiles? Asbestos is not easy to identify just by sight. If you think
you may have asbestos, do not disturb the area and get professional help.
Tap any suspect areas of plasterwork to see if they sound hollow compared to the rest of
the wall surface.
• Is the floor even and free from holes?
• Is the structure (for example, concrete screed or floor joists) sound and free from
movement, cracking, lifting or dampness?
• Is the floor covering (for example, boards, chipboard or tiles) firmly secured to the
structure underneath?
• Are there large gaps between floorboards?
• Are tiles cracked, missing, lifting, or are there any holes in them?
• Is there any sign of rot or woodworm?
• Are there any deep cracks or splits along or across the grain of the timber?
• Are there any fungus-like growths?
It is not always easy to spot problems with floor joists. Try looking for any significant
movement or springiness when walking on the floorboards.
Outside of windows
• Is the woodwork soft or rotten?
• Has the putty shrunk away from the glazing?
• Is the putty cracked or missing?
• Are glazing beads damaged or allowing water to be held against the wood for long
periods of time?
• Does the sill stick out enough on the outside wall, together with a drip groove? A
drip groove is a thin channel that is formed on the underside of the sill. Its purpose
is to ‘throw off’ the water that collects on the window and prevent it from soaking the
Use a small tip of a key to press lightly against the most vulnerable part of a window
frame, for example, lower areas and particularly at timber joints, to check for any rot.
Paths and fences
• Are any paths or steps uneven, cracked or damaged?
• Do they drain and not fill with pools of water after rain or ice?
• Are garden walls structurally safe and in good repair?
• Are fences and gates in a reasonable state of repair?
Windows Sash windows
These traditional windows include two
sashes, which are bits of the window that
contain the glass. These slide vertically
past each other to let air in. They are
controlled by large weights that are
hidden within the frame and connected to
the sashes by pieces of rope or sash
cord. They are usually made of wood.
Sash cords
These are lengths of rope that are fixed to
the sashes and tied to the sash weights.
Sash weights
These are heavy cast iron or lead weights
inside the window frame that
counterbalance the sliding sash windows.
Sash cord
Sash cord
Bottom sash
• Do the windows open and shut
• When the windows are shut, are
there gaps between the windows
and frames?
• Is all wood, inside and out, in good
condition or is any of it rotting?
• Are the sash cords still in place
and working?
• Is any of the glass broken or
• Is the putty cracked or missing?
• Do the catches and fasteners
Casement windows Parts of a casement window
This type of window opens on hinges, usually hung
at the side. Although wood windows are common,
they can also be made of metal and UPVC.
Opening toplight
Fixed light
Casement fastener
Casement stay
Outside doors
• Is the door warped, distorted or damaged in any way?
• Does it open and shut easily?
• Is any glass cracked or missing?
• Is the door held tightly shut by its latch or lock?
• Is it close-fitting when closed? Are there draughts round the edge of the door when
• Are all handles, catches and locks in good working order?
• Outside, where the door fits into the opening in the structure, is there a good quality sealant or cement mortar to prevent wind and weather getting in?
• Is there any dampness, rot or mould growth to any part of the door or its frame?
• Are the outside surfaces of the door and frame well protected with paint or stain?
Or, is that protective layer cracked, peeling or missing?
• Is the threshold sound and even?
• Are steps to the front or back doors sound, secure and level?
Carefully inspect the door when shut from both sides. Open and shut each door. Look for a
good fit, whether it opens and closes easily and whether it can be held shut by the latch.
Security Staple or keep
Night latch or
‘Yale’ lock
• Are all the radiators, boilers or appliances securely fixed where necessary?
• Is there any sign of leaking from valves, radiators or pipework?
• Can you feel heat from all parts of the radiator surface (after bleeding them if necessary) or are there cold spots? • Are all chimneys and flues working correctly?
• Does anybody in your home suffer from headaches, nausea, chronic tiredness or
muscular weakness, which might be associated with carbon monoxide poisoning?
Speak to a CORGI-registered engineer urgently to check the gas appliances.
• Do gas fires burn with an irregular flame, perhaps yellow or orange? Is there any
staining, sooting or discoloration around the gas fire?
• In any open coal fireplace, are the grate and fireback in good working condition?
• Do central-heating programmers, room thermostats or thermostatic radiator valves
work efficiently?
Most plumbing work is in the kitchen and bathroom. However, other items are often
spread throughout a house or flat. For instance, the hot-water tank and cold-water storage
tanks are often on a landing or in a bedroom. The cold-water tank is sometimes in the loft.
• Are the hot-water tank and cold-water cistern (and their pipework) free from rust
and leaks?
• Is there a cover to the cold-water tank?
• Do the tank or pipes knock or make a hammering noise?
• Is the cold-water tank supported well enough?
• Is hot and cold water available at all sinks, baths, showers and basins?
• Are any lead pipes used?
• Do pipes in the cellar, or cold areas, freeze regularly?
Natural lighting and ventilation
• Is there enough natural lighting in each room?
• Is there enough artificial lighting to be able to move safely around the whole property, especially stairs? • Does every room have an opening window or any other form of ventilation?
• Are any light switches in places which could present a real danger? (for example,
do you have to switch on a first-floor landing light by going downstairs or into a
bedroom, rather than by using a switch on the landing itself?) You must have
two-way switches for stairs.
Special dangers
• Are there any trip steps (in other words, single steps) which provide a sudden
change in level (for example, outside a room)?
• Is there any non-safety glass at low levels or in doors? Non-safety glass is a thin,
plain glass that breaks easily and can leave sharp edges where someone could
injure themselves. Safety glass on the other hand specially constructed and
laminated. It may have wire mesh and if broken it will shatter in places and will not
leave sharp edges.
• Are there any other dangers that could affect anyone, but might particularly affect
the very young and the frail?
2 Bathrooms Parts of a toilet
Toilet seat
Connection to drains
• Is there a working hot-water and cold-water supply to your bath or shower and to a
wash basin?
• Is there a reasonable rate of flow from the taps?
• Are the bath, shower tray, basin and toilet bowl free from cracks and can you clean
hygienic surfaces easily?
• Is the toilet seat fixed and in good condition?
• Is there sealant between the bath and any surround and between any tiles or similar
forming a splashback to the basin?
• Is the toilet bowl securely fixed to the floor?
• Is the toilet easy to flush and does all the wastewater disappear without any
problem or leaks to the junction with the soil pipe?
Is there enough space to be able to use the bath, shower and toilet?
• Is any extraction fan in good working order?
• Are all tile surfaces secure and free from cracks?
• Are all waste pipes in good condition and do they slope enough to allow all
wastewater to flow away easily?
• Is the basin securely fixed to the wall?
Are all surfaces in the bathroom easy to clean?
Turn on all taps to test them and flush the toilet, watching for any leaks. Push the toilet
bowl to see if it is securely fixed to the floor.
3 Shared areas Parts of a staircase
Newel post
Tread of stair Handrail
Wall string of
Open string of
Newel post
• Natural lighting is particularly important – is there good artificial light for the
Are the stairs very steep?
Are the treads very narrow?
• Are all the risers firm and free from movement?
Are stair treads worn, damaged, loose, sloping or unequal in height?
Is there a secure handrail which you can use all the way down the stairs?
Are any balusters or newel posts secure and well fixed?
• Could a 100mm (four-inch) ball pass through any balustrade? (If so, a young
child could slip through too.)
Is the wall string coming away from the wall?
4 Kitchens •
Are work surfaces adequate, in a hygienic condition and easy to clean?
• Is there enough storage space for food and kitchen equipment?
• Is there enough space in the kitchen to be able to prepare and cook food and to
allow other people through the kitchen?
• Are the floor, wall and ceiling surfaces easy to clean?
• Is there either an electric cooker control unit with 15-amp supply or a gas supply
point so a cooker can be connected?
• Are all tiled surfaces secure and free from cracks?
• Are all waste pipes sound and undistorted and with enough of a slope to allow all
wastewater to flow away easily?
Electrical light fittings Batten lamp holder
Single light switch
• Do any of the light bulbs blow regularly?
• Do fuses blow or circuit breakers operate frequently? • Is there at least one power socket in all bedrooms and living rooms? • Do you have to use adapters and long trailing flexes? • Is any electrical cable mounted on a wall surface and otherwise unprotected? • There should be no power sockets in the bathroom and only pull switches for the light. Ceiling rose
Electrical power fittings Double electrical socket
Fused switch with pilot lamp
Cooker control unit
• Do you have any old-fashioned wiring to light pendants or to power sockets? Old
wiring consists of rubber cables or single-flex wiring twisted together. These
types of wirings can be dangerous if the insulation becomes exposed.
• Are there any Bakelite (round) light switches or round power sockets?
• Are any light switches, power socket outlets or other electrical apparatus
cracked, broken or insecure?
• Is any of the wiring brittle or bare?
• Are any power sockets blackened or failing to work?
• Do any plugs get hot when you use a particular socket?
5 Outside Wall structure
Walls can be made of a wide variety of materials. This section focuses on brick but many
of the same questions will apply to other materials.
• Are the bricks in a good condition, or are they crumbling or loose?
• Is the cement mortar soft or crumbling or does it have holes in some areas?
• If the coat on the outside of the building is cement render, is this free from cracks,
holes and blisters?
• Are there any cracks to the walls, and if so, how wide and long are they?
• Where are the cracks and in what direction do they run (for example, vertically, or
• Does any wall bow or bulge in any way?
• Is any concrete cracked or, if it is reinforced is it rusting or exposed?
• If you can see a damp-proof course, make sure that any render or raised garden
level is not bridging the damp-proof course. If it does, dampness will be able to get
inside the property.
• Does the ground around the building and paths drain all rainwater away from the
• Are any arches or lintels sagging or cracked?
• Are there signs of dampness, such as staining, salt deposits or plant growth on wall
• Do overflow pipes drip water continuously?
If you think the main structure is moving, stand right beside the wall at a corner of the
building and check if you can see whether any part of the wall is not aligned.
Flat roofs
• Can you see cracking, humps, crumbling blisters or splits to the roof covering?
• Is the roof sloped enough to allow all the rainwater to drain away satisfactorily?
• Can you see sagging or humping to the main roof structure?
• Is there any solar protection to the roof surface (for example, loose white chippings
or light-coloured paint)?
To inspect the condition of a roof, if possible look from a window overlooking the roof – do
not try to climb on the roof.
Pitched roofs
• Are hip and ridge tiles secure and well pointed (pointing is the cement mortar
between the tiles)?
• Are all gable verges well pointed?
• Are any slates or tiles cracking, crumbling, flaking, slipped or missing?
• Is there any sagging or humping to the main roof structure?
• Are gutters and downpipes securely fixed and free from leaks, particularly at joints?
Are they also free from blockages and rubbish, holes and even weed growth?
• Are gutters positioned so they collect all the rain from the roof and then direct it
straight to the nearest downpipe?
• Are downpipes and soil pipes securely fixed to the walls and free from rust, holes
and any leaks at their joints?
• If the guttering is attached to a fascia board and there are also horizontal boards
underneath the area where the roof sticks out over the wall, are these free from rot,
holes and other faults and protected by paintwork in good condition?
Check that gutters slope towards the downpipe and not the opposite way.
• Can you smell sewage?
• Are inspection chamber covers free from cracks and holes? Will they safely take
the weight of people or vehicles?
• Do the covers sit tightly in their frames?
• Are all gulley drains free from cracks, holes and in good repair, so that
wastewater does not get into the house structure or the surrounding area?
• Is there a gulley cover in place?
Verge of roof
Stepped flashings
Ridge tiles
Parts of a roof
Pitched and flat roofs
Verge - the edge of the roof that sticks out beyond the gable wall.
Flaunching - the cement layer between the top of the chimney stack and the
base of the chimney pot.
Ridge and hip tiles - large rounded or angular tiles that cover the junction of
two different roof slopes.
Flashing - the waterproof layer covering the junction of the chimney stack and
the roof covering. This is usually made out of lead but can be a layer of cement
Stepped flashing - same as flashing but the top edge is cut in steps to the
regular shape of the bricks.
This is part of the flashing
which extends across the
face of the chimney and
waterproofs the junction of
the chimney and the roof
Parts of a chimney
• Are any pots or flues cracked, loose or leaning?
• Has the mortar flaunching on the top got any cracks or holes?
• Is the whole chimney stack vertical or does it lean?
• Is the cement mortar pointing worn away or missing, or does it have holes
in it?
• If there’s any render coat, is it free from cracks and holes?
• Are all the flashings and soakers in place and secure?
• Are the flashings well pointed?
Gutters, downpipes and soil pipes Fascia board
Stop end
Gutter bracket
Gutter outlet
Swan neck of
Rain water pipe
Pipe clip or
RWP shoe
Drainage gulley
6 Diagnosing problems and sorting them out Ceilings
It is quite common for older plaster ceilings to crack. Occasionally it is caused by the
materials used but the most likely causes are vibration and structural deflection of the floor
(where the floor joists have become weak and the movement on the floor causes the
ceiling underneath to crack). Another cause for ceilings to crack is water damage from a
roof leak. If the plaster has partly collapsed, it will usually be more economical to replace
the whole ceiling rather than try to patch it up. If, when you tap the ceiling it sounds
hollow, it may mean that the ceiling plaster is coming away from its backing and so could
collapse. In this situation you should arrange to have the ceiling carefully removed. Some
textured finishes to ceilings might contain asbestos. If you are not sure, contact a
specialist asbestos remover or the council who will be able to offer advice. Once the
ceiling has been removed, you need to place plasterboard in a staggered position. Once
in place the joints will need to be taped with a plasterboard scrim and then plastered, with
a finish.
With older properties, plasterwork tends to become soft and perished. If this happens it
loses its ability to stick to the walls. You should hack all the loose plaster off the wall, and
brush the wall surface clean with a stiff bristle or wire brush. You can then replaster after
applying a bonding agent. The choice of plaster type is also extremely important. Use the
correct type of plaster for the particular surface you are applying it to. Your supplier will be
able to advise you on this. If there are signs of dampness, you must get these checked
out and put the problem right before removing any plasterwork and repatching.
You can usually split faults in floors between those which happen in the structure and
those in the finish. Faults in the structure are usually down to faulty floor joists, which may
be damaged by rot. Also, particularly on older properties, where the joists fix into the
walls, they tend to deflect because they are not fixed properly. If the floor bounces when
you walk on it, you would need to investigate this. Faults in the finish happen by the
floorboards being damaged through rot or if the boards have not been fixed correctly, with
the correct nails or screws. Installing central heating in a property is probably the most
common improvement carried out. It is standard practice to hide the pipe runs beneath the
flooring. This usually involves cutting notches and holes in the joists, often with little
regard to the structure of the floor. This cutting may also have been carried out for cables
and conduits. Building regulations lay down strict limits on the size and position of holes
and notches. The joists will be weakened if these holes and notches are bigger than
allowed. If this has happened, you need to replace or strengthen the joists.
Many different types of fungi will attack wood by growing on it. The particular type
depends on the type of wood and where it is. The two common types of wood fungi found
in buildings are wet rot and dry rot. Dry rot spread more quickly than wet rot but the
results of both can look very similar. If you have evidence of wet or dry rot or of
woodworm, call in a specialist. The treatment needed may range from renewing timbers to
spraying joists.
If there are signs of dampness on solid ground floors, this may be a result of leaking
plumbing within the floors. You would need to investigate and cut off the faulty section.
Also in some cases the dampness may be due to a failure of the damp-proof membrane
(DPM) or even not having one. The damp-proof membrane acts as a barrier preventing
any moisture from the ground rising through the floor.
Inevitably, old wooden casements and sash windows will have deteriorated to some
extent. However, regular maintenance and prompt repairs will preserve the windows. The
bottom rail of a softwood sash is most vulnerable to rot, particularly if it is left unprotected.
Rainwater seeps in behind old shrunken putty and moisture is gradually absorbed through
cracked or flaking paintwork. Cut out the old putty that has shrunk away from the glass
and replace it. Remove flaking paint and make good any cracks in the wood with flexible
filler. Then repaint them. If the rot has spread and the rail is beyond repair, you should cut
it out and replace it. Do this before the rot spreads, otherwise you will eventually have to
replace the whole window. If you replace windows with double-glazed units, it will have to
be checked and approved by the local-authority building control officer to meet building
Doors outside
Most doorframes on the outside of the property are built of softwood, and this, if it is
regularly maintained with a good paint system, will give years of excellent service.
However, the ends of door sills and the frame posts are vulnerable to wet rot if they are
often getting wet. This can happen when the frame has moved because the timber has
shrunk, or if old pointing has fallen out and left a gap where water can get through. Or, old
and porous brickwork or an ineffective damp-proof course can be the cause of damage.
The correct sealant provides a watertight seal and tends not to deteriorate due to weather
conditions outside. Keep all pointing in good repair.
Rot can attack the ends of doorposts where they meet stone steps or are set into concrete,
especially in a doorway that is regularly exposed to driving rain. If the damage is not too
widespread, the rotten end can be cut away and replaced with a new piece cut in.
Many residents have opted for central heating which includes a boiler and radiators. You
should get your system checked by a CORGI-registered engineer each year. The
engineer will make sure that the system is working efficiently and safely. In older systems
you don’t often get leaks. These are mainly around radiator valves. If this happens, these
will need to be replaced. In rare cases the radiator itself will start leaking. This problem is
caused by bad design and how the central heating system was installed. Also after a
period of years the heat to the radiators may not be circulating effectively. If this happens,
you may need to have the system flushed with a de-scale chemical and inhibitor. This will
improve the performance of the system. Finally if you have a gas fire, this needs to be
regularly serviced as a blocked chimney or incorrect burning flame may start to produce
carbon monoxide which can kill.
A common problem is where the cold-water storage tank or the toilet cistern starts
overflowing out of the warning pipe. The most likely cause for this happening is the float
valve becoming faulty. The water inlet inside the valve is usually sealed with a washer but
modern valves have a large diaphragm instead, designed to protect the mechanism from
scale. If the inlet isn’t sealed properly, water continues to feed into the cistern and
escapes via the overflow. Because some overflow pipes can’t cope with a full flow of
mains water, repair a dripping float valve before the flow becomes a torrent. Another
problem that happens, which is particularly annoying, is ‘water hammer’ or pipework
knocking. The source of the problem can be extremely hard to find. It can be caused by
loose or inadequately clipped pipework or the float valve in the cistern or cold-water tank
vibrating when it fills up. If this is the cause of the nuisance, you can replace the float
valve with a special float valve which will compensate for the vibration. This is known as
the ’equilibrium float valve’.
To avoid having burst pipes, you should protect pipework with lagging, particularly if
pipework is based in cellars.
Check your electrical system to make sure it meets your needs. Check if the wiring
appears old or the cables are frayed. Also check to see if you have enough sockets
outlets or lighting for your needs. Never carry out any work to your electrical system
unless you are competent to do so. You should consult a fully qualified electrician,
preferably a person registered with the National Inspection Council for Electrical
Installation Contracting (NICEIC).
Structure of walls
Look out for cracks in the walls, both inside and out. Cracked plaster may simply be the
result of shrinkage, but if you can see the fault on the outside, it may mean that you have
problems with the foundation. If the problem is caused by subsidence, it is likely that the
foundations will need to be underpinned. However, speak to a qualified structural
engineer to carry out an inspection and produce a report. Also check your building
insurance as most policies cover problems with your foundations moving. As well as
foundation problems causing cracking to the walls, there are other possibilities, for
example, wall ties failing and lintels becoming faulty. These cannot hold the load-bearing
wall above it and so allow the wall to crack. In these situations the remedial work needed
to put the problem right, will be to install new wall ties and replace the lintels. If you notice
bulging on an outside wall, this is likely to be due to the wall ties failing and, in some
cases, no wall ties at all, particularly in older properties. The purpose of the wall ties is to
secure the outside wall with the floor joists. The ties are spaced out evenly along the wall.
They become faulty due to weather conditions.
Flat roofs
Timber-framed flat roofs are used for main roofs, extensions at the back of the properties
and outbuildings. The best approach for repairing a flat roof depends on its general
condition and age and how much damage there is. If the surface of the covering has
decayed, as may happen to some bitumen felts, it may be a good idea to have the
complete roof covered again. If damp patches appear on a ceiling, it is clear the roof
needs attention. While it is easy to find the exact cause of the problem, a damp patch
close to the wall would suggest that the flashing has broken down. You can normally
repair minor splits and blisters using self-adhesive repair tape. A more complicated
problem with flat roofs is condensation causing dampness. If warm, moist air permeates
the ceiling, the vapour condenses under the cold roof and encourages rot in the structural
timbers. In these cases, you can now upgrade the ceiling with a vapour barrier and fit
some type of ventilation. Otherwise, have the roof recovered and include better insulation.
Pitched roofs
A roof structure can fail as a result of rotten timber caused by poor weatherproofing,
condensation or insects. It can also suffer from overloading, especially if the timbers were
not strong enough in the first place. It is important to check that new roofing is not too
heavy and to make sure that a window opening has adequate lintels above the window.
You can often see a sagging roof from street level, but it pays to inspect the roof structure
closely from inside.
Rot in roof timbers is a serious problem, which professionals should deal with immediately.
Rot is the result of damp conditions that encourage wood-rotting fungi to grow. Inspect the
roof covering closely for loose and damaged slates or tiles near the rot. On a pitched roof,
water may be getting through the covering at a higher level, so the leak may not be
immediately obvious. If the rot is close to a gable wall, it is probably the flashing. Rot can
also be the result of condensation. Better ventilation is the usual remedy.
You must keep the roof and upper parts of a building, such as chimneys and parapet
walls, in good condition if they are to stay weatherproof. If the roof covering fails, it can
cause expensive deterioration of the timber structure underneath, the plasterwork inside
and decoration. When carrying out an inspection, make sure that tiles or slates have not
been dislodged or slipped. A slate can slip out of place because the nails have rusted.
Replace or fix the slates immediately before high winds strip them off the roof.
If you decide to have the roof recovered in new tiles, you will need building regulations
approval. You will need to strengthen the roof structure and provide enough ventilation
and insulation.
When inspecting chimneys it may be an idea to borrow a pair of binoculars, so you can
inspect the chimney stack closely. If there are signs that pointing or rendering is missing,
you need to sort this out or water will leak in. Also check to see if the lead flashing aprons
have become dislodged or missing, as their purpose is to make sure that the roof is
watertight. If you notice that the chimney stack is leaning dangerously, contact a structural
engineer or surveyor to inspect this. It is possible to have a chimney stack removed, but
you need to get building control approval from the local authority.
Gutters and downpipes
If you inspect the gutter and downpipes and you notice that water has run onto the wall,
this may be as a result of a leaking gutter joint or blocked gutter or downpipe. If you
replace cast-iron half-round gutter, you should use 125mm plastic half-round gutter and
not 100mm. If not, the water will overflow when it rains heavily.
7 Finding a builder
Ten-point checklist to help you find the right builder
Draw up a shortlist of four or five builders. Include at least two from your local area so you
avoid paying their travelling charges.
Invite the builders to give you a detailed and written quotation for the work (not an
estimate). If you have had plans drawn up for the works, wait till these have been
approved as it will prove difficult, if not impossible, to get anything but a vague estimate
without plans.
Attention to detail
Consider how detailed the quotation is. Does it refer to the drawing numbers, details and
so on? Did the builder spend time inspecting the site according to the plans?
Trade association
Check to see if the builders advertise any trade-association membership, and check
whether their membership is valid with the association. Do they offer a warranty?
Previous work
Ask for a list of previous contracts recently completed (within the last two years), and once
you have received it, choose one or two of them and ask if it would be possible to view the
work or speak to the owners. Most builders are happy to arrange this if they have satisfied
clients. Others may not be able to make such arrangements. If so, ask if it would be
possible to visit one of their current sites to see the work in progress.
Site Visit
If you can visit a site in progress, you can gain a valuable insight into the builder’s work,
even if you don’t have any building knowledge. For example, consider how tidy the site is,
look to see whether materials are neatly stored and protected, and check how many
workers are on site. A site with few people which is quiet might indicate slow work lacking
continuity. A chaotic, overcrowded site might suggest that work is being rushed and is
behind schedule. Is the work protected if the weather is bad?
Check to see if the builders are VAT-registered. Some builders may offer a cash price by
taking off the VAT, but you are best avoiding cash deals. Quite apart from committing a
fraud, these builders undermine reputable VAT-paying builders, reducing the industry’s
standards and affecting your contractual rights in disputes. And, the ‘cash-deal’ builder
may have already added in the VAT without declaring it on paper!
Ask to see evidence of the builder’s public liability insurance (which should provide at least
£1,000,000 worth of cover), and check that it is valid. Also discuss beforehand any
guarantees that they give you for any of the work, for example, roof and window
Banker’s reference
Ask for a banker’s reference, and avoid builders who request a deposit for materials or
whatever up-front. Those who need it are unlikely to have the financial security necessary
to carry out the work, and may already be refused credit at local builder’s merchants.
Local authority
The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s housing standards section can provide
you with a list of contractors who have signed up to our code of conduct policy. However,
we do not accept any liability for the quality or standard of work, or the action of any
contractors on this list. If this is not acceptable, you can use a contractor you choose.
8 Employing a builder
The search for a builder who is reliable, skilled and efficient can be frustrating. You hear
stories of clients being overcharged for shoddy work, or half-completed jobs. Unfortunately
some unscrupulous individuals pretend to be professional tradesmen and give the whole
industry a bad name.
Recommendation is the only safe way to find a builder. If someone whose opinion you
trust has found a professional who is skilful, reliable and easy to communicate with, the
chances are you will enjoy the same experience. Even so, you should inspect the
builder’s work yourself before you make up your mind. If a recommendation is hard to
come by, choose a builder who is a member of a reputable association such as the
Federation of Master Builders. To be a member the builder must have a good reputation
and supply bank and insurance references.
A good builder will be booked up for months ahead, so allow plenty of time to find
someone who will be free when you need him or her to start work. If a builder is very
highly recommended, you might feel you do not want to look elsewhere. But unless you
get two or three firms to estimate for the same job, you will not know whether the price is
fair. A builder who is in demand might suggest a high price because he or she really does
not need the work. On the other hand, an inexperienced builder might give you a price
that seems tempting but then cut corners or ask for more money later because they had
not anticipated all the problems that might arise before the job is completed.
Writing a specification
Unless a builder is a ‘jack of all trades’ he will have to employ electricians,
plumbers, plasterers and so on. The builder is responsible for the quality of their
work unless you agree beforehand that you will appoint the specialist yourself.
Agree to discuss anything concerning sub-contracted work with the builder. A
sub-contractor must receive clear instructions from one person only or there is
bound to be confusion.
Many of the disagreements that arise between builders and clients are as a result of not
providing enough information before the work has started. Do not give a builder vague
instructions. They may do their best to provide the kind of work they think you want, but
this might be wide of the mark. Also the builder cannot possibly quote an accurate price
unless they know exactly what you need. You do not have to write a legal document or tell
the builder how to do their job. Just write a detailed list of the work you want them to carry
out and, as far as possible, the materials you want them to use. If you have not yet made
up your mind about the wall coverings you want or the exact make of bathroom fittings, at
least say so in the specification.
The specification should include a date for starting the work and an estimate of how long it
will take. You will have to get this information from the builder when they give you their
estimate, but make sure it is added to the specification before you both agree to the terms
and price. There may be good reasons why a job does not start and finish on time.
However, at least the builder will be in no doubt that you expect them to behave
Getting an estimate
When you ask several builders to provide estimates for the work, you will receive their
costings. These will be based on current prices and the amount of information you have
supplied at the time. If you take a long time to make up your mind, or change the
specification in the meantime, prices may change. Before you officially employ a builder,
ask them for a firm quotation with a detailed breakdown of their costs. Part of that
quotation may still be estimated. If you still have not decided on certain items, you can
both agree on a provisional amount to cover them. However, make it clear that you must
be consulted before the money is spent. Also, a builder might have to employ a specialist
for some of the work, and that fee might be estimated. Try to get the builder to give a firm
price before you employ them and certainly before the work begins.
Agree on a method of payment. Many builders will complete the work before any money
changes hands; others will ask for stage payments to cover the cost of materials. If you
agree to stage payments, it must be on the understanding that you will pay for work
completed or that at least the materials will have been delivered to the site. Never agree
to an advance payment. If you make it clear to the builder before they accept the contract,
you can keep back an amount for an agreed period after the work is completed to cover
the cost of faulty workmanship. Between 5% and 10% of the overall cost is reasonable.
Neither you nor the builder can anticipate all the problems that might arise. If something
unexpected happens which affects the price for the job, ask the builder for an estimate of
costs before you decide on any action. Similarly, if you change your mind or ask for work
which is extra to the specification, you must expect to pay for any increase in costs as a
result. If you do this, agree the increase at the time, not at the end of the job.
Working with your builder
Most people find they get a better job from a builder if they create a friendly working
atmosphere. You must provide access to electricity and water if they need it for the job,
and somewhere to store materials and tools. Some mess is inevitable but a builder should
leave the site fairly tidy at the end of a working day, and you should not have to put up with
mud in areas of the house that are not part of the building site.
Unless you have an architect to supervise the job, keep your eye on the progress of the
work. You will have disagreements if you constantly interrupt the builder. Inspect the job
when the workers have left the site to satisfy yourself on the standard of the workmanship
and that it is keeping up to schedule. If you have to go out before the builder arrives, leave
a note if you want to discuss something.
9 Glossary Bonding agent
A sticky material normally applied to a smooth surface to help it to stick.
Carbon monoxide
A highly toxic, colourless and odourless gas that results from fuels not burning properly. .
Damp-proof course (DPC)
A layer that damp cannot get through which is built into a wall to prevent moisture rising.
Damp-proof membrane (DPM)
A layer that damp cannot get through which is placed in solid ground floors to prevent
moisture rising.
Dry rot
Fungi that feeds on, and destroys, damp rather than wet timber. This is most often found
in damp, poorly-ventilated under-floor spaces and roof spaces. It causes wood to lose
strength and weight, develop cracks and finally becomes so dry and powdery that it is
easily crumbled.
Floor joists
A series of timber beams used in suspended floors to span the gap between walls and
provide a flat fixing surface for the flooring.
A simple plant that can cause timber to decay, such as dry rot and wet rot.
Glazing bead
A small sectioned piece of timber or metal used to hold the glass in place.
Gypsum plaster
For use inside properties, different grades of gypsum plaster are used according to the
surface and coat. Undercoats use browning for general use and bonding for concrete;
finishing coats use finish on an undercoat or board finish for plasterboard.
Hot-water tank
A cylindrical or rectangular vessel used to hold a stored supply of hot water.
A small beam over a door or window that spans the opening and transfers the load of the
wall to both sides.
A sheet material made of a gypsum plaster core sandwiched between sheets of heavy
paper - used for wall and ceiling linings.
A woven hessian cloth used in plasterboard joints set in plaster. Its purpose is to prevent
Un-plasticised polyvinyl chloride. This material is used in making double-glazed windows.
Most homeowners replace their old wooden windows with plastic windows, as it is
extremely resistant to rot and is resistant to weathering with low maintenance.
Vapour barrier
A barrier used on the warm side of a structure to prevent water vapour passing from inside
the building into the structure. See flat roofs, on page 18.
Wet rot
Fungi that feeds on, and destroys, really wet timber rather than just damp timber. Most
often found in cellars, neglected joinery outside and rafter ends outside it. It causes wood
to soften, darken, develop cracks along the grain and lose strength.
The larva of wood-boring insects, that eats into the wood causing structural damage.
10 Useful contacts British Decorators’ Association
32 Coton Road, Nuneaton
Warwickshire, CV11 5TW
Phone: 0203 353776
Federation of Master Builders
14 Great James Street
London, WC1N 3DP
Phone: 0207 242 7583
Builders’ Merchants Federation
15 Soho Square,
London W1V 5FB
Phone: 0207 439 1753
National Federation of Roofing
24 Weymouth Street
London W1N 3FA
Phone: 0207 436 0387
Asbestos Information Centre Ltd
PO Box 69, Widnes, Cheshire
Phone: 051 420 5866
British ready Mixed Concrete
The Bury
Church Street, Chesham
Buckinghamshire, HP5 1JE
Phone: 0494 791050
National Approval Council for Security
Queensgate House, 14 Cookham Road
Maidenhead SL6 8AJ
Phone: 0628 37512
Master Locksmith Association
Units 4-5 Woodford Halse Business Park
Great Central Way, Woodford Halse
Daventry NN11 6PZ
Phone: 0327 62255
British security Industry
Security House, Barbourne Road
Worcester WR1 1RS
Phone: 0905 21464
British Wood Preserving and Damp
Proofing Association
Building No.6 The Office Village 4
Romford Road, Stratford
London E15 4EA
Phone: 0208 519 2588
Glass and Glazing Federation
44-48 Borough High Street
London SE1 1XB
Phone: 0207 403 7177
National Inspection Council for
Electrical Installation Contracting
37 Albert Embankment
London SE1 7UJ
Phone: 0207 582 7746
Institute of Plumbing
64 Station Lane, Hornchurch
Essex RM12 6NB
Phone: 01708 472791
Council for Registered Gas Installers
They keep a list of members and provide
advice on gas safety.
Phone: 01256 372 200
Royal Institute of British Architects
They keep a list of members.
Phone: 0207 251 0791
Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors
They keep a list of members.
Phone: 0207 222 7000
Rob Weaver
Group Manager Building Control
London Borough of Barking & Dagenham
127 Ripple Road, Barking IG11 7PB
Phone: 0208 227 3923
Published by London Borough of Barking and Dagenham February 2004