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Do you need a Damp and Timber Survey? Follow your instincts.

Posted by: Neil on 26/02/2018

domestic

I received an enquiry in February 2018 from a client asking my opinion as to whether they should have a Damp and Timber Survey carried out on a house they are purchasing. They had a valuation Survey carried out in which the Surveyor recommended that they obtain a Specialist Report from a Damp and Timber Specialist, preferably by a Property Care Association (PCA) accredited surveyor.

The purchaser spoke to the estate agent who was selling the property and informed them that they were requesting an additional survey by a Specialist Surveyor. The Estate Agent was not happy that they were seeking a further survey in addition to the valuation survey. The purchaser was actually quite upset at how forceful the estate agent was in dissuading them from obtaining the survey. After half an hour on the phone to the agent, the purchaser reluctantly agreed not to proceed with the survey.

In the words of the purchaser, 'I had nagging doubts in my head that we might be buying a property that had major problems and then discover that we had to find money that we do not have to carry out repairs'.Hence the phone call to my office. The purchaser explained the situation and asked what I would do. I explained that a valuation survey is very limited and will not provide an in-depth description of the condition of the survey. Buying a property based on a valuation survey carries a significant risk that underlying defects may be present that have not been reported upon. I was not having a go at the Valuation Surveyor as he or she was following instruction as to the scope of the survey required. After 35 minutes on the telephone with the client, he said he would give it some thought and come back to me if they wanted to proceed with the survey.

The following morning the client called me and asked me to proceed with the survey. He was worried about informing the estate agent of his decision and I gladly offered to call the agent directly to make arrangements with regards access to the property.

When I called the agent I was told'It is pointless having the survey carried out as the vendors will not negotiate on the price of the house so whatever you find makes no difference'.I explained that the client required the survey so they could make an informed decision with regards proceeding with the purchase. The agent reluctantly agreed to allow me to pick up the keys to the property so the survey could be carried out.

I duly carried out a full Damp & Timber Survey of the property a few days later. Was all of the effort worthwhile?

To be fair there were no significant damp issues affecting the structural walls (it is a 1945built detached bungalow with an original bitumen damp proof course) that was a big plus for the purchaser. I lifted floorboards throughout the property and carried out a full sub-floor inspection to determine the condition of the concealed joists and sub-floor timbers as well as determining the sub-floor ventilation levels.

I discovered widespread infestations of wood boring weevil affecting the sub-floor joists. The wood-boring weevil only infests damp or decaying timber. Generally, timber that has been 'predigested' by fungus. Wood-boring weevil is a very strong indicator that the timbers are affected by fungal decay. Close inspection of the timbers did indeed reveal that the underside of the joists was affected by wet rot. Running a hand along the underside of the joists often reveals a concave or warped surface of the timber (shrinkage resulting from fungal decay infection) as was the case in this instance.

The timbers were tested with an electronic moisture meter and the moisture content of the floorboards averaged 18-20% whilst the joists recorded moisture content averaging 19-24% which is high enough to sustain a fungal decay infection.

The cause of the elevated moisture levels in the sub-floor void was the lack of sub-floor ventilation. Externally, the number of air bricks serving the sub-floor appeared to be adequate. However, some of the sleeper walls (low-level walls below the floor which support the floor joists) and the partition walls were formed of solid 4.5-inch brickwork which was restricting the circulation of air across the sub-floor. Ideally, the sleeper walls should be 'honeycombed' (formed with gaps between each brick) to allow the air to circulate.

The estimated cost of carrying out the essential remedial work, i.e. replacing the structurally unsound joists, forming holes through the sleeper walls and laying new floorboards is in the region of £1,200-£1,600 excl vat. Not a small sum of money but not a huge sum of money. The real cost long term could have been many times the above figures due to more extensive outbreaks of fungal decay (in particular dry rot) which would have gone undiscovered had the client not followed his gut instinct and commisioned a survey by a Specialist Damp & Timber Surveyor (as advised by the valuation Surveyor).

The purchaser (after some encouragement by me) did re-negotiate on the purchase price of the property, armed with a detailed report and accurate cost indications for the work and low and behold the vendors agreed to reduce the sale price to take into consideration the remedial work that was identified in the report. A £2,000 reduction was agreed.

The moral of the story. Do not be bullied into making decisions that are not in your best interest, especially with regards property purchases. You have every right to request any Surveys that you feel will provide you with enough information to reach an informed decision as to how you wish to proceed. Ignoring your 'gut instinct' can prove to be very costly.

Access to the sub-floor Wet rot caused by inadequate sub-floor ventilation.
Access for a sub-floor inspection. Floorboard lifted to allow sub-floor inspection.
Wood bring weevil 'Frass' on joists. Wood boring weevil 'Frass' on the side of the joists indicates fungal decay.
Wet rot affected joist Tell tale signs of wood boring insect are visible on the side of the joists.
Sub-floor timbers-vulnerable to fungal decay. A 'worms eye view' of the underside of the floor joists.
Electronic moisture meter Moisture meter used to determine the moisture content of the sub-floor timbers.
9 x 6 air bricks on external elevation. No shortage of external air bricks.
Traditional roof construction Roof timbers were given the all clear.
Roof void Survey The roof timbers were in good condition.
All case studies