To illustrate just how important a thorough property survey is, both in modern and older properties, we have listed the most common survey problems you are likely to encounter.

Asbestos can be found in any industrial or residential building built or refurbished before the year 2000. It is in many of the common materials used in the building trade that you may come across during your work. When materials that contain asbestos are disturbed or damaged, fibres are released into the air. When these fibres are inhaled they can cause serious diseases such as lung related cancers and asbestosis. These diseases will not affect you immediately; they often take a long time to develop, but once diagnosed, it is often too late to do anything. This is why it is important that you protect yourself now. Asbestos can be found inside and outside the property: Inside:

  • Asbestos cement – Water tank
  • Pipe lagging
  • Loose fill insulation
  • Textured decorative coating e.g. artex
  • AIB ceiling tiles
  • AIB bath panels
  • Toilet seat and cistern
  • AIB behind fuse box
  • AIB airing cupboard and/or sprayed insulation coating boiler
  • AIB partition wall
  • AIB interior window panel
  • AIB around boiler
  • Vinyl floor tiles
  • AIB behind fire


  • Gutters and asbestos cement downpipes
  • Soffits – AIB* or asbestos cement
  • AIB exterior window panels
  • Asbestos cement roof
  • Asbestos cement panels
  • Roofing felt

 * Asbestos Insulating Board

Eroded brickwork is probably one of the most common defects found by surveyors. The phenomenon can be associated with other issues that either cause the problem or exacerbate it. Something as simple as using materials that are unsympathetic to the building can cause masonry to deteriorate, such as cement based mortars and renders. Cement pointing can help to trap moisture around the edge of the brick and then when freezing temperatures expand the liquid, the fair face of the brick can break away. This can lead to further accelerated deterioration. Cement render can also trap moisture behind the surface causing dampness and accelerated deterioration. Materials such as lime mortars, renders and plasters should be used as they are air permeable and allow trapped moisture to escape more easily.

Cement Finlock guttering comprises an integrated concrete gutter, lintel, and eaves that fit typically 200mm to 250mm width which sit on the cavity closer and over sail the outer face of the walls, forming a gutter. The waterproof coating that lines the concrete gutters occasionally needs to be repaired or replaced. The guttering system is also prone to blockage as the gutters are laid level and often need to be cleared. There is normally an inadequate outlet that can be formed from an asbestos cement material. Any work to this part of the property should therefore be carried out by a contractor qualified in asbestos awareness. There are also defects that may appear when the windows are replaced as occasionally there can be inadequate support. Consequently, damage to the joints of the concrete gutters occurs and dampness will develop on the top section of the wall above the windows. You should therefore budget for repairs to the gutter linings as removing them and replacing them with more conventional gutters is prohibitively expensive.”

Surveyors often find dampness affecting a property, particularly in older buildings. In fact, in many older buildings, dampness is extremely difficult to completely eradicate but it can be managed if the correct procedures are in place. The most common source of dampness is due to the water retention in the foundation and walls of the building. Water can penetrate the masonry through faulty sills, bad workmanship, etc. and hence in buildings, a layer of water repellent material called damp proof course (DPC) is introduced, which acts as a barrier against the rise of water. In order to eradicate this problem, many companies will inject walls with chemicals, which can unfortunately be ineffective. Our surveyors have found that putting remedial action in place such as striping non-breathable gypsum plaster and re-plastering with a lime plaster will help to release moisture from the wall; although, cement pointing should also be chopped out and replaced with a lime-based mortar. Cement render can be one of the most damaging materials to add to a wall and is ironically sometimes added as a ‘protective measure’. Moisture often becomes trapped behind the surface and this will help to accelerate the deterioration of the masonry beneath. Breathable decorative materials should be used, such as mineral paint or limewash. Increasing ventilation in the home can help reduce condensation, which can be one of the most common causes of dampness. When replacing windows, trickle ventilation could be installed. If the windows are not to be replaced, you should consider having ventilation increased, with extractor fans that control humidity, in the bathroom and kitchen. Our surveyors often find that floor levels externally are too high, thus allowing surface water and moisture in the ground to soak the walls, creating dampness and rotting internal joinery. A lack of ventilation for subfloor voids is also a common cause of dampness and defective timber. Most older properties were constructed with much lower levels of ventilation than modern buildings.
Faulty drainage is a very common defect found in older properties. Drainage pipes are usually brittle and generally have little protection; then, slight degrees of movement in the ground can cause cracks to appear in the runs allowing water to soften the earth/substrata around them. This can be a problem when the drain runs close to a property as the pipework is usually below the foundations. Therefore, surveys often pick-up diagonal cracking at a 45-degree angle from a drainage run. Usually repairing the drain can be enough, however, sometimes the foundations have been undermined and require further support in the form of underpinning. Therefore, sometimes the drains will need to be inspected with the aid of trial pits so that the support for foundations can be confirmed as stable. However, quite often, it is found that drainage pipes can be sleeved, which can be much more cost-effective than excavating the whole system.
All gutters should be cleared out regularly and any leaks repaired where necessary to help prevent dampness and damp penetration occurring, which can lead to other problems within the building, such as deterioration of masonry. Our reports detect defects on most old metal rainwater fittings which are leaking to some degree and in a lot of cases are corroded, meaning they often require replacement. As mentioned above, leaks can cause significant damage. Replacing fittings with PVC can however detract from the aesthetics of the property, particularly with regard to period property. Movement in buildings can be caused by downpipes that do not allow water to drain away properly. A high concentration of water in a localised area can cause the soil beneath foundations to erode away leaving the structure of the wall unstable. This is quite common where water butts are used, often for conservatories and they are left to overflow. A conservatory normally has quite shallow foundations that can be easily influenced by movement beneath.
Masonry paint is often used on older buildings that have been rendered, such as Victorian and Edwardian properties. If it is used on masonry that is likely to remain dry, then this isn’t an issue but any dampness within the building can cause the paint to blister as well as the masonry to perish. It is not always possible to identify the type of paint that has been used, but mineral paint can also be acceptable as this allows the masonry to breathe. However, impervious masonry paint (including that described as ‘microporous’) can cause these issues to occur. If the wrong type of paint has been used, it can sometimes be necessary to remove all the paint, before repainting using mineral paint. Masonry paint can also be used on stucco or stone dressings and is sometimes directly applied to brickwork and in these places, it can also be an issue. Our reports may recommend further investigation or that advice is obtained from a specialist in either external rendering or external decoration so that it is possible to quantify the cost of any necessary remedial work. The render itself can also be an issue depending on the type of material that has been used and if problems exist, it may become necessary to remove the render so that the appropriate finish can be applied.
Chimney stacks can suffer from many types of issues due to the amount of exposure they receive from the elements. Continuous stress from the weather can make older chimneys lean, which of course can mean the occupant’s safety is at risk. A certain degree of lean can be acceptable but eventually, most taller chimneys will require partial or complete reconstruction. Other faults can pose less risk to the occupants but can be quite serious for the property, such as ripped or dislodged flashing. This is a common occurrence, especially in older properties and can cause rot to roofing timbers and damage to the ceilings beneath. Significantly perished brickwork should also be replaced to help maintain the structure of the chimney. Repointing of solid brick walls, including chimneys of the property, should be carried out with a lime mortar and not cement to allow the masonry to breathe and help prevent them from perishing easily.  The joints should be raked out to a depth of 2cm prior to any work being carried out, to create a good key for the new mortar. Open chimney pots should have capping vents installed to help prevent rainwater penetration. It is important to have chimney cowls installed to open pots to prevent birds from becoming trapped within the flue and damp penetration internally.  Blocked flues can cause lethal gases to build up within the home and therefore this work should be carried out by a registered engineer. All works to properties above the first floor now require the erection of scaffolding to help prevent deaths from falling from a height.
Surveyors consider the way in which a property supports vertical and lateral loads through its fabric. It is therefore assessed whether the structural parts of the building i.e. walls, floors and roof, will provide adequate strength and rigidity at all times. Although dwellings can be built in a number of different shapes and sizes, all must satisfy constructional principles which will ensure that the building does not fail when built or when reasonable loads are placed upon it. Lateral restraint to the walls is usually provided by load-bearing masonry, internal partitions, fixed wall plates, floor and ceiling joists. Many issues can arise that affect external wall structures, but when surveyors find ongoing movement, it can cause the most distress to prospective buyers and vendors who were unaware of the problem. Movement can often be caused by inadequate or defective drainage – as mentioned before. Where downpipes/rainwater fittings drain away close to a base of a wall, the concentration of water can cause the soil/substratum beneath the foundations to erode, which can lead to inadequate support for the walls above. Defective drainage is also a common cause of this type of erosion, particularly in older properties, where the brittle clay drainage pipes have little protection against any movement to the ground surrounding them. When movement is found by a surveyor, trial pits may need to be dug along the foundations to investigate the composition of the subsoil to find out whether or not it is stable. A structural engineer should also be commissioned to oversee the trial pits so that they can provide a certificate of structural adequacy that will be required by your Buildings Insurance.
Our highly experienced surveyors will use binoculars where appropriate to aid their inspection of roof coverings. Many defects can affect the roof of a property and more often than not this is the most expensive part of the property to repair in comparison to other issues. The largest cost can be incurred when the roof requires completely re-covering. Our surveyors usually find that most Victorian roofs are now coming towards the end of their useful lives. This happens because the nails used at the time of the original installation to fix the slates were not galvanised and they have corroded over time and this is what is known as ‘nail sickness’. When this happens, slates begin to slip, exposing the rafters beneath, which can cause rot to timbers and damage to the ceilings beneath. At this point, it is usually recommended that the roof is completely re-covered due to the fact that scaffolding will usually be required and therefore it will be more cost-effective to completely re-cover the roof all in one go. Surveyors also usually find that hip and ridge tiles require re-bedding in fresh cement mortar. These tiles should not be simply re-pointed, this will not prevent them from falling off in high winds. The old cement should be cleared away from beneath the tiles to ensure a good key for each tile. Flat roofs have a significantly short lifespan, especially when covered with built-up bitumen type felt. It is therefore sometimes found that otherwise sound looking flat roofs leak within a few months of moving into a property. Therefore, provision should be made for re-covering flat roofs.
Retaining walls are commonly overlooked by prospective purchasers -this can sometimes be a costly mistake. Many retaining walls are built of single skin masonry or even timber and are not strong enough for their intended purpose. Also, there should be gravel behind and weep holes in the wall to help drain built-up water behind. When built incorrectly, eventually the walls deteriorate, crack and lean, which can make them dangerous. Our surveyors are trained to look for inconsistencies in wall design and will be able to alert you of potential problems.

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