Listen To Your Home Introduction from Craig Phillips

Listen To Your Home Introduction from Craig Phillips

Whether you live in a 30s terrace house, a detached 80s bungalow, a converted Victorian terrace flat or a Georgian townhouse, buying your property is probably the most significant financial investment you will ever make. But for most of us the financial cost is nothing compared with the emotional and sentimental value of our homes.

Your first flat, the first home you bought together, the house in the country you always dreamed of or the pied-a-terre that’s perfect for your retirement; our homes mean so much more to us than just bricks and mortar. So it’s important we look after them.

The good news is there are lots of simple and easy ways we can keep our homes in good shape by looking out for signs of common problems. Aviva’s Listen To Your Home Guide will give you the tools and advice you need to look out for these common problems and look after the place you love.

Craig Phillips

Top ten most common problems around the house

We asked a group of surveyors who are regularly involved in the inspection of houses to let us know what they thought were the top ten most common problems that they found in people’s homes. We also asked them to let us know who should undertake the repairs and what kind of cost you might be facing as a home owner if you needed to put one of these issues right.

We then asked them for a few tips that would help home-owners to identify when there might be a problem and when is the right time to seek assistance or have a go at doing something about it yourself.

For more information on how to protect your home, watch our home advice video series featuring Craig.

Baths or showers where the sealant has failed

This is a common problem that can cause significant water damage and yet it can be solved easily and cheaply provided it is not allowed to develop or remain leaking for long.

Signs to look out for:

  • Cracked or failed sealant around showers, basis and baths
  • The first you may know is when water starts coming through the ceiling

Deterioration to flat roofs

Deteriorating flat roofs very typically look like the roof in this picture. They are usually a cheaper form of construction than a pitched and tiled roof, often found on extensions and are covered in this bitumen felt, which has a limited life.

Check any flat roofs for:

  • Standing water or ‘ponding’ on the roof
  • Cracking in the covering at the edges
  • Lifting or cracked joins
  • Any signs of vegetation growth

Defective chimney stacks and pots

Chimney stacks come in all shapes and sizes in an attempt to make sure they draw the fumes away from the heating appliance below. Assuming the stack has been built in accordance with building regulations, use binoculars to check from ground level.

Signs to look out for:

  • Dampness leaking into the roof space below
  • White ‘furry’ salts coming out of the brickwork in the chimney breast in the roof space
  • Brown staining on the chimney breast
  • A leaning or bulging chimney stack
  • Small plants growing from the top or sides of the stack
  • Deterioration of the mortar pointing
  • Failed / displaced render or leadwork

For more information, watch our Spring DIY health check video.

Dry and wet rot

There are two principal types of rot that affect timber, wet and dry both created by fungal spores. The main difference being that wet rot requires persistently higher levels of dampness than dry rot. Both types of rot will damage the wood, but wet rot can be dried out and repaired in some cases, whereas dry rot needs to be eradicated usually requiring replacement together with remedying the initial source of dampness.

Common signs of wet rot:

  • The timber will feel wet
  • Softness of timber under the paintwork
  • When dry, timber will easily crack and crumble
  • Fungal growth
  • Damp musty smell

Common signs of dry rot:

  • The timber will feel dry and crumbly with clear signs of cracking across the grain
  • A whitish cotton wool like fungal growth, red fruiting bodies and blacks thread like strands. These all come at various stages of the growth
  • A smell of mushrooms
  • If the spores have spread there could be reddish dust throughout the building

For more information, read our advice on how to deal with dry and wet rot.

Slipped or missing tiles from a roof

The roof is designed to take water away from the building and so any break in the surface needs urgent attention. Modern properties should have a secondary layer of roofing felt which prevents immediate entry by water, but older properties such as the one shown above are unlikely to have that second layer.

Signs to look out for:

  • Look for displaced tiles or slates, the one in the picture is just going and should be replaced urgently
  • Look for little metal tags on a slate roof indicating some past displacement and indicating more may go very soon
  • Tiles or slates are usually held by nails and if you can see the underside of the roof look to see if these have corroded, if so they are more liable to slip
  • Damp patches on a ceiling

Drainage gullies blocked by debris

A common seasonal problem, although it is also an issue if greasy substances are regularly washed down the sink. Beware of disposing wall filler or similar materials this way as they can also solidify in the drain.

Signs to look out for:

  • Water overflowing from the gullies
  • Bad smells
  • Build up of leaves
  • A build-up of gungy residue is an indication that water is not flowing freely

Walls affected by black mould growth

This is an indication of condensation, which could be a lifestyle problem through creation of too much moisture with inadequate physical or mechanical ventilation. It could also be an indication of poor building design in that the walls or other elements of the property have poor thermal qualities ie when the temperature is low then they cannot hold the heat within the property and become cold allowing condensation to form on the inside of the building. This latter aspect is significant as it could be expensive to solve and is one of the main targets for the new Green Deal initiative.

Signs to look out for:

  • Water running down windows and regular pools at the base
  • Dampness on walls and ceilings that doesn’t go within a few minutes of the shower or cooker being turned off
  • Black or green mould growth especially in the backs of cupboards on outer walls
  • Musty smell
  • If no obvious cause can be found and increasing the heat or ventilation does not solve the problem you may need specialist help to fix the problem

For more information on damp prevention, watch our video on treating damp and mould.

Poorly designed retaining wall in a garden

Quite often garden walls are not built to the same standard as the main building and when they retain an area of garden then they need to be more substantial. If the walls are not built correctly there’s a risk they can become unstable.

Signs to look out for:

  • The wall is leaning
  • There is cracking in the wall
  • The bricks or stonework are disintegrating

Blocked gutters

A seasonal problem usually due to leaves falling from trees in autumn, but other debris does collect in gutters and causes them to overflow. Regular dripping onto woodwork can cause it to rot and on solid walls the dampness can penetrate and damage internal plasterwork and cause internal timbers to rot. So on older houses with solid walls, usually built before the First World War, this is a very significant issue.

Signs to look out for:

  • Damp staining down the outside of the wall
  • Vegetation growth in the gutter
  • Dampness on the interior of the wall, with possibly some salts on the surface of plaster
  • Damp smell

Cavity wall–tie failure

Most brick properties built since the First World War are constructed using two skins of brickwork with a gap between them. These skins are held together by metal ties which in some cases get wet and rust causing the metal to expand. They eventually break and the outer skin could fall away from the building leading to catastrophic failure.

Signs to look out for:

  • The early stages of cavity wall-tie failure show regular horizontal cracking
  • The more serious stages show bulging of the wall and then the need for urgent action
  • Catching at an early stage means replacement ties can be inserted, with limited inconvenience
  • Leaving until bulging commences may mean rebuilding is required


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