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How to tackle common problems in historic properties

Posted on Monday, January 6, 2020

For many people, the chance to live in a London period property is a dream come true. Whether an Edwardian villa, Georgian terrace or a rarer find from Stuart or Elizabethan times, London’s heritage homes are steeped in history and packed with original features.  



Your home may be a listed building, of national importance. Or, do some digging and you might find the fascinating stories of the people who lived there a century or more ago.

There can be a drawback though; period properties tend to need a bit more care and attention when it comes to repairs and maintenance. And if a listed property, or in a conservation area, you may not be able to use modern methods or materials to put issues right.  

We look at some of the common problems in historic buildings and give advice on caring for your heritage home.  


Damp

Damp can affect any home, but it’s commonly seen in older properties. Whether from overflowing gutters or badly ventilated spaces, damp can cause timbers to rot, plaster to flake off, and bricks to crumble, eventually leading to major structural problems.  

Rising damp can be difficult to treat in a listed property as modern damp proof courses and measures, such as filling walls with silicone, could make the problem worse. You’ll need to get proper advice from a specialist experienced in older properties.



Subsidence or settlement?

A common issue in historic buildings is subsidence. It occurs when walls aren’t supported properly due to the ground under the foundations giving way. This often produces V-shaped cracks in the walls.  

Many things can cause subsidence. Old drains beneath the house might be leaking, causing the surrounding ground to become soft. If the soil under the building consists of clay, drought or heavy frosts can cause the soil to swell or shrink, which will also cause subsidence. Tree roots spreading beneath the house can also be a factor, as can excavation work close by.

Don’t despair though, some of the signs of subsidence may just be settlement - your building adjusting to new work, such as a loft conversion that imposes extra weight on the ground below the house.   

 

Poor insulation

With climate change high on the agenda, we all need to think about insulating our homes, double or triple glazing them and shutting out draughts - not so easy in a period house!

Adding wall insulation to a listed building may prevent the house from ‘breathing’ - leading you back to problems with damp.

How to care for your period building

Regular maintenance of your house is essential to protect its value and limit any deterioration.  Seemingly small problems can escalate and risk permanently damaging your home if they're not tackled when first spotted.  

Several routine checks should be made to help keep the property in excellent condition:  

  • Check the rainwater gutters to ensure they are clear of any debris
  • Check rainwater pipes for any leaks
  • Check chimneys to see if they are leaning or have vegetation growing from them
  • Check roofs for any loose tiles
  • Flat roof coverings should be regularly checked to see if there are any tears, splits or holes.    

 


Energy efficiency

While planning restrictions on listed buildings can limit your energy efficiency measures, there are still things you can do. A modern, efficient boiler could make a difference to how warm you home feels, for example. Sash window specialists can also suggest ways of improving your glazing without affecting the character of your home. Historic England has produced some useful advice about energy efficiency and historic buildings too.  

If you’re worried about subsidence or structural problems, calling in a professional building surveyor could put your mind at rest. A Building Survey is a full structural survey of your property, which will look at issues such as damp and subsidence and is recommended for older homes - look for a properly qualified surveyor with experience of heritage buildings such as yours. Specialist damp surveys can be commissioned too.

If you're planning to buy or sell a property – historic or otherwise – in central London, get in touch with us today.