‘Why couldn’t any of the specialist companies get it right?’
This is a case where, following my inspection, three reputable specialist timber and damp treatment companies were given the opportunity to inspect a virtually empty house. There was easy access beneath the ground floor, but each one failed to conduct a thorough inspection thus a comprehensive report of the 'whole' situation together with estimates for my client was unfortunately never going to happen.
I was asked to inspect a three bedroom semi detached residence for clients who had just purchased the property. Prior to their purchase they had commissioned a ‘Home Buyers’ survey of the property which identified numerous areas of concern. Acting on the findings of the Home Buyers report my clients duly had the gas, electrics, and roof inspected with quotes for repairs/improvements and also obtained quotes for repairing the external rendering and demolishing the porch and pre-fabricated concrete garage. The report categorically stated that no damp was detected in the walls at ground floor level.
Upon completion of the purchase my clients lifted the laminate floor which was present throughout the ground floor and the father of one put his foot through the front room floor in two places. Naturally this occurrence caused alarm and I was requested to inspect the timbers within the property and to inspect ground floor walls for possible rising damp.
A very brief summary of my findings is as follows;
There was obvious visible evidence of woodworm (Common Furniture Beetle) infestation throughout first floor level - I actually found live beetles.
It was possible to gain access beneath all timber ground floor areas via a trap door in the under stairs cupboard as originally there was a coal cellar there – head height throughout the sub floor area was approximately 1.75m. The oversite (floor) of the sub floor area was wet and in places puddles of water were present. The floors of the entrance hall and rear left reception room (the left side of the property) had been replaced using new joists and chipboard flooring.
The floors of the front room and rear room right were still the original joists and floorboards the majority of which were severely affected by wet rot decay (client’s father had put his foot through the floor boards).
There was visible evidence of damp on the wall surface either side of the rear room right rear elevation window, in the under stairs cupboard and rear room left.
Ground floor sub floor ventilation comprised of seven 9”x6” original terra cotta type vents. One was physically blocked by the original brittle damp proof course material that had fallen from above the vent opening, one opened into a coal bunker thus for much of its life would have been restricted and two were partially concealed by raised external ground levels. All were restricted by cobwebs, debris etc.
There was evidence that a previous chemical damp proof course system and associated re-plastering had been undertaken.
7. Sketch plan of the ground floor of the property
Three specialist companies inspect:
I suggested that my clients request three specialist timber and damp treatment companies to inspect the property and to submit a report of their findings together with an estimate for work they considered necessary to rectify the timber and damp problems present. The property was virtually empty and had no floor coverings. The environment within the property was what I would class as ‘normal occupancy’. A summary of the reports and proposals that were received by my client is as follows:
1. Company One:
This company did not get under the floor at ground floor level despite having been shown the trap entrance by my client. They did not submit a report – it was just a quotation for the work they considered necessary together with a sketch plan. There was no explanation at all why the work was necessary, the cause of the problems etc. – it just seemed to be a case of ‘we are going to do the following work’ with no explanation.
They priced to a) renew the front room floor (where holes in the floor were present) b) to spray treat the rear room right floor with an insecticide, c) to replace existing sub floor air vents and introduce two additional new vents (vent type not specified) and d) introduce a new damp proof course and carry out replastering work in areas identified to be damp. The woodworm upstairs was not mentioned and no warning of what might occur if the air vents became blocked at any time in the future.
Company One Estimate: £3,964.00 + VAT.
2. Company Two:
This company did get under the floor at ground floor level. They correctly identified the wet rot and took to completely renew the front room and rear room right floors. They allowed for cleaning out the existing vents and sleeving them – no additional vents were proposed and no warning of what might happen if the vents became blocked at any time in the future. The report lacked any form of explanation as to why the decay had affected the floors. Neither the woodworm present upstairs nor the damp affecting the walls was mentioned.
Company Two Estimate: £5,120.00 + VAT
3. Company Three:
This company did not get under the floor at ground floor level despite having been shown the trap entrance by my client. In the rising damp section of their report they mentioned the poor sub floor ventilation and for some reason they considered the property to be too wet because of this to draw any conclusions??? Despite two holes in the front room floor due to wet rot which had exposed wet rot in the joists beneath, again for an unknown reason and in spite of the fact that the floors were exposed and hardly any furniture was present they stated ‘Once the property has been dried out please contact us to enable a full assessment of the floor to be made’. The woodworm upstairs was not mentioned.
Estimate: £129.00 + VAT (to install two additional air vents!)
Upon receipt of the reports my clients sent me copies requesting feed back on how best to proceed. None of us are perfect and I include myself in this but I was embarrassed that three fellow professionals in my industry had, in my opinion, completely failed to get correct what I would regard as a ‘bread and butter’ survey, which was able to be conducted with virtually no obstructions or floor coverings present to restrict access.
I had endeavoured to act in my client’s best interest by suggesting that reputable specialist timber and damp treatment companies should be invited to inspect the property and submit their reports and estimates for the work necessary but alas I was severely let down.
As no specialist company seemed capable of inspecting the property correctly the outcome was that I wrote a specification and met with general building contractors on site who submitted their quotations based on my specification. One of these building contractors will be instructed shortly and I have been requested to carry out periodic inspections as the work progresses.
With regard to the initial Home Buyers report my client is pursuing the surveyor for negligence as they had failed to detect or observe any damp. Had they found the damp one would hope that the surveyor would have put my client on notice that any timbers adjacent to a damp wall are at risk of decay and should be investigated – in much the same way as my client had the gas, electrics and external rendering checked and obtained estimates for repair. Naturally one would hope that an inspection of the ground floor timbers prior to purchase would have revealed the poor condition of the ground floor but based on the three companies above, two of whom chose not to use a trap door pointed out to them (no health and safety issues), there was only a 33% chance of this happening. Ho hum!
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