The title of this blog post comes from something I heard last week as I was clambering about a slightly awkward loft and had been up there for a while.  It made me think about the fact that most people don’t really know what Surveyors actually do, what we are looking for and how we know what we have found.  In common with a lot of professions, some Surveyors tend to rely on jargon and perhaps even like to play up the mystery of what they do.

As someone who likes to think they have a different approach I thought I would take the opportunity in these blog posts to explain a little about what I do, some of the common problems you might find in a house and how a Surveyor goes about spotting them.  As the idea occurred to me in a loft, and as all good surveys should start at the top, I think that is an ideal place to start.

An unconverted loft, usually referred to as a roof space by a Surveyor, is perhaps one of the best places to spot problems in a house.  It is also the one area potential buyers almost never get to see.

The first thing a Surveyor will always look for is evidence that the roof covering has failed and is letting in water.  The most common points are where a roof pitch meets either another pitch, a wall or a chimney.  Anywhere you have two different angles meeting will always be a weak point and it is here that you will normally see problems first.  The most obvious sings are damp patches and wet areas but you should also looking for any stains or discoloured timber.

If a roof covering has failed and water is coming in the next thing to consider is the condition of any timbers that are getting wet.  Most timber will cope with getting wet as long as it can dry out regularly.  It is only when the timber gets wet and stays wet for a prolonged period that rot becomes an issue.  If you have ever been in your own loft on a windy day you may have felt the air moving through and this is a good thing.  The natural ventilation of a roof space will help dry out any timbers that are getting wet and prevent rot but where there is a significant leak this is often not enough.  Where t rot has set in then often the only option is to cut out and replace the affected timber.  If this is not done, then over time the structure will be affected.

If a Surveyor does not spot any leaks then the next thing they may consider is the sarking.  This is a water proofing layer that lies underneath the roof covering.  Although you should expect a roof covering to be fairly water proof it will never be 100% effective.  Wind drive rain or a slate that has slipped slightly will let in a small amount of water.  This should run down the sarking and in to the gutter, unless it is torn or damaged.  The other purpose of the sarking is to prevent the wind lifting off the roof covering from the inside.  It is particularly important to be aware of this as often insurance companies will not cover storm damage to roofs if there is no sarking present.

In modern properties the sarking is made from a breathable membrane but older properties may have a form of bituminised felt, planks for wood or even paper.

You would not want to rush to replace torn sarking but it is important to know the condition.  If there are a number of tears and holes and you start to see a few slipped slates, then it is more urgent that you get them dealt with.  If the sarking is in a good condition, then you might be able to take a slightly more relaxed view on the odd slate that is not quite in the right place.

Once a Surveyor is happy that the covering is fine and no water is getting in, the next thing to look at is the structure.  A surprisingly common issue is the DIY conversion job.  Perhaps the previous owner has thought to make a start on an extra bedroom or just cut out a couple of timbers to allow for some storage shelves.  Maybe it is just a notch cut out (of?) a truss to allow for a loft ladder.  Any of these could cause major problems and a lot of expense for the new owner if not picked up in time.

The strength of a roof comes from the timbers supporting each other, once you remove or weaken one this can affect the whole structure.  It is also worth remembering that some of the timbers are not just there to hold up the roof but also to stop the front and back walls pulling away from each other.

So when a Surveyor is sure the roof will not fall down around him he can start looking at some of the other small issues, such as:

  • Are the firewalls complete?
  • Are there are signs of wood worm or other wood boring insects?
  • Is there evidence of any other forms of infestation?
  • Are there are any visible problems with the electrical wiring that can often be seen in a loft?
  • Are there any problems with the cold water storage tank?
  • What condition is the chimney breast in?
  • How much insulation is present?

Don’t forget your Surveyor can also tell you some of the good things about a roof space such as how much has been boarded for storage, if conversion is possible or if a loft ladder is fitted.

The other thing to remember is that if you are just relying on a valuation or basic level survey then the Surveyor may not even have had a look in the loft.

To arrange a Building Surveying including a full inspection of the loft please contact us.