One of the bits of advice buyers are often given is to lie on the floor and look at the ceiling to get an idea of the size of a room without the furniture in the way. Other than the few brave souls who actually get down on the carpet to do this I don’t think many people look at the ceilings in a house before they buy it but there can be a number of interesting things going on up there.
The main thing a Surveyor is looking for on a ceiling is the presence of a textured coating, something you might know as Artex. For a while these were very popular in homes, adding a bit of interest and also hiding any uneven plaster work, the one drawback being that the material used often contained asbestos.
Finally completely banned from use in domestic buildings in the UK on 24th August 1999 due to its effects on health asbestos was widely used in construction, particular in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Not all asbestos products are the same, with different types having different levels of risk. The material used for textured coatings to ceilings is one of the lowest risk, but there is still a risk.
About 1 part in 1,000,000 of the textured coating is likely to be an asbestos fibre. If these are contained within the coating then they present very little risk of harm but it is when the ceiling become damaged then that there is a problem.
A Surveyor can’t tell you for certain whether the textured coating on the ceiling contains asbestos as this requires a sample to be taken and sent away for testing. They can identify the possibly of it being present and also look for any areas of damage to calculate the risk of harm. One of the most important places to check is inside a fitted cupboard.
In older properties the Surveyor will be on the lookout for cracks to a lathe and plaster ceiling. Before the use of plaster boards was widespread, the usual way to construct a ceiling was from wooden lathes covered in plaster. This was a good method of construction with many ceilings still in place well over 100 years later. The problem is that once you get a crack in a lathe and plaster ceiling it can seriously affect the structural integrity. If the crack gets too big then it can come crashing down around your ears! This will leave a lot of mess and there is a real safety risk if the ceiling happens to be over a bed. Even where just a section of the ceiling comes down the only option is to replace the whole lot.
You should be particularly cautious where there are cracks to a ceiling that has a number of down lights fitted. These will have already weakened the ceiling and make it more likely to collapse.
Some other common problems to keep an eye out for are:
- Loose or damaged light fittings
- Cracks or distortion associated with structural movement
- Damp patches caused by leaking pipes