Look after your listed property or you could pay dearly
Maintenance should be the number one priority for the owners of listed and historic property, according to David Hornsby, who reveals that they could also be under-insured.
WINTER provides a timely reminder that deficiencies in a historic building, if left unattended over a prolonged period of time, can result in future costly repairs.
This is probably because most owners approach repairs in a reactionary way, only undertaking repairs when it is absolutely clear that damage has caused a particular problem, rather than taking precautionary action.
A few months ago, I looked at a listed house where I virtually fell through a timber floor that was riddled with dry rot. The floorboards had become saturated with dampness over a period of time and in this situation, spores, which are usually dormant and found naturally in wood, come to life attacking firstly the moist sections then the dry timber – hence the term dry rot.
Interestingly, in this case, the penetrating dampness to the sub-floor timbers had been caused by a defective leaking gutter that had caused water to drip onto the lower level brickwork. The problem was compounded because the owner had eventually noticed a damp spot on the internal plaster in the room and called in a builder, who applied a sand cement render on the external side of wall in the mistaken belief that this would stop the penetrating dampness.
Unfortunately, the render extended down to the bottom of the house and sucked up water from the ground together with the drips from the gutter which missed the rendered bricks.
Sadly, the apparent need for render and the treatment for dry rot could have been avoided by carrying out very minor and inexpensive repairs to the gutter at an early stage. The ingress of water over a prolonged period of time has the most damaging effect on a historic property and very often water ingress is unnoticed until it causes some part of the structure to fail.
Roof frame timbers can be susceptible to this type of damage and the full impact of water damage was brought home to me recently when I surveyed an old farmhouse. I was asked to prepare a claim of dilapidations by the owner of the property following the end of a long term tenancy. It was clear that the property had been poorly maintained and a number of bricks had eroded in a gable chimney stack.
Within my report I asked that the stack be taken down and rebuilt as the damage, in my view, was beyond reasonable repair. The surveyors acting for the tenants suggested that my recommendations to rebuild were excessive, as the stack was not observed to be leaning. Within the space of a few weeks, my recommendations proved to be justified as the stack toppled, causing significant damage to the building.
Again, normal maintenance repair work to the stack in the form of proper re pointing would have prevented this. I would contrast this situation to another of my cases involving a Tudor Grade I listed building, where the mortar joints in an elaborate high chimney stack had eroded, but by careful repointing and stitching of brickwork the problem was caught in time saving my client the need to undertake costly rebuilding.
In the vast majority of cases where damage occurs, it is usually avoidable by carrying out proper routine maintenance. The winter months are a very good time to see defects more clearly. In the summer months, tell-tale signs like damp stained walls are not so apparent.
I advise owners and would-be buyers to go out in bad weather to observe how well parts of the property perform. Gutters and down pipes can be observed in action and inspections of the roof spaces in heavy rainfall can be beneficial.
Other areas that increase the risk of damage to properties is old and faulty electrical wiring, as a large proportion of fire damage to properties in the UK is from defective electrics. Again periodic checks by NICEIC registered electricians will reduce any risk.
An increasingly common problem I come across is the inadequacy of rebuilding insurance cover for historic and period properties. In the event of insurable damage, there is a risk that the amount paid out may not be sufficient to cover the cost of repair or rebuilding. I recommend that the amounts for rebuilding are recalculated every four or five years, as rebuilding costs may have increased for historic and period properties at above the rates applied by insurers for indexation. Owners of listed buildings also have a greater responsibility to rebuild on a like for like basis. Changes in planning policies introduced earlier this year reinforce this view and it appears likely that most estimates of rebuilding costs provided at the time of any mortgage valuation are likely to all well short of the actual expense.
RIDING HIGH: The Langdale hall estate includes a six-bedroom country house with seven reception rooms and a pool.
HANDLE WITH CARE: Owners of listed buildings, like many in the centre of York, need to be vigilant about maintenance.