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The most common defects Property Managers are often faced with… (Part 1 of 2)

No two buildings are the same. Each will differ in terms of age, design, and construction methods and materials. Other factors such as their location, the elements they are exposed to, how they are used, and modifications made to them over time, will also determine the extent and whereabouts of wear and tear. A Chartered Building Surveyor will have an understanding of the most common defects of each type of building taking into account the factors above,. Understanding these common defects put building owners and managers at a significant advantage as it allows them to implement a pro-active rather than reactive approach to managing them. A comprehensive Planned Maintenance Programme (PMP) will incorporate knowledge of these potential risks and provide a programme of pro-active maintenance that will reduce the risk of them occurring.

The following list is not exhaustive but has been compiled to provide Property Managers with some insight into the common defects that arise in residential buildings and strategies that can be implemented in order to mitigate the risk of them occurring.

1. Issues relating to condensation

Condensation is caused when atmospheric water vapour comes into contact with cold surfaces and then cools to the point where some of the hot vapour cools to form liquid
(water) on the surface. It is often initially mistaken for other issues such as damp or leaks, and if not resolved, it can lead to mould and fungal spores developing which can both affect the health of inhabitants, and damage or discolour surfaces such as ceramic tiles and wall or floor coverings.

Potential causes:

  • Poor ventilation within the property
  • Double glazing (with no trickle ventilation)
  • Faulty or low heating levels
  • Drying clothes on radiators
  • Boiling foods without lids or not using extract fans
  • Bathrooms and kitchens located in close proximity
  • Cold surfaces such as windows, walls or cold water pipes that are not
    lagged or poorly insulated
  • High density of people in a room for a long period of time

Mitigation strategies

  • Removing humidity wherever possible by avoiding drying washing indoors, and using extractor fans in bathrooms and kitchens
  • Installing humidistat controlled extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Implementing adequate natural ventilation including simply opening windows after showering/bathing
  • Implementing adequate heating throughout the property, a minimum of 10 degrees is recommended if unoccupied, and 20-27 degrees when in use.
  • Improving insulation of the property through double glazing, wall insulation etc.

2. Faulty or poorly maintained guttering

Gutters, including downpipes and outlets, that are blocked or leaking are very common defects that are often overlooked as their potential to cause longer term issues are

Potential causes:

  • Blockages – most commonly waste, birds’ nests, or a build-up Dirt, moss,
    twigs and leaves
  • Cracked iron downpipes, often occurring at the back of the pipes
  • Poorly sealed or broken joints
  • Backing up of rainwater caused by blockage further down the line or in
    the main drain
  • Poorly specified systems, e.g. roof too steep, gutter too far away or
    inadequately sized (not deep enough)

Mitigation strategies

  • Scheduling gutter cleaning/unblocking annually as a minimum (recommended after autumn when trees have shed their leaves), more often if there is a high density of deciduous trees in the location
  • Scheduling an inspection of the guttering system in place, including downpipes and outlets as part of a three-year maintenance inspection. Work should then be scheduled appropriately

3. Poor or defective plumbing

Plumbing issues can often lie undetected as much of the infrastructure is hidden under floors, above ceilings, or behind walls. The smallest drip over the course of time can lead to a significant amount of damage meaning when failure does occur it often does so spectacularly, causing major water damage such as wet or dry rot and services failures.

Potential causes:

  • Defective seals around baths and showers, or unconnected waste pipes
    causing stains on ceilings and upper walls below
  • Incorrect installation of appliances, e.g. cold feed to hot supply, or
    power shower pumps ill-fitted etc. causing joints to fail
  • Poor falls to pipes, or unsupported pipes causing them to sag can often
    lead to blockages and unpleasant smells
  • Incorporation of too many bends or inadequate number of fixings can lead
    to noise issues, performance issues
  • Poor notching to joists, or over-notching can cause floors to become
    ‘springy’ and in extreme cases could potentially lead to floor failure and
  • No insulation on cold feed pipes or badly supported tanks and pipes can
    make them susceptible to leaks or splitting

Mitigation strategies:

Using a specialist plumber appropriate to the task in hand. NB; plumbers have specialism’s just as other contractors do. A diligent approach to appointing plumbers is essential, checking references etc.

Appropriately specifying appliances such as cisterns, power showers etc. The
installation/replacement can be expensive meaning the cheapest with a short
life is often a false economy

Understanding the potential issues and remaining vigilant for symptoms such as cracking, watermarks or damp patches is essential. Plumbing defects do not rectify themselves and often escalate quickly, so fast action is required if symptoms are identified.

4. Slipped or missing roof tiles

Slipped roof tiles are one of the most commonly unattended defect, perhaps as their location can prove costly to rectify if scaffolding is required. However, as with any defect where the build-up of water is involved, it has the potential to cause significant damage if the required maintenance is not undertaken.

Potential causes:

  • A lack of fixings, or not enough rows nailed, can leave the roof exposed
  • Deterioration of fixings through rust etc. can lead to slippage
  • Disturbance or work being carried out elsewhere on the roof causing cracked or missing tiles can leave the roof exposed
  • Gable edge tiles not clipped properly can lead to slippage and breakage

Mitigation strategies:

  • Undertaking a survey of the roof as part of a three-year maintenance inspection, with work scheduled as appropriate as part of the maintenance schedule.
  • Remaining vigilant for warning signs of water ingress such as watermarks on the interior walls to ensure issues are identified early
  • Ensuring a condition report is undertaken and adequate protection in place prior to work being undertaken on adjacent parts of the property where access over a roof may be required, or before works are to commence on an adjoining/neighboring property. Should damage occur this will be invaluable in ensuring costs are recovered

5. Below ground drainage issues

Leaks within drains are more commonplace than most people think, more often than not going unnoticed until it causes a major problem. Similarly, many problems such as blockages build up over time, but action is only taken when the impact is identifiable by way of an unpleasant smell or water not draining as it should.

Potential causes:

  • Saturation of the soil and subsidence can lead to ground movement causing the pipes to move and crack
  • Roots from trees growing nearby can put disproportionate pressure on drains causing them to crack or joints to fail
  • Items flushed into drains, or sink waste such as cooking fat building-up can cause blockages
  • General lack of maintenance as below ground drains are not visible and are therefore often not seen as a priority until it’s too late and backing up starts to occur

Mitigation strategies:

  • Ensuring residents are aware of best practice with regards to disposal of waste
  • Monitoring water levels regularly to ensure consistency
  • Checking drains for damage or decay should form part of a three-year maintenance inspection, and any remedial work should be scheduled appropriately
  • A CCTV survey of the drain will provide an accurate report on the condition of a drain and identify the extent of any problems. An independent party (normally a chartered building surveyor) can then review the findings of the survey to verify if all/any remedial works recommended are required

Finnegan Property Services are an independent firm of Chartered Building Surveyors and Property Consultants who provide advice to public and private sector clients. If you would like to discuss further please contact us on or call 020 3137 8078.

Part 2 of this Article is coming soon…!


Posted on 2 January, 2014

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