Surveys of Timber Framed properties
Pete specialises in surveys of historic timber framed properties, whether they be Listed or not. Years of experience running a Conservation Building company has given him a unique insight into how timber frames were built, and how to repair them. He has appeared on TV, sorting out crumbling old timber framed buildings.
Oak framed cottages and barns are a very special case. Many of the legal cases we assist with involve timber framed houses.
What are the materials used in your timber framed building?
The main problems we look for are the effect of modern materials. It's really that simple. Paint all over the frame will cause the timber to soften. Cement over the sill beams, and filling holes, will cause catastrophic rot. Silicon sealants will do the same thing - trapping moisture into the timber, and holding it there - causing rot.
The infill panels are often replaced with brick. Fine if it is laid with lime mortar, but when filled with cement, wherever it is in contact with the framing members, it rots. Brick infills are too heavy for timber frames and pull them out of shape. They should not really be there. The panels are often rendered with cement, trapping moisture. Render can be over brick, or often over galvanised metal mesh - again, prone to rusting and rot. Knowing which of these materials are present, and being able to assess the extent to which they have damaged the building fabric, is a skill that not many people have. We use technology as well - imaging cameras can often show where there is rotting timber, but for the most part, its a trained eye, and gut feeling that counts.
What joints have been used, how old is the timber framed building?
Once we've looked over the property, we will know the sort of joints that have been used. How the roof timbers are put together - and what the timbers actually are.. All these give us an insight to the age of the building. Very often, we'll find openings in the frame that show where old doorways used to be, or where in some cases, the central passageway existed in medieval hall structures. Often timbers have been re-used so it makes the job a bit tricky. Many people think that their timbers are from old ships. This is not really the case - they DO appear, but generally close to ports where such ships were broken up. Many of the Spanish galleons captured after the Armada were broken up in Chester, so we've seen bits of these boats in old buildings in Cheshire - one of Pete's favourites is a farm near Alderley Edge, where a pigsty has a roof made from bits of an old galleon.
What kind of wood is your timber framed building made of?
It's incredible how many people don't know the difference between oak and elm. How many can't see the difference between cheap French oak, and English oak used for previous repairs. Knowing your timber helps to know what bug infestations might once have been present - are those holes only in the sapwood, or right through the heartwood? Usually they will be from beetle that probably emerged 300 years ago. Pete has studied the insects that attack timber framed structures - he won't recommend any form of chemical treatment. For the most part, keeping the timber dry is all that will ever be needed. There is a great deal of misinformation out there - mainly pushed by the Property Care Association, who would love to drown all of your timbers in toxic chemical warfare. They go to great lengths to persuade you that if not treated, your house will crumble. What they don't point out is that it has stood, chemical free, for the best part of 400 years, and it's a combination of our lifestyle, and inappropriate materials like plastic paint, that are causing any issues!
What condition is the thatched roof of the timber framed building?
Often these buildings have thatched roofs. They are fantastic - warm and cosy - one of the best roofs you can have. There's no need to be frightened of them. Pete will often recommend a local Master Thatcher to come and have a look, but he's done many jobs with thatch, and can give ballpark figures that help make a decision about the house. Often they'll only need a re-ridge for example - costing £6,000 to £8,000 on average. Pete will tell you whether the thatch is ok for the moment, and just needs checking over, or in the case of a Cumbrian longhouse he recently surveyed in Carlisle - 'Good mulch for the garden - we need a total re-thatch at a cost of around £50,000'...
What is the cost of repairs to a timber framed building?
If we do find problems, Pete has spent years pricing and quoting repairs on these buildings. He knows what it costs to cut a new joint - to scarfe a section onto a post, or to put a new slip tenon on a vertical member that needs reconnecting to the sill beam. He knows what to do with rotted sill beams, how to repair the plinth. He knows how to cost, how to specify, and often, where to find the right people to work on the place. Costing repairs comes down to identifying joints and how they have weathered. Often water will collect in a mortise, rotting it out. The tenon that was on the end of the timber fitted into it, will have rotted too. If someone has sealed the mortise with cement, it will rot - if left to drain, it'll be fine. Each joint can cost up to £150 to repair. Timber sill beams can cost around £2,000 a running metre to fit. Infill panels - lightweight insulated and lime rendered about £300 each. Often the actual timber used is the least expensive part. It should be English oak - Pete has encountered too much poor quality French oak lately, riddled with beetle. It should be air dried - if green, it will shrink too much and the joints will open up. Pete often sells owners a little Timber Frame Caulking Kit which contains a caulking iron, a bale of oakum, and lime putty. You can use this lovely stuff to plug gaps, whilst leaving them flexible, breathable, and waterproof. No modern materials should be used.
What sort of surveyor should survey a timber framed building?
We have seen countless examples of surveyors failing to identify even the most basic of problems with timber frames. More worryingly, most surveyors who have NO idea of the cost of these repairs. On the other hand, some go the other way - Pete recently surveyed a house near Reading which was in stonking condition - and the valuation surveyor said it was unmortgageable. The RICS does have a list of Conservation trained surveyors - all 6 or 7 of them. Pete works closely with the IHBC - Institute of Historic Building Conservation - and this is where his extensive knowledge comes from. Standard RICS homebuyer surveys are NOT suitable for a timber framed property. Even full structural surveys offered by most Building Surveyors are totally unsuitable. Pete recently dealt with a case where the buyer's lawyer insisted on using an RICS Chartered Surveyor - the result was disaster and Pete had to go in and explain what was REALLY wrong with the building. The incompetence and lack of understanding of these buildings beggars belief. Hopefully, we can take away the fear of buying one of these venerable old structures, and show you how to turn it into an asset that people will be proud of for another few generations.
What Listed Building things do I need to know about my timber framed building?
A final word about Listed Buildngs too - you have to know whether work done to the building is legal or not. All too often, people have repaired or altered timber framed buildings to a very poor or illegal specification. Pete will tell you whether any illegal works have been done. You inherit responsibility for these if you buy the building and need to understand the cost and potential ramifications. It's not always easy to identify illegal works - but things like plastic windows and missing internal walls stand out like a sore thumb. Pete has extensive experience with the Conservation side of things, and has prepared Listed Building Consent applications, writing the Design and Access statements and Heritage Statement necessary for extensive repair programs. This is essential knowledge with such buildings.
Where do we do surveys of timber framed buildings?
Where do we do surveys of Timber Framed buildings? Have landrover - will travel - Pete is working on a timber framed house in Cambridge at the moment, one near London, others in Oxford, Hereford, and Shropshire. Who knows what the New Year will bring.