Jo has just bought an end of terrace house in need of a bit of love in the Poets’ Corner area of Brighton and Hove. In this series she’s sharing her experience of the purchase and renovation process. In this post – dealing with (some of) the sources of damp and leaks.
Renovation priority 1; Getting water-tight (ish)
When we started looking at houses in Hove, we quickly realised we were likely to have to deal with some damp problems. It’s a pretty common problem in Brighton & Hove; there’s plenty of water about, and charming old properties that don’t keep it out very well. As one of my friends said, of buying her home; “There was water from below, water from above. There was a little dry strip just in the middle”.
Our house is not an exception; at the viewing we could see evidence of rising damp, and an exceptionally heavy downpour when we first moved in confirmed our suspicion that there were some roof leaks…
Although it wasn’t particularly reassuring to have water pouring down the kitchen wall (not least when it’s dripping directly onto one of the only sockets in the room), we were comforted that there were some obvious steps we could take to improve matters. We promptly got a roofer booked in, then took ourselves off for a sailing holiday (a really good way to make a house seem relatively dry).
Tackling water from above.
Sometimes when I look at how roofs are made, I’m astonished that they keep out water. Well, our kitchen roof didn’t. With misaligned slate tiles, it had a ramshackle look, and very much let the water in. Fortunately, the joists underneath were not rotten so we had the tiles replaced and so far, so dry.
Similarly, our back bedroom/ office has a flat roof. The nature of flat roofs is that even a small hole will quickly let in a lot of water. Ours didn’t let in water immediately, but after a few weeks of heavy rain the houseplant hanging from the curtain rail started to look suspiciously happy… it was enjoying the gradual dripping of rainwater. The drip eventually became obvious, so we added the flat roof to the repair works.
If your property has portions of old or wonky-looking roof, it may well start letting water in over time, and we’d advise getting a roofer to review it as part of any renovation works you have planned.
Water from below.
We have rising damp throughout the ground floor. The work to remedy this is going to be disruptive – it will involve stripping out finishes (i.e. floors, skirting boards and built-in cupboards) and plumbing in in order to apply a Damp Proof Course (DPC). It therefore makes sense to do this as part of our overall renovation of the ground floor – so we plan to get this work done next year and battle through this winter with the help of a dehumidifier.
The issue is not helped by the portion of ‘Bungaroosh’ (a Brighton & Hove speciality) in our kitchen wall. This is a mixture of bricks, rubble, lime and other gubbins. This isn’t straightforward to render (due to the lime element) or to treat with a chemical DPC – so we’ll need a damp proof membrane here.
In our case, the damp is pretty evident (some of the walls are wet to the touch and the kitchen cupboards smell musty) but it isn’t immediately obvious in every house (especially if the house has been newly decorated or there is fitted joinery). Many damp-proofing specialists will survey your property without charge in order to quote for any remedial works needed: this is well worth doing if you are embarking on invasive renovation work.
Water from the sides
The southern aspect of our house takes a bit of a battering (the prevailing wind in Brighton tends to be south-westerly). We plan to get it re-rendered (as the small cracks in it are vulnerable to water getting in)… but in the meantime we’ve significantly improved matters by getting the main gutter fixed as part of the roofing work. The eaves felt of the roof was not overhanging the gutter so rainwater was just pouring down the front of the house.
Gutters are easy to overlook, but broken, blocked or absent ones can cause big problems. For example, on our workshop building, a mis-aligned downpipe hopper was pouring a whole roof’s worth of water onto the roof of our workshop. This in turn had no gutter, so the water was pouring down/ through the walls and onto the patio… which gently slopes back towards the workshop, so the water had one more opportunity to get in from below.
Other things to look out for are adjoining walls or carbuncles. This little treat houses our gas meter. It also houses a little pool of water which then comes in through the front wall. Generally, structures like this that join onto the external walls of your property create the potential for cracks and water pooling, so should be carefully maintained.
Water from inside…
So far, we’ve only had one incident of water coming through the ceiling from a leak (it turns out the bath overflow isn’t plumbed in… so I’ll be having shallow baths until we deal with that!).
Leaks aren’t the only way water can manifest inside the home. Our house isn’t very well ventilated, so we’re also dealing with significant condensation (e.g. water on some walls as well as windows). We’ll be looking at opportunities to improve the ventilation infrastructure through the upcoming renovation works – in particular how we can improve insulation without making this issue worse. (In the words of our sustainability consultant ‘no insulation without ventilation’!) Watch this space!…
If you are planning a renovation, get in touch.