Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed at the rear of a propertyJapanese knotweed is an amazing plant. The young stems are edible and taste like bamboo shoots. It can grow over 20 feet in height. Its root systems can penetrate as deep as 3 metres below ground surface level. In some cases it has been reported to grow as deep as 5 metres. It usually grows in thick clumps (or stands). It can grow in a variety of soil PH’s. It will grow from a small cutting and will rapidly reroot itself. Where roots are disrupted new shoots will begin from breaks in the root, travelling vertically and horizontally through the ground. Its subterranean root system can survive double figure sub-zero temperatures. The mid-19th Century saw its introduction to the United Kingdom as it became popular with landscapers as it could grow quickly, form dense screens and hold together land banks with its root system. It was widely used in Wales to hold together subsiding railway embankments. Japanese knotweed has no predators in the UK and as such is not easily controlled. The saving grace is that the plant in this country is female only and is not espablished by seeds. However, the roots and stems can establish in new soil easily if not carefully disposed of.

The plant is a hardy one and it is illegal to spread the plant under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Soil deemed to be contaminated with Japanese knotweed is sighted as controlled waste under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. In recent years lenders have begun declining loans on properties due to the presence of Japanese knotweed on sites. Most buildings insurance policies do not cover damage and problems caused by Japanese knotweed.

Close up of Japanese knotweedJapanese knotweed can damage ruin gardens, drains, paths paving, walls and out buildings. In rare and exceptional cases it has been reported to affect foundations and floors.
It can be treated in a number of ways. Herbicides can be applied, but this is usually necessary over a number of years. This is most economic, but not always effective. Excavation of contaminated soil is also employed, but soil must be disposed of as hazardous waste and the depth of the root system can mean excavation and disposal amounts to serious costs. Experiments with introduced grazing insects are being trialled, but there are obvious unknowns with introducing non-native insects into the environment. Japanese knotweed being the case in point.

The presence of Japanese knotweed is likely to affect the value of a property and remediation is expensive. Caught early enough and not disrupted the plant can be eradicated before it spreads.

I took these photo’s at a property in Bath. Unfortunately the knotweed had taken root outside the rear of the property. The building occupant was pleased he was only renting the property. The landlord and neighbours are likely to have a very different view on it.

RMA serves up food for thought at Hungerford Big Business Breakfast

Richard Mountain deleviring an insight into what buildings can tell us.Have you ever wondered what would be stories could be told if the walls could talk. Richard Mountain delivered a 10 minute presentation at Hungerford Big Business Breakfast (HBBB) on Tuesday 16th May 2012 that gave an insight into what they say.

Richard, chartered building surveyor and owner of RMA Surveyors Ltd,  frequently enters into dialogue with buildings. He gave practical examples of the kinds of conservations he has to fellow attendees at one of West Berkshire’s premium networking event, held at the Bear Hotel in Hungerford.

HBBB is held monthly and draws a wide variety of experts, services and business professionals. Richard enjoyed presenting to the room and imparting some of his expertise, whilst demonstrating why he is so passionate about building surveying.

After delivering his well received presentation he said “The group is unique and very relaxed. It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to explain a little bit more about what I do. I am pleased that my talk engaged with everyone and I had the opportunity to demonstrate the skills required to provide the professional service we do at RMA Surveyors Ltd.”

Richard is actively seeking further public speaking opportunities to demonstrate the benefits of his expertise. The next HBBB is June 19th contact Sarah Culpepper of the Bear Hotel for more details.

Homebuyers are being refused mortgages due to 'free' solar panels | Press Releases | Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors

Homebuyers are being refused mortgages due to ‘free’ solar panels | Press Releases | Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Top 5 Building Maintenance Tips

Defects that affect the structure of a building are usually caused by the simplest of issues,  which are easily remedied with a regular cyclical maintenance programme. The age old adage that prevention is better than cure rings true. The following is a list of the RMA Surveyors Ltd top 5 problems regularly encountered that could be easily prevented.

Poorly maintaned guttering1.    Keep rainwater goods regularly cleared and maintained. This is one of the simplest practical steps one can make to maintain any property. Safe access should always be factored in, particularly on larger commercial premises. That said the regular maintenance and clearing of rainwater goods will save hundreds, often thousands of pounds in remedying associated defects. We have discovered a dry rot outbreak covering three floors of a four story commercial premises; damaged masonry and staining; water ingress inside the building saturating the concrete floor screed; rotten external timbers and windows; damaged plaster and decorations internally; rusting of steel framing to a prefabricated system built property. All of these defects could have been easily prevented by maintenance of gutters and downpipes. In some cases poor rainwater management can lead to more serious structural damage caused by subsidence, where soil has been eroded away. For a small annual cost such problems could easily be avoided.

Partially blocked sub floor ventilation grille2.    Ventilation of buildings. This is a broad ranging subject, but in essence all one needs to do is remember a simple rule that buildings and their materials need to be adequately ventilated (or breath). The typical scenario we find is where suspended timber ground floors are not adequately ventilated. The presence of ventilation grilles on external walls indicates that the floor is likely to be timber and the void below needs to be well ventilated to prevent the accumulation of moisture. Typically solid floor extensions are installed and no provision is made to retain ventilation. This can create unventilated pockets where moisture can accumulate allowing the conditions for wood boring insects larvae (commonly called woodworm) and all kinds of rot to establish. Simply ensuring that ventilation grilles are maintained and not covered over could end up saving you thousands.

Loose repointing undertaking using cement rich mortar3.    Masonry repairs are often undertaken without due consideration for what original materials were used. Commonly I find that brickwork gets repointed in a cement mortar that is stronger than the surrounding brickwork. The result of this is that the mortar joints no longer allow water to evaporate and the brickwork begins to retain more water. On solid walled properties this can lead to damp on the internal wall surfaces. It can also mean damage to bricks in cold weather as the surface of the brick can be pushed off by the freeze/thaw cycle. Often repointing work can work itself loose due to expansion and contraction at differing rates with the brickwork and repointing is required far sooner than should be required. Make sure that when you are undertaking external masonry repairs it is done so by a contractor who understands the original construction and the work is correctly specified.

Flashing junction weathered with bitumen tape4.    Critical junctions between building elements such as chimneys and extensions are often poorly weathered with lead flashings in poor condition or missing altogether. The recent spate of metal thefts has compounded to the issue, as people are becoming increasingly reluctant to replace lead. Opting for cheaper bitumen backed aluminium tape is a temporary solution, but should not be relied upon to form a proper long term weatherproof junction. Where lead flashings are installed the standard of workmanship can often well below par. If you are planning to have any lead work undertaken make sure it is done by an experienced installer who understands the material and follows the industry standard guidance available from the Lead Sheet Association.

Jungle outside a back door5.    Finally, external decorations and maintenance of vegetation. Innumerable problems are associated with the simplest of maintenance tasks, namely vegetation management. Ivy climbing up walls may look idyllic but in some cases it can do permanent damage to masonry and cause all manner of associated problems. Careful pruning and maintenance of trees near buildings is also worthwhile especially in drought affected areas as the amount of water taken up by maturing trees can cause subsidence. A simple lick of paint every 5 years to external joinery will prevent costly maintenance of external and internal elements.

The above are simple measures that will save you time, stress and money. If you have a property that requires a detailed cyclical maintenance program, so you can plan and manage your maintenance budgets, or you require more urgent repairs and remediation, then please contact us. Our initial consultations are always free and we would be pleased to provide you with a full quotation based on the level of service you require.

Richard Mountain MRICS

Buy-to-Let Boom

Brook House, Northbrook StreetThe move is over the dust is settled and I have found some time to write a long overdue web update. So, what’s new?

The fanfares are out. RMA Surveyors Ltd have moved into Brook House in Northbrook Street. We now lease offices with Young Associates, an independent, specialist property management and consultancy firm. The move is a positive step for us, and we are sure it will be of benefit to both ourselves and other businesses in Newbury, now we have a presence in the heart of the town centre.

The RICS released an article this week formally recognising we are in a but-to-let boom. “Boom” is not a word we have heard in recent years and the activity in this sector is a clear indication that property is still a good investment. For those landlord’s or speculators who are making such investments I would add a cautionary note to invest in a detailed Building Survey or Home Buyers Report to prevent your investment becoming a liability. This service is an asset not a burden.

Older properties can require far more than a fresh coat of paint or a new kitchen or bathroom. Without the surety of a qualified surveyor’s opinion, investors could find themselves subject to all sorts of defects brought about by inherent poor design and previous lack of maintenance. I find the surveys I produce for my clients are a fantastic tool for negotiation. As such the survey pays for itself, and if it doesn’t bring the price down it should provide peace of mind that a property professional has cast their expert eye over it.

In the same vein, I have had plenty of experience of producing life cycle cost assessments to help commercial property building managers and businesses plan their budgets and maintenance cycles. In the residential market this approach is rarely taken. However, as landlord’s investments grow, commissioning of a stock condition survey of the entire portfolio is an invaluable tool. Allowing assessment of the current and future maintenance liability.

Good news for potential sellers. We now offer a presale survey, aimed at potential property sellers designed to make them aware of any defects their buildings may have prior to sale. This benefits a seller by identifying items requiring repair and defects likely to affect the sale or purchase price prior to marketing the property.

If you have any questions or need some professional property advice please contact us. An initial consultation is free and you will benefit from our advice.

Insurance Reinstatement Experts

Impact damge to house We keep hearing from clients that they never knew they could use an independent building surveyor to oversee the insurance reinstatement of their property. Here are a few reasons why it is better to use RMA Surveyors Ltd, an independent chartered building surveyor, to oversee the reinstatement of your property.

Larger insurance brokers offer their own in-house surveyors to oversee fire, flood, water and impact damage claims to property. These companies will appoint the services of their surveyors, to act on your behalf, after they have undertaken their initial assessment of the damage to your property. Often these brokers do not fully explain that you are not obliged to use their in-house surveyor’s services. You are free to appoint your own independent surveyor to specify, tender and oversee works on your behalf under your policy cover. Because your insurance policy covers the fees of an independent surveyor, like RMA Surveyors Ltd , it will not cost you a penny to get impartial, qualified and quality advice and management for the duration of the insurance reinstatement works.

Using an independent chartered building surveyor like RMA Surveyors Ltd is a better option for many reasons. Firstly, using RMA Surveyors Ltd guarantees you are using a qualified professional who is regulated by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). As RICS surveyors we are governed by a code of conduct and must act reasonably and impartially at all times.

Secondly, as chartered building surveyors we are professionally obliged to undertake projects diligently and must have the resources and capacity to fulfil a project. Large insurance broker surveyors often have many projects on the go at any one time over a large geographical area. They do not have the time to provide a tailored, bespoke service to each project. Consequently they cannot provide the same attention to detail, often missing important elements critical to the smooth completion of the project. A high turnover of staff and reallocation of resources in these companies can mean you deal with a number of different surveyors. Often works can be specified by the broker’s in-house surveyors by using template documents that do not fit the criteria of an individual project. RMA Surveyors Ltd provide a personal service with a meticulous approach, tailored to each individual property.

Thirdly, RMA Surveyors Ltd provide a fully accountable service which is efficient, detailed and comprehensive at all stages of the project. We also understand the stress and upheaval caused by such events as flood, fire, impact and water damage and endeavour to provide swift reinstatement of your property. As a result of their limited resources, broker’s in-house surveyors are often difficult to contact, do not properly oversee the quality of materials and workmanship on site, are slow to react to problems that arise and provide incomplete documentation.

Lastly, RMA Surveyors Ltd ensure that all works are undertaken by quality independent building contractors, using industry standard building contracts which protect you and clearly define your rights. Therefore, in the unlikely event that something does go wrong you are protected. Often broker’s in-house surveying departments use contracts that heavily favour themselves and their own approved contractors; effectively absolving them of responsibility should a problem arise.

If you have an insurance claim that is causing undue stress or you need some free advice please contact us. We would welcome the opportunity to help you.

A Cold Snap Could Snap Pipes

Bird box in the snowWith weather warnings announced for snow in parts of south Wales, the southwest of England and with a small fluttering of snow on cars this morning here in Berkshire, it’s forecast that we’re in for another cold snap this week.

A survey last year showed that over three million of us suffered damage to our homes in the winter freeze of 2010/2011. The extreme winter weather that occurred between October 2010 and February 2011 damaged 6% of all homes in the UK.

Often the biggest damage caused is the result of escape of water caused by frozen and burst pipes. Extreme cold can cause internal and external water pipes and drainage systems to freeze up, when this happens the water in the pipes expands and can cause the pipes and fittings to split or burst open. When the frozen water melts, damage becomes obvious as water leaks out of the system.

Leaking water can cause severe damage to properties. There is potential for ceilings to hold water, causing bowing and the possibility that the ceiling could collapse. Plaster may become soft and fall apart once it gets soaked with water. Floors, stairs and timber joinery often swell, disintegrate and can rot if left.  Tiles, paint and wallpaper can crack, lift, and peel off when water gets behind.

If you find yourself the victim of such water or flood damage, it’s likely you’ll need to make an insurance claim.

Once you put in your claim, an inspection will be required to assess the damage to your property. A detailed inspection is not something that a loss adjuster is always fully qualified to do and while your insurance company may offer you their in-house surveying service, it’s worthwhile knowing that you are not beholden to use their services. You are entitled to appoint your own independent building surveyor to assess, specify, tender and oversee reinstatement works. In our experience you will receive a far higher level of service when you use an independent construction professional to act as your project manager.

The independent and impartial expertise of RMA Surveyors Ltd, chartered building surveyors,  can determine the real extent of the damage to your property and ensure that your home is reinstated to a professional standard. If you are comprehensively insured there should be no direct cost to you.

If the cold weather results in you having to submit a claim, then contact us. We’ll be pleased to look at your claim and offer an initial free consultation. We have a proven track record in getting insurance claims moving and homes reinstated professionally and efficiently.

Richard Mountain MRICS

HOW TO PREVENT FREEZING PIPES
It’s never too late to go about protecting your home from the extreme cold weather. Why not implement these ideas to help prevent pipes from freezing:
– Lag exposed pipes with insulation
– Install loft and cavity wall insulation (special attention should be taken over pipes in loft spaces)
– Stop any dripping taps and valves, the water could freeze in the waste or overflow pipe and cause a blockage
– Keep your property warm, and if you are going away consider leaving the heating on low
– Try to stop any draughts
– Make sure you know where your stopcock is, should you need to turn off your water supply

Why pay for a construction professional?

Judges gavel and the scales of justiceWe have picked up several projects in the last 6 months where the clients have had builders start or about to begin works with no formal contract, specification, scope of works or even a sketch on the back of a beer mat. As building professionals we see these as shocking omissions. We implore anyone thinking of embarking upon a building project, whether it is a refurbishment, extension, alteration, repair or cyclical maintenance, to only do so if they have taken appropriate professional advice.

Invariably construction is expensive. People want to limit costs as much as possible. Often the services of construction professionals are first to be omitted, in a bid to shave some of this cost. True, in the first instance money has been saved. The fees of surveyors, architects and structural engineers have been avoided. But the saving often doesn’t remain as the project spirals out of control without formal professional management. Worst case scenario the building owner ends up paying for professional fees to put it right or act as an expert witness in court.

Often a good contract administrator or project manager’s value cannot be immediately seen. But a project that has benefitted from the process of feasibility, design, specification, tendering, contractor appointment, management and communication by a qualified professional adds value to a project. Using a professional to steer you through the process will save you money.

A good proportion of RMA Surveyors Ltd instructions are generated by clients who wished they had sought professional advice in the first instance. We have seen sewer pipes terminate below ground floors, all manner of poor masonry detailing and poor mortar specifications, non-compliant roof conversions, unsupported chimney breasts, undersized lintels, dangerous electrics and all manner of other defects. Often work has not been passed by building control and there is no formal contract in place to protect the client.

Many problems encountered are not even considered at the time of installation, but would have been picked up by an experienced professional. Even if a problem is not noted during or immediately after construction the chances are the problem will manifest itself in years to come. Most likely when the property is sold and a purchaser’s surveyor highlights defects or shortcomings. Inevitably the value of the property is reduced at the point of sale.

Coupled with the above, a project that has not been properly specified will undoubtedly result in spiralling costs during construction. We often hear of clients whose builder invoices an inflated final account where no agreement has been made for the extra costs. But with no formal contract or defined contract sum the client is often bamboozled by the contractors’ technical explanations when trying to negotiate. The result is that both parties become entrenched.

A construction professional may not always seem appropriate and can be a cost to be avoided. But RMA Surveyors Ltd experience is although the value we bring cannot always be calculated; the cost of putting it right when it goes wrong cannot either.

If you have a project you would like to talk about please contact us.

Small Business Directory

RMA Surveyors Ltd are now registered with UK Small Business Directory (Free SEO Advice).

Condensation

Condensation on a windowThe RMA Surveyors Ltd guide to condensation within buildings.

One of the most widely misinterpreted and misunderstood building defects is condensation. It can often be confused with service leaks and external water penetration. The key to understanding how and why condensation occurs is surface temperature.

Condensation occurs because water vapour in the air can no longer be held by the air. The water vapour condenses and becomes liquid water.

The warmer the air, the more water vapour it can carry. When warm air comes into contact with a cold surface, air temperature is reduced and the volume of water vapour must also be reduced.

When condensation occurs it will manifest on surfaces colder than the surrounding air temperature. We are all familiar with condensation on windows. In most circumstances windows are usually the coldest surface on an external wall. When condensation occurs on other surfaces in a room it is usually a good indication that that surface is colder than other surrounding surfaces that are unaffected.

Mould and mildew associated with condensation is not always going to appear. The mould occurs only because the conditions for it to exist are present, namely a food source and moisture source. Moisture is provided courtesy of the condensation process. Food can be any organic material, including cellulose in emulsion paints and oil on fingers transferring to a wall or ceiling surface.

Often people attempt to clear away mould with a cloth end up with worse mould staining as organic material from the cloth creates a further food source for the mould to establish. There are a multitude of mould and mildew removal products on the market. In cases of condensation it is better to resolve the cause rather than just treat the symptoms.

Surface temperature alone is an oversimplification of the problem. The warmer the air the greater the capacity of water vapour. However, the quantity of water in the air is not always at full capacity all of the time. If that were the case almost every window would have condensation. Therefore the volume of moisture in the air, or relative humidity, is critical to each situation where condensation may arise. Understanding the relationship between the air’s relative humidity and the temperature at which air can no longer carry that volume of water vapour (otherwise known as the dew point), is critical to determining how to resolve a condensation problem.

To deal with condensation a number of options are available. All of the options simply require a difference in the parameters that allow condensation to occur.

Firstly, you can increase the surface temperature above the dew point. This could mean increasing insulation levels, providing secondary glazing or double glazing or providing a source of heat such as trace heating, like that on our car heated rear windows.

Increasing room temperatures also allows the air to carry a greater volume of water vapour, which, providing the relative humidity does not also increase, can alter the dew point and prevent condensation forming. This can be a rather arbitrary approach and is unlikely to be economical in terms of heating bills.

Altering insulation levels of external walls and roof structures can create condensation problems. There are many examples where blocks of flats and houses have had cavity wall insulation fitted and condensation problems have begun to manifest elsewhere. Localised spotting condensation can also occur in such cases. Where insulation has been unevenly distributed and the resulting gaps in insulation cause differential surface temperatures internally. Interstitial condensation can also occur. This happens when the dew point occurs within the wall or ceiling structure. Interstitial condensation can be a real problem as it can saturate the internal structure of a building elemnet for a long period before a defect begins to manifest itself. This is a particular problem in timber framed housing, when the internal vapour barrier within the wall structure has been damaged or poorly installed.

Secondly, you can reduce the amount of humidity in the air. This means isolating water sources. This is easier said than done. The fact that a property is inhabited by eating, breathing mammals who evaporate, perspire and respire their way throughout the day makes it difficult to reduce the amount of water vapour in a property. People tend to want to eat, boil kettles, wash and dry clothes, stay clean, use the toilet, keep pets and generally undertake activities that require the use of water, a proportion of which ends up as vapour carried within the air.

Reducing our use of water may not always be practical. Managing the way we use water can be. For example opening trickle vents on windows or keeping high humidity environments such as bathrooms and kitchens well ventilated with regular air changes from external air will help reduce relative humidity. Keeping toilet seat lids in the closed position will also contribute to reducing humidity.

Thirdly, good ventilation is also key to reducing the liklihood of condensation occurring. Where air is kept moving there is less likelihood of water vapour within the air condensing on cold surfaces. This is why opening a window, even only partially, can radically reduce instances of condensation as the water is yurned back to vapour and is carried off by unsaturated air.

Leaving condensation to establish long term can cause a multitude of problems both to the building and the individual. Mould spores can not only look unsightly but can affect human health. Associated respiratory illness is well documented with mildew moulds.

Condensation in buildings can result in longer term damp problems allowing dry and wet rots to develop and damage timber elements. As well as this surface decorations can be damaged and goods and furnishings can also be affected. Often clothing and stored goods in humid properties can be ruined, as condensation forms in wardrobes and moulds establish. Very humid properties are particularly prone as humid high pressure air forces its way into less humid cooler areas. Often such losses are not covered by standard insurance policies.

If you want to read more about condensation the RICS have produced this guidance note. Further information is also provided by the ISVA which is available here.

If you have a condensation problem and would like some further investigation and advice from RMA Surveyors Ltd please contact us and we will be happy to assist.