Deciding where to start work in a house which needs an overhaul isn’t easy, especially if you have to live in the house while you’re working on it and if, as is likely after moving, money is in short supply.
If you’ve had a building survey done, you should know about the main problems of the new house. Among other things, the surveyor should have told you:
• whether there are any major structural faults – such as settlement or subsidence
• whether the roof is faulty
• whether there’s wet rot, dry rot or woodworm in the structural timbers. • whether there’s a damp problem with a damp-proof course perhaps
penetrating damp or condensation.
A surveyor will normally comment briefly on the electrical system, plumbing and central heating. He doesn’t usually carry out a full examination of these and usually isn’t qualified to, but if he finds something wrong with a part of the property on which he’s not expert, he should advise a specialist survey.
If the property you’ve bought was previously occupied and furnished, it’s likely that the surveyor was hampered in his inspection. Once you’re the owner, it’s often possible to inspect more thoroughly and to find out more about how the house works. For instance the departing owner may
have removed carpets, so you’ll be able to get at (and under) floorboards that were previously covered up. You’ll be able to run the heating (which is worth doing immediately even in summer) and, after living there a week or so, you’ll discover any dodgy fittings.
Now’s the time to sort out how all the services work: to find the stopcocks, to label the house fuses if they are not already, and to work out where the cables and pipes run – see Chapter 2. This is probably also the time to obtain further advice from experts, if necessary. Take advantage of free surveys and quotations offered by firms carrying out remedial damp and rot work; if you’re doubtful about the wiring, pay to have it properly inspected.
Where to start
Armed with all this information it should be possible to plan a sensible order of work. Obviously major structural faults come first, they will need immediate attention before there’s any more deterioration.
Many of the priority jobs – see below involve lifting floorboards and sometimes stripping plaster off the walls. While a property is in this state of upheaval, it’s worth considering which of the other improvements that you intend to make will involve similar disruption to the floors and walls. Rewiring and installing central heating usually will. Work on the floor above can often have a jarring effect on the ceiling below so any ceiling repairs that might be needed should generally be delayed until the floorboards are back in place.
In any practical order, redecorating is the last thing you should do in a new
home, but you may decide that you need at least one habitable and presentable living room as well as use of bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen. Which rooms you choose to live in will depend on the work which needs doing. If you need a new damp-proof course and that’s going to involve stripping off the plaster up to I m high round all the ground-floor walls, then you’d probably do best to choose to live upstairs for a while. If it’s the roof that needs attention you might vacate the upper floor.
D-i-y improvements usually have to fit around your normal daytime activities and therefore they often take longer than employing a tradesman. So if you do the work yourself, it’s possible that you’ll end up ‘squatting’ in your own house for a period of months, even years. In this case, if the existing decoration is dreadful, it can be worth brightening the rooms you’re occupying with a cheerful coat of emulsion. Unless you’re paintingover a wallcovering which will be removed, buy a paint of reasonable quality or you could have problems with later decorations.
Try to plan your improvements so that some rooms are finished sooner than others. Rewiring is the best example of a major task that can be tackled in stages. It’s simple enough to plan your new circuits so that they can be installed in stages, completing one and getting it operational before you tackle the next.
It’s also worth bearing in mind (and making provision for) improvements that you plan to do at a later date. For instance, if you plan a loft conversion, you might install the electricity cable up to the loft while rewiring the rest of the house. Or while installing central heating you might keep the pipes well away from a wall you intend to demolish later.
Intermediate jobs These may affect the plaster and decoration in the immediate area but usually have no great effect on other parts of the property.
Jobs to leave until last The finishing touches cover the work that has been done underneath. You won’t want to undo them so make sure all that is necessary has been done.
final decorating laying floorcoverings
secondary double glazing
work— if not extensive, bits of timber can be treated or replaced, otherwise whole timbers or frames may need replacing and plastered walls making good around; floors can be affected in kitchens and bathrooms.Wet rot in wood – seen as flaking paint and soft fibres which will break apart easily (test with something like a pen knife) – particularly floorboards, skirting boards and around door and window frames
Dry rot – seen as dry,ie cracked, powdery wood and visible fungal growth. There is often a musty ames, smell; thrives in damp, and I unventilated conditions that particularly look at floorboards, and in cellar the and loft work -extensive repair jf true, and replacement ofter and timbers and plaster need Floorboards up, plaster off.
These are jobs that will deteriorate if left or that involve major upheaval, including lifting of
floorboards and cutting into plaster.
Damp-proof course (dpc) -seen as peeling wallpaper or damp stains on downstairs walls, starting near skirting boards which may themselves be suffering from damp. There may also be a damp smell work— repair or install dpc, may involve lifting ground floor and stripping inside plaster up to 1 m high. Could mean remaking a solid floor altogether.
Penetrating damp – seen as damp stains on inside walls, or soft loose mortar between bricks. work — outer walls often need repointing, inside walls on both floors may need replastering and redecorating.
Faulty roof – seen as missing or broken tiles, bumpy top to flat roof, in bad cases damp stains on upstairs walls (inside or out) and ceilings. Flash ings around chimneys may be defective.
work— replace or repair, roof covering and perhaps upstairs ceilings.Installing
work— plumbing, lifting floorboards, fitting, boxing
and chasing pipes, fixing radiators.
Old plumbing -seen as old lead pipes which may have been repaired with copper. Tell-tale stains on ceiling or walls.
work – major replumbing. some floorboards have to be lifted, boxing in surface pipes and possibly
Woodworm (or beetle) – seen as lots of tiny holes in timber; thrives in the same conditions as dry rot work— if timbers haven’t weakened, affected areas can be treated. Floorboards will be lifted. If serious, structural timbers in the floors and roof may need replacing.
Old wiring —seen as old-fashioned round-pin sockets or fuse boxes; damaged sockets, lights and sockets that don’t work or are loose on the wall; untidy wiring. work— new wiring; some floorboards have to be lifted; for the neatest concealed wiring, plaster on walls may have to be chased to take cables and mounting boxes.
Settlement, subsidence – seen as cracks, which can be both inside and out, in the brickwork and plaster, particularly around window and door frames. Gaps between floor and skirting board. Doors that stick.
work— underpinning the foundations, probably refitting frames out of true, filling cracks in plaster and masonry, floors may need to be lifted.