Non-Traditional Housing – what is it?


If you either own a Non-Traditional House or are thinking of buying a Non-Traditional House please call us on 0800 298 5424.  We provide independent help and advice with regard to independent valuations, property surveys, building surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, defects surveys and structural surveys matters.

We have carried out surveys on many different types of non-traditional construction.


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What is Non-Traditional construction?

Non-traditional construction can really be classed as construction techniques that utilise systems of building, focused on speed and economy of construction.  It is the sort of construction that is used where a great deal of housing is required quickly, so it is often used by local authorities to mass build (although today it is also used by commercial construction companies and developers).


Types of Non-Traditional Construction


This resulted in some one-off designs but the majority of them fall into the category of:-

1. Metal frame

2. Concrete frame

3. Timber frame

4. Concrete panel construction

5. Structural insulation panels

6. In situ concrete

7. One-offs

We know we are cheating really with the last category but it is the best way we can think of explaining it.

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What do valuers, chartered surveyors and chartered building surveyors mean when they say non-traditional construction?

It would probably be a better term if the term non-typical construction was used.  If you think of a house or a flat and think how they are traditionally built, from the Victorian era it is of brick and tile, or brick and slate, or stone and slate, or possibly render and tile, or render and slate depending upon which part of the country you are from this will be the traditional construction in the area of England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland that you live in. Often traditional construction is as local as the county or town you live in.

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Where did the term non-traditional construction and traditional construction come from?

We believe it came originally from the mortgage companies as a chartered building surveyor would certainly be more specific with regard to what the construction type is.  We believe it was generated by the mortgage companies because they wanted to establish how the vast majority of properties were built and so appeared the terms traditional construction and non-traditional construction.


Identifying Non-Traditional House in the UK


The absolute bible for this, although it is getting slightly dated is:

Non Traditional Houses – Identifying Non-Traditional Houses in the UK

1918 to 1975 BR469

Compiled and Edited by

Harry Harrison, Stephen Mullin, Barry Reeves and Alan Stevens.

Published by BRE Press (Building Research Establishment).

Many years ago the Building Research Establishment (known as BRE) were part of a Government organisation with the Property Services Agency (PSA), which we would say were the undisputed experts on construction and building problems along with a few Universities such as Reading and Salford Universities who looked on the more academic side.  However we would also say that things have changed with commercialism.

We cannot recommend this book highly enough although it will set you back several hundreds of pounds, possibly worth using a search engine to see if you can pick up a second hand copy somewhere.


After the Great Wars we needed houses and homes

In the UK after World War I and World War II our housing stock had been bombed and made safe by being demolished so there were fewer houses.  There had also been a lack of maintenance over the war years, as the workforce had been at war, and then the armed forces men were returning and they needed houses quickly.  Various methods of non-traditional construction were proposed and built in the 1940's, 1950's and 1960's.


Property boom year construction

Also, this type of construction has been used during boom years, such as the early 1970's and the late 1980's, where it was difficult to build quickly enough to meet the demand.  Our comments relate to the UK however there are even variations in the UK.


Is it the way the structure works that makes a building traditional or non-traditional construction?

To expand on this, a traditional old style timber frame property is built of oak to a one-off design.  It certainly could be classed as the original traditional construction, as most houses were built in this form.  However, in more recent times traditional construction has been thought of as brick and tile, or brick and slate, or stone and tile, stone and slate, etc, as we mentioned earlier.


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Crucks frame house

When the original non-traditional housing was built there wasn't too much thought given to making it look externally like a traditional building.  Therefore, some complained that they seem to have concrete finishes, be it painted concrete, which looks similar to render, or concrete planks, as in the Airey buildings.  We would argue as these were easily identifiable and stood out they were more a target for mortgage lenders not lending on non-traditional construction that looks like traditional construction.


Modern timber frame houses – are they non-traditional construction?

It could be argued that the houses being built, in what is known as modern timber frame, are as far away from traditional construction as houses that have been classed as non-traditional construction which have, for example, been built out of concrete.


And this is where non-traditional construction gets really confusing


This is where non-traditional construction really is confusing as some non-traditional construction techniques look very similar to traditional construction techniques and can only be identified by the trained experienced eye (we are more than happy to chat about this, please free phone us on 0800 298 5424).


Can I get a mortgage on a non-traditional house?


Even more confusing is there are some non-traditional constructions that are accepted by the banks, building societies and mortgage lenders and others that are not, assuming that the bank valuation surveyor spots them. It is so important to know whether banks, building societies and mortgage lenders will lend on this type of construction if you are considering purchasing.

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Modern timber frame construction that is non-traditional but will be lent on


Let us first of all explain what modern timber frame construction is.  They are very much an engineered timber frame that is an absolute minimum of timber and maximum strength characteristics.  The majority are factory made and factory assembled and are built in mass, rather than being a one-off design and they have an external cladding for protection, often brickwork, although in more recent years we have noticed in our surveys that render has been used, or cladding panels of timber and also plastic lookalike timber.  Modern timber frame properties are also finished with a membrane to stop any dampness from the external walls getting through (we have seen in our surveys where it does happen it can distort or rot), as it can in a traditional timber frame property.


New Modern timber frame construction


The whole idea behind a modern timber frame construction is completely different to what we would term a traditional timber frame construction.

Traditional timber frame constructed houses were built from local materials at the time when wood was in plentiful supply however the modern timber frame property is a timber frame property that is then clad or hidden with brickwork or stonework or another form of cladding such as vertical tiling and looks very much like a traditional house.  When we use the term traditional house here we mean traditional brick and tile house or brick and slate house or stone and tile or stone and slate house.

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Economics of building modern timber frame houses


The whole construction is based around the economics of cheap construction and fast construction, and this type of construction is very much assembled, rather than built by tradesmen, the de-skilling being another element in the economics of the construction.  However when all is said and done the mortgage companies, such as the banks and building societies do lend against it.

We have seen during our surveys other more recent innovations within the modern timber frame market, such as using composite wood products for floor joists and also for the flooring, together with an increased use of external cladding, as it is more economical and faster to put up than brickwork.


Types of non-traditional construction


The techniques utilised for non-traditional construction after the war years tended to use more robust materials and more innovation.  They fall into three categories:-

• Structural frame

• Large panel construction

• Innovatory construction


Structural frame

This was very much where a structural frame was erected. The walls were then hung off it. The structural frames can be metal, concrete or wood.  The danger factor for a mortgage company lending on this is if there is deterioration within the structural frame that is hidden, we would pick this up during a survey therefore it is critical that a Building Survey is carried out prior to purchasing a non-traditional property.

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Non traditional construction structural frame

A large amount of Local Authority housing was built in this manner, and other National companies requiring housing, such as the Coal Board, and utilising mass production techniques lowered the cost of the housing.  These types of houses also tended to use techniques that we hadn't used before in the housing market, although often we would use them in the commercial market.

Metal Frame Structure

Below are photographs of a metal frame house that we have recently surveyed.

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Metal frame house

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Original condition of non-traditional
house with roof replacement

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Close up of cladding on non-traditional

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Non-traditional metal frame house

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Painted cladding to non-traditional

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Close up of old metal windows in a
non-traditional house

The adding of modern things can affect a metal frame house

It is very common these days to have a shower/ bathroom with an extract system. Does that extract system discharge into the roof or does it discharge out of the building? If it discharges into the roof then there can be problems with rusting and corroding of metal.

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Extract vent to outside often discharges
into roof which is essential that they
do not in this type of roof

Large panel construction

This, as the name suggests, is where rather than building small brick after small brick we used large panels, usually of concrete, which in themselves were a storey height and similar width, about two and a half metres square, and they literally interlocked.  There have been problems with the reinforcement used in these and the connections of them, but we haven't come across these problems in the many years that we have been surveying.

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Non-traditional frame construction


Panel construction house

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Large panel concrete non-traditional

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Jointing to a non-traditional house

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General view of a development of
non-traditional houses


Innovatory construction

We couldn't think of a better title for this section, but we basically mean constructions that used innovation to look at building houses in a completely new way.  An example is the Wimpey no fines concrete system, which is popular and, as far as we know, mortgage companies will lend upon. It utilises almost a moulding system using form work.

There is also pod construction, which is drilling pre-fabricated units, craned and positioned into place and then an outer protective shell put around them.  Lots of this type of construction was originally carried out by local authorities, as they had the pressure on them to build a large number of houses, and more recently by commercial companies, which had the pressure on them to make profits or returns for their investors.

Whistle-stop tour of the non-traditional housing market

There are whole books dedicated to this area, so an article such as this can hardly present the subject of non-traditional housing in detail, but we hope this has given you a flavour and an interest for the subject.


Example Surveys

You can ring up specifically for an example of your type of property but we have some examples where you can just click on the link below and they will take you straight to the property survey:

Residential Building Survey of a War Years Semi Detached Property

Residential Building Survey of a Victorian Extended Semi Detached Property

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Independent Surveyors

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a chartered surveyor, or a chartered building surveyor and are particularly interested in carrying out work on a non traditional property or if you are buying a non traditional property please look at our survey examples.

We feel our surveys are quite unique, as they are written to your level of knowledge. The surveys include photos and sketches and definitions. The survey will also include an action required section and an estimate of costs in the executive summary. We are more than happy to meet you at the property whilst carrying out the survey to discuss any specific issues you may have or have a general chat about what we have found at the end of the survey. Please contact 0800 298 5424 for a chartered surveyor to give you a call back.

Commercial Property

If you are looking for commercial property, whether it is freehold or leasehold, we would recommend a survey as this will prevent dilapidations claims in the long run. You may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site , both of which we have been advised are very helpful!

We can talk and talk about property

We hope you found this article on Non-Traditional Housing of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have included is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

The content of the website is for general information and entertainment only and is not intended to be relied upon for specific or general decisions. Appropriate independent professional advice should be taken before making such a decision Free phone on 0800 298 5424 for independent surveying advice.


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