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Help! My Victorian House Is Falling Down


If you need help and advice with regard to structural surveys, building surveys, engineers reports, defects reports, including things such as cracks, dampness, condensation, foundation problems, etc, home buyers reports, please Free Phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat from a friendly surveyor and engineer.

We have just seen the programme ‘Help My House Is Falling Down' by Sarah Beeny on Channel 4 i-player, which is well worth watching. It was the one where the couple bought a Victorian house hastily and went on honeymoon (we suspect without having a building survey) and then returned after the honeymoon to discover that pipes had been leaking throughout and it had whole host of problems, including:-

1.  Cracking to the walls

2.  Cracking to the ceiling

3.  Mould

4.  A bow to the floor

victorian house falling down

Important to have a building survey

They then had this investigated by Sarah Beeny. The sum extent was trying to solve the problem after the horse had bolted and shows why it is important to have a building survey. Sarah Beeny examined the property to find more cracks, together with blown plaster and what looked like wet rot to the floor, although she didn't actually call it this.

Sarah Beeny used the term that the plaster was ‘falling off in slabs' which is the lime plaster. She also commented that the lime plaster was being held on by the paper. We often come across this where it is held on by the lining paper, also in addition sometimes it's held on by the bonding agents that you have in the lime plaster, such as the ox or horse hair.

Sarah Beeny calls in the experts

Then, much to our surprise, Sarah Beeny called in an array of experts which included:

1.  A structural engineer to look at the potential structural problems

2.  A man with a thermal imaging gun

3.  A man that examined the floor.

We were really surprised to see all these different people when all you need is one Building Surveyor but we suppose it added to the entertainment value of the programme.

We were interested to see the worry created by having all these different people, though whether that was just drama for the ‘Help My Building is Falling Down' programme we are not sure.

Under Floor Examination

The first thing that happened was that Sarah Beeny had seen what looked like wet rot on the floor and she got a man who went under the floor (something that we have done in the past) to check the condition of the timbers and he found that they were all fine.

Leaking Gutters

Further investigation discovered that it was the guttering that was leaking, which we saw later on in the programme during a rainy spell how the water ran down the walls and was getting into the structure. This was blamed for the problems with the plaster which was blowing as well, which were sad to see and we also feel was a waste of money, the couple took the plaster off the walls and then re-plastered in modern gypsum plaster, which isn't a good material to use in an older property. All of this, of course, was after they had repaired the gutters.

We were pleased to see that Sarah Beeny didn't recommend putting in a damp proof course (DPC) and that she recommended that you look for the cause and dealt with that rather than dealing with the effect. She even said that you don't need a damp proof membrane to seal up the house, which was great news as you see so many older properties ruined by the addition of a DPC – reference Jeff Howell's book ‘The Damp Proof Myth' that we have written articles on previously.

victorian house falling down

Structural Engineer and DIY Tie Bars

Interestingly, the structural engineer found that the cracks were not progressive and therefore weren't a problem. However, he identified bowing to the wall which then showed a great experiment as to how tying back the wall by tie bars restrains the movement and how it strengthens it.

The couple then carried out some DIY structural repairs to save a large amount of money.

victorian house falling down

Bend in the Floor and Thermal Imaging

Next they looked at the bending top floor using a thermal imaging camera. This showed that what looked like a studwork partition was in fact what we would term a structural studwork partition with diagonal supporting timbers.

Sarah Beeny then went to the Building Research Establishment, which was originally a government run research establishment for building related materials and as of late has been a private concern. They carried out testing on the structural studwork and discovered it to be able to take over four tonnes in weight. They then cut an opening in this, as the couple were proposing to do, to form a doorway (albeit that it didn't actually have a door frame in). It then took less than half a tonne, so you could have seen there would have been structural problems caused by the adding of the doorway.

So the results from discussions with Sarah Beeny were that they weren't cut through the supporting studwork partition below and said it was quite unusual to find this sort of studwork partitioning but we find it is relatively common.

The programme then showed some more DIY structural repairs in the form of the couple getting up the floor using acro-props (trade name for a scaffolding type system that works very similar to the way that you use a jack when changing a tyre on your car) and they jacked the floor up and then tied the floor joists to the purlin above (the structural part of the roof).

Summary of ‘Help My House Is Falling Down'

Overall, the ‘Help My House Is Falling Down' was an interesting programme, if not a bit dramatic. It was fascinating to see them using three different people where typically you would only use a Building Surveyor. It also referred you to the Channel 4/Homes videos that they have on repairs to buildings, etc, which is worth a look, or of course you can ring us up on 0800 298 5424.

All of this work took a year, not to mention the cost that the couple had to pay out. It was mentioned in the film what they originally wanted to do was borrow money from the bank but reduced this figure and they had to do their own DIY structural repairs, which is course isn't ideal. We think this could have all been saved by having a Building Survey carried out at the start before they purchased the property.

victorian house falling down

Sarah Beeny said that the couple had literally been to hell and back with this house and they really needn't have done if they had had a survey before they started it all. They would also have saved themselves 12 months of work, as well as money.

Sarah Beeny does use some really good key words. She mentions that they couple were “licking their wounds” after an impulse buy which they made initially (again we would comment that they should have had a building survey) and that when they finally got to the point of having a safe and secure home but after 12 months of hard work it was ready to be the family they originally wanted it to be.

Independent Surveyor's Advice

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a surveyor with regard to structural surveys, building surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, defects report, including things such as cracks, dampness, condensation, foundation problems, etc, dilapidations, homebuyers reports or any other property matters please Free phone 0800 298 5424 for a Surveyor to give you a call back.

Independent commercial property surveyors

If you have a commercial property, be it leasehold or freehold, then you may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site .

We hope you found the article 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 put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

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We would refer you to other interest articles on our website:

Help! My House is Falling Down

Loft Conversions Do They Add Value?

My property has been repointed in a cement mortar, what can I do?

Rising damp, condensation and damp through your walls