Common Problems with Victorian and Edwardian Houses

Don’t buy a problem buy a building survey

When our Independent Chartered Surveyors carry out building surveys or, as they are also known, full structural surveys or engineers reports or historic house surveys they detail the various elements of Victorian and Edwardian houses from the top of the building to the bottom i.e. from chimney pot to the foundations.

Save money with a building survey

Understanding a Victorian or Edwardian property, its characteristics and problems by having a building survey will help you make an informed decision and save you money too.

Are You Buying, Renting or living in a Victorian Property?

Having a house survey is essential when buying or renting a house or if you have a property problem.  A house survey from British Listed Building Independent Chartered Surveyors will:-

1.  Save you time and money

Our house surveys not only identify any property problems and/or defects we give solutions to the issues and estimated costs too.  A house survey can then be used to negotiate on the asking price to reduce sale price and can be used to negotiate with a builder regarding his costs to carry out building works.

2.  100% impartial property advice

Our Building Surveyors do not work for any financial institutions, estate agencies or insurance companies we work for you and only you with your best interests at heart.

3.  Highly qualified and experienced property experts

All our Building Surveyors are members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and are property professionals giving the best property advice with extensive specialist knowledge of all era’s of property construction.

Do you own or are you about to buy a Victorian or an Edwardian house or flat?

If the answer is YES, read on we can help You…


Whilst surveying properties across the country built during different Eras of construction our Independent Chartered Surveyors frequently find during their inspection common problems associated with the building Era.

Please note that we would advise that the property problems could often be specific to the location of the property and sometimes the direction the building is facing.  For example north, south, east or west elevations can have their individual issues.

The property defects and property problems may also relate to the mixture of building materials used and standard of its original construction.  Also problems may have occurred where repairs, alterations and extensions have been carried out to the property.

Victorian and Edwardian architecture

Aside from this there are several typical problems associated with Victorian and Edwardian properties.  We detail some typical issues but wish to detail that there are many books and studies on this Era of architecture and detail a few that may be of interest below.

  1. Victorian House Style Handbook by Linda Osband and Paul Atterbury
  2. Victorian Style by Judith H. Miller, Martin Miller and James Merrell
  3. An Introduction to the Victorian Style by David Crowley
  4. Victorian Architecture: Diversity and Invention by James Stephen Curl

Victorian and Edwardian houses

The Victorian Era began in the mid 1880s until the start of the 1900’s, the Edwardian Era being the first decade of the 20th century.  We believe it is more precise to give general dates, as unlike the monarch’s reigns the style of construction did not instantly stop on their death or abdication.

Key features of Victorian houses

Victorian architecture

Victorian houses tended to have a pointy appearance with steep, high-pitched roofs clad with slates and relatively narrow width sliding sash windows.  Victorian houses often had front bays windows either single or double storey and tended to be splayed bays.

Edwardian bays tended to be a squarer shaped bay rather than rectangular.


Victorian property walls were constructed using Flemish bond brickwork in either red brick or yellow stock brick although this may vary, as it would depend on the local building material such as stone was used in Cambridge and Oxford for example.

Victorian architecture has some ornate elements such as decorative banding to the brickwork or stonework often using a brick feature at the windows at high level or corbelling (sometimes known as dog’s teeth brickwork) at the top of the wall at roof level.

Victorian house building was a huge step forwards in terms of residential building construction and was the first time that ordinary people had drainage – quite a mod-con at the time!


What do Victorian houses look like?

To generalise in the south of England Victorian houses were brick built with slate roofs and brick chimneys.  The Victorian houses had timber sliding sash windows and frequently had either single or double splayed bays to the front elevation.

In the north of England stonework was more common with stone chimneys and stonework walls.

In Wales and Scotland the building style during the Victorian Era varied with a mixture of both stone and Flemish bond brickwork.


Typical problems with Victorian houses

Whilst carrying out full structural surveys of Victorian houses our Building Surveyors inspect the property from chimney top to foundation.  The building survey looks thoroughly at the property both externally and internally to ascertain if there is any property problem area of concern and if the building is structurally sound.  We detail below areas of a Victorian property from high level to foundations that may have defects or problems:-

High-level problems with Victorian houses

Victorian properties have steep high-pitched roofs and several chimneys meaning that scaffolding is likely to be required or a form of access platform such as a cherry picker or hoist.  When carrying out building repairs to these high-level areas a substantial amount of the cost relates to health and safety requirements to ensure the building work is carried out safely.


Chimney problems

Chimneys on Victorian or Edwardian properties traditionally suffer defects, which can be caused by weathering, wind and the position and/or location of the property. The brickwork to the chimneys can become weathered, bricks may suffer from spalling and re-pointing may be required.

When technical terms such as Spalling are used in our survey reports for ease and to ensure our clients fully understand we include a definition of the term.

Spalling Defined

Spalling occurs to brick or stone when water penetrates the surface and via freezing and thawing starts to cause deterioration to the surface. This in turn allows further water penetration and the surface breaks up further.  This ultimately can lead to water damage or structural damage to the area.



Chimney flashings problems

With Victorian houses there are often problems relating to the chimneys flashings.  This usually requires replacement of the cement wedging around the chimneys, unless it has lead flashings, to prevent rainwater getting into the structure.

Flashings Defined

Flashings prevent dampness from entering the property, usually at junctions where materials change.  Such a junction is the one between the chimney and the roof.


Victorian roof problems

Slipped, damaged and broken roof slates

Victorian house roofs were originally clad with slates and over time due to nail sickness slates may slip, crack or break.

Nail sickness defined:

Nail sickness is where the fixing nails that are used to secure slates on a roof have corroded over time and thereby the slates become loose slipping or breaking.

Typically, our Surveyors see there have been problems with the roof slates where lead tingles are present.  Normally, our Building Surveyors would suggest if there are more than 12 roof tingles present then you should be looking at re-roofing.

Victorian slate roof replaced with concrete tiled roof

Our Surveyors often find that Victorian properties have had slates replaced with modern concrete tiles, which can prove problematic.  Problems can occur if additional support has not been installed within the roof to accommodate the additional weight of the tiles.  If additional roof support has not been added this can lead to roof spread and problems with the walls of the Victorian property.

Manmade slates may have been added to replace original slates and again due to additional weight should have had extra support added within the roof.

Clay tiles may be present which were original clay tiles rather than modern concrete replacement tiles.  If clay tiles are present on the Victorian house then the nib of the clay tile needs to be checked to ascertain if there is any deterioration.

Victorian property roof junction problems

Frequently whilst surveying Victorian houses our Independent Building Surveyors find that the property has been amended and/or extended to provide a new layout or additional living space.  A roof junction is where the main roof meets the extension, which often we find is built using different materials to the original construction.  Our Building Surveyors frequently come across roof junction problems such as defective flashings and the overloading of guttering and downpipes.

Victorian valley gutter problems

Many Victorian properties have valley gutters to the roof, which originally were lead covered, which generally proved successful.  However, over the years other materials may have been used to replace the lead such as felt or flashband, which can cause issues allowing rainwater into the structure and will require replacement.

Victorian bay roof problems

Victorian houses were often built to include a single or double-storey splayed bay.  The bay roof could be either a flat roof or a pitched roof.  Problems with a double-storey bay roof include the fact that they are at high level and it is costly to reach the area safely with associated scaffolding for any work that is required.  Flat roofs to single storey bays often have internal downpipes which tend to become blocked and will require maintenance work.

Victorian roof structure problems

Victorian houses typically had cut timber roofs, which were designed on site specifically for the property.  Cut timber roofs were built with the configurations and types of timbers used based upon knowledge and experience.

During the Victorian Era the construction of roofs developed with the introduction of engineered roof trusses.

Yes, our Building Surveyors inspect the roof externally and internally

During our structural building surveys our Building Surveyors, subject to access being available, will inspect the roof space observing the roof configuration, roof timbers, roof supports, party walls, underside of the roof covering etc.  A full structural building survey is not a tick box survey carried out quickly for the purpose of the lender but a comprehensive building survey identifying any problem areas.

Woodworm – is it a structural problem?

In the roof our Independent Building Surveyors look at the roof timbers for any signs of woodworm.  Sometimes there will be signs of woodworm however over the many, many years of surveying Victorian houses we have never surveyed a house with significant woodworm that will cause a structural problem.  Our Building Surveyors however have spoken to many people who have been worried about woodworm and many who have spent many thousands of pounds treating woodworm problems that do not really exist.

Having a full structural survey will not only save you money but will give you peace of mind too – don’t let a woodworm company frighten you and charge you an enormous sum of money unnecessarily.  Call our Surveyors today for free, helpful property advice – free phone 0800 298 5424

Victorian house gutters and downpipes problems

Which are best cast iron or plastic gutters and downpipes?

Typically Victorian houses would be built with cast iron gutters and downpipes or box timber and lead lined rainwater goods.  Cast iron can deteriorate over the years and plastic gutters and downpipes may have been added in replacement.  However, our Building Surveyors would always recommend, where possible, keeping the original cast iron gutters and downpipes and having these repaired if they have not corroded too much.  Cast iron generally lasts much longer than plastic and with regular maintenance can provide excellent drainage carrying rainwater from roof top to the drains via the gutters and downpipes.

Victorian properties fascias and soffits

Victorian properties generally, if they have them, have timber fascias and soffits.  Decorative brick corbelling may be a feature at high-level.  Due to these features being at high-level often redecoration is overlooked as timber fascias and soffits will require regular sanding and re-staining or painting.  When carrying out full structural building surveys fascias and soffits if in poor condition can give a good indication to whether the roof and gutters are leaking with staining and wet rot present.

Problems with the walls of Victorian houses

Victorian house walls

Typically Victorian houses are built with Flemish bond brickwork using local bricks either English soft red or yellow bricks.  In some areas of the country stonework or a mixture of bricks and stonework walls were constructed.  Often decorative features were included over windows or at high level close to the roof such as corbelling.

A lime mortar was used to construct the brick walls.  One of the most frequent problems our Surveyors see whilst carrying out full structural surveys is that builders have used modern cement mortar to re-point the brickwork.  Builders may use the argument that cement mortar will make buildings more watertight however this is the opposite result of their work.  Lime mortar allows buildings to breathe whereas cement mortar allows dampness to get into the structure but does not allow the dampness to get out.

Damp course or no damp course?

Frequently builders will incorrectly advise homeowners to add a damp proof course to their Victorian property if dampness is present.  The adding of a damp proof course is often unnecessary and tends to work in the opposite way to which the original structure of the property works.

Call our friendly, experience Building Surveyors today – they are happy to help you if you have damp in your property free phone 0800 298 5424


Problems with extensions and amendments to Victorian houses

Our Building Surveyors frequently carry out structural surveys on Victorian houses that have been amended and extended over the years.  When an extension is added using modern materials and building techniques, which have different properties to those of the original construction problems may occur.  A structural building survey carried out by an Independent Chartered Surveyor will identify any issues such as cold bridging or cracking giving solutions and costs to resolve any related property problems.


Problems with Victorian house windows

Victorian houses traditionally had timber, sliding sash windows, which were a great step forward at the time.  Today with our love of central heating and lifestyle wearing T-shirts indoors all year round sliding sash windows are often considered as being draughty with homeowners wishing them to be wind and watertight.

Sliding sash window maintenance

Sliding sash windows also may have missing sash cords or require adjustment as they have become difficult to slide open and close.  Regular maintenance is required with timber, sliding sash windows carried out by specialists and can be costly.

If the original timber, sliding sash windows have been replaced with modern, double-glazed PVC windows problems may occur.  The lintel above the window needs to be of the correct composition to support the brickwork and the weight of the window needs to be the right weight to ensure cracking does not occur.  Trickle vents are important too to enable airflow around the room, which traditionally occurred with the original sliding sash window.

Timber, sliding sash windows are typical of the Victorian Era of construction and if well maintained will often last longer than the plastic versions.

For help and advice regarding windows free phone 0800 298 5424 today


Drains and Victorian properties

The Victorian Era was a time when ordinary people were able to live in houses with drainage systems, which was a huge advance in living standards.  However homes with Victorian drains today can be problematic causing structural problems and dampness.


In more recent times many homeowners require additional parking and gardens have been paved over to provide parking areas.  Care must be taken when carrying this out as on many occasions during structural building surveys our Building Surveyors have found air vents have been partially blocked.  Partially blocking airbricks causes dampness as they act as gutters allowing rainwater to travel into suspended timber floors.

Leaking downpipes on Victorian houses

Our Building Surveyors whilst conducting full structural surveys on Victorian houses frequently see a number of problems with leaking downpipes.  Some of which are often incorrectly diagnosed as rising damp!

If your Victorian house has leaking downpipes don’t put off maintenance work or replacement as long term brickwork can become damaged and dampness can get into the structure.  Our Building Surveyors always recommend regularly checking of gutters and downpipes during heavy downpours of rain to ascertain if the rainwater is draining away without any leakage or overflowing.

Why Victorian houses have problems with thermal efficiency

During the Victorian Era of house building little consideration was given to thermal efficiency.  The rooms in a Victorian house were heated with coal or wood fires and there would literally be a fireplace in every room.  As time progressed and with the advent of central heating many homeowners removed fireplaces installing central heating and in many cases removed chimney breasts to create extra living space.  Insulation was given little thought until the oil and fuel crisis in the early 1970s.

Victorian properties have general characteristics whereby they lose heat in a number of ways:-

  1. If not insulated via the roof
  2. Via timber, sliding sash windows
  3. Via the walls
  4. Via lintels
  5. Via draughty suspended timber floors

Our Building Surveyors can help you with a structural building survey, which will identify any property problems giving you solutions and estimated costs to carry out repairs/building works.

For example:  Adding insulation in a roof space or, if the building is not Listed or in a Conservation Area, installing double-glazed windows can provide increased thermal efficiency although the characteristics of a Victorian property need to be considered too.

Our Building Surveyors use the latest surveying equipment

All our Independent Building Surveyors use the latest surveying equipment ensuring accurate measurements and analysis.  Our Building Surveyors often use the latest thermal imaging cameras when carrying out house surveys on Victorian properties.  Thermal images can help to identify problem areas where there is heat loss.


Do you live in a Listed Victorian house?

If your property is a Listed Building built during the Victorian Era you will have to take advice and understand what building work is possible and requirements as to how work can be carried out.

For example

  1. Large timber, sliding sash windows to the front elevation of a house – these cannot be changed even though they may be allowing heat to escape.
  2. Mansard Roof – unless this was a more recent addition, the Mansard roof must remain and be maintained which due to its high-level can be costly.  It is unlikely that the Mansard roof has insulation and therefore heat loss will occur.
  3. Heating – although central heating can be installed the sheer size of Victorian rooms with high ceiling heights mean that heating bills can be large to maintain a regular warm home.

Lath and plaster ceiling problems in Victorian houses

Victorian houses predominantly originally had lath and plaster ceilings and possibly some boarding.  Today’s builders when carrying out refurbishment to Victorian houses frequently will replace the lath and plaster with plasterboard and modern gypsum plaster.  The use of these different materials can lead to cracking which will require further investigate to correct diagnose.

Lath and plaster can deteriorate over time and will require replacement.  One area our Building Surveyors always inspect during a full structural survey is the roof space.  It is in the roof space that the back of the lath and plaster ceiling can be viewed (if stored items and boarding do not obscure the inspection) and if deteriorating this will be highlighted in the building survey.


Problems when purchasing a Victorian terraced house

Many Victorian terraces where built during the Era from small two-up town-down terraced houses or even smaller back-to-back houses to grander, large terraces with accommodation for servants such as those in London’s Belgravia and Regents Park.  Whilst surveying Victorian end terraced houses our Building Surveyors have sometimes found problems caused by a domino effect, where the adjacent property leans on the end terraced house.  In extreme cases the gable wall has had to be rebuilt!


Mixtures of building styles and building techniques

Victorian houses over the years have often been extended and amended usually with the extensions and alterations being carried out using different styles and building techniques.  Typical extensions to Victorian houses are rear extensions or the adding of a bathroom or conversion of the old coal shed.

Extensions can take be constructed in many types and styles and a Building Surveyor during a full structural building survey will ascertain whether the new area works well or acceptably together.  With many older Victorian houses our Building Surveyors find the original older construction is good and sound, where it has been well maintained but it is the addition of the extension that has the problem.

Our Building Surveyors have seen many, many amendments and extensions to Victorian houses over the years and can provide expertise with solutions to problems as well as estimates of costs.  Our Independent Chartered Building Surveyors can also provide 3D layout plans and 3D models to help with your alteration and extension plans.  A 3D model of your home will help you:-

  1. Layout amendments – if you are thinking of amending the layout of rooms in your Victorian house then our layout plans will assist you in advance of the changes to gain a realistic view of the new layout saving you time and money.
  2. Extensions and alterations – if you are planning of extending your home or wish to carry out alterations a 3D model will help you to be able to visualise the design and ensure you make the right decision.
  3. Adapting building designs as the project evolves – as building projects take shape sometimes amendments of the design need to be addressed – a 3D model will help with decisions at this stage of the project.
  4. Limit risks with 3D models – to limit costly changes and save time too a 3D model will help to ensure you and your builder are on the same page.
  5. Planning, designing, constructing – a 3D plan and 3D model will provide a three-dimensional realistic view of your extension or house amendment – saving you time and money.

Are you buying or leasing a Victorian building or having problems living or working in a Victorian property?

Whether you are buying a Victorian building to live in, as an investment or work in our experienced Independent Building Surveyors can help.  Our Building Surveyors can provide comprehensive full structural surveys to enable you to fully understand the Victorian building prior to committing to purchase.

Our Building Surveyors can provide a Schedule of Condition if you are a tenant or a landlord leasing a Victorian building whether for residential or commercial use.  A Schedule of Condition will save you time and money as dilapidations are as certain as death and taxes and very costly too.

Many Victorian and Edwardian properties have stood the test of time, are built in a variety of sizes, located across the UK and many have had amendments and extensions.  A building survey will ensure that you understand the buildings characteristics and ensure you are not buying a problem property.

Free phone today 0800 298 5424 for a free house survey quote