No one likes surprises, especially bad surprises. I had a client that requested a building survey for a cash purchase. The survey identified that he was about to buy a concrete Wimpy No Fines constructed house and although it was not on the BRE’s defective list he pulled out of the sale immediately.
The fact is most Estate Agents will not tell you that you are buying a non-traditionally built property as most do not know. The only way to tell is to instruct an RICS Registered Surveyor to identify defects as well as indicate the construction type within the survey. The last thing you want is the surprise of discovering that you bought a property of non-standard construction.
What Are Non-Standard Construction Types and Why Does This Matter?
Non-standard construction properties are properties that have been built using materials that aren’t considered to be the “standard” definition of conventional materials. When it comes to standard houses, these are generally made with either brick or stone walls and tile or slate roofs. Anything that doesn’t meet this definition is considered “non-standard construction.” You will be more likely to find these non-standard constructions in places where some non-standard materials are readily available and much cheaper to afford.[i]
There are plenty of things to consider when you discover that you have a non-standard construction. A problem with this type of construction is that it can be much more expensive to insure and sometimes difficult to sell. If there are defects to the property, it is likely you’ll need a specialized tradesperson to handle these repairs, this is more expensive for you as your insurance is likely to be high.
It can be more difficult to obtain a mortgage for a non-standard construction because of the risks associated with purchasing this type of home. Lending money for homes with non-standard construction methods is a high risk for lenders for a few reasons. For one thing, these non-standard homes are often looked at as very difficult to resell. It’s also harder to predict the future value of these types of homes. Lastly, the costs associated with regular maintenance and repair also make this a riskier investment for them. As a result of these risks, mortgage lenders tend to charge a premium or have a set of requirements that need to be met to buy these houses. For instance, you may be expected to pay a higher deposit for these mortgages. [ii]
These are some types of non-standard construction types with which you should become familiar.
Timber Frame Buildings
This type of construction has been used for many hundreds of years, typically in Tudor, Elizabethan and Jacobean times. These homes are created using wooden posts and beams, which are the structural support of the house, which means there is no need for load-bearing walls inside the home, which is a popular choice for its versatility, durability, and how eco-friendly this option is. For builders, this is a trusted material used to create homes. [iii]
Between 1920 and 1944, 8000 timber-framed buildings were constructed by the local authority. A further 100,000 was built in the 1960s and 1970s. Properties built prior to the second world war are very distinguishable with properties built after this time can be difficult to recognise. To ensure you know that you are buying a Building Survey or Homebuyer Survey would be able to identify the timber frame constructed property.
There can be disadvantages to the modern timber frame construction. Noise issues can occur where the brickwork has not been tied into the timber frame correctly. This can also cause problems with air was passing through the property causing a wind chill factor.
While these are popular choices for homes, especially today, the reason they are considered “non-standard,” despite this popularity, is they are more susceptible to fire. Another reason is that they are not as durable as steel frames, so cracks can appear on the walls as the load becomes increased.
The problem with oak frame homes is the same problem that they would find with timber frames. These may be popular and durable choices, but they are still more susceptible to fire damage, and the support isn’t the most reliable option.
With steel frame construction, horizontal beams and vertical columns are welded, bolted, or riveted together. There are a few different types of steel frame constructions: conventional steel fabrication, bolted steel construction, and light gauge steel construction. These are typically affordable and easy to setup.
One reason that this is considered “non-standard” by insurance companies and lenders is that this framing can conduct both cold and heat. It will also crumble due to fire damage. Another thing to consider is that sometimes steel frame constructions have asbestos, which can be extremely hazardous to your health.
Prefabricated Concrete Houses
Concrete is an economical choice in construction. With pre-fabricated concrete, houses are prepared offsite, then put together onsite as the instruction says. These can be good options, but lenders and insurance companies are still hesitant to invest in these types of properties because they become a problem for insurance companies, since they are modular in nature. If something happens, you will need to replace the entire sections of concrete, which can be very costly.
Steel Insulated Panels (SIP)
SIPs (or structural insulated panels) are fast becoming the go-to choice for low-energy homes.
Steel insulated panels (SIP) are engineered panels that have been manufactured from a dense centre of insulation made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, which is sandwiched right in between 2 layers of galvalume steel, which then creates a single component that is used as interlocking pieces to create the home.
There are advantages to this build compared to traditional timber frame or modern closed timber frame systems is the spacing of the vertical timber studs within the walls. In a timber frame building, these are at 600mm centres, while in a SIPs wall they are at 1,200mm centres. Therefore the amount of poorly performing timber in the wall is halved. This dramatically reduces repeated cold bridging in the building.
They are usually clad with brick or sometimes render, to ensure that the insulation remains dry.
The same problem exists, as with the issues of heat/cold and fire in steel frame constructions. House built with SIPs requires additional ventilation, due to the way that heat is trapped inside the house. This means vents and extractors must be used to prevent the buildup of condensation, and possibly mould that could actually damage the panels.
Structural Insulated Panels have a lifetime of around 60 years – although this is yet to be fully tested, as they have only been in use for 3 decades.
Natural Materials (Strawbale, Wattle, Daub, Cob)
Natural products are popular with people who want to create homes using locally-sourced and environmentally friendly materials. Some of these natural products that are used include cob, strawbale, wattle, and daub. Cob construction is a material created from a mixture of sand, straw, and clay. Strawbale homes use this material as the support load within the home or to form the walls. Wattle and daub have been used for thousands of years to construct shelters, using a technique where a wooden lattice is created and then daubed with a material made from straw, sand, soil, and clay, and is applied to both sides of the mesh, then left to dry.
These materials may make cool looking homes, but the problem is that these materials cannot withstand specific pressures from the weather or accidents, making it a significant liability for mortgage lenders and insurance companies.
Cross Wall Construction
This type of construction uses a technique where precast load-bearing walls are created to be perpendicular to the lateral axis of the home. A load-bearing wall supports the floors, beams, and roof. These structures are an affordable choice that is very structurally efficient.
There are some problems with this approach. If the design were not created properly, the home wouldn’t be durable. Should something happen and repairs are necessary, it can be costly since it requires a specialized company to repair and maintain, making it a non-standard construction.
Why You Need a Survey to Identify Non-Standard Construction Types
The fact is that anytime you purchase a property, you need to get a survey done, which protects you from investing in an estate that is more trouble than its value. You don’t want to invest money in a property without knowing what you are purchasing. In this case, getting a survey to identify non-standard construction types can be an essential part of this process.
Non-standard is a term used to describe any property that is different from the definition of the standard that exists today, for example, using outdated practices for building properties or by using some of the materials that were discussed here. There are serious issues that can come up when you are looking at a home that is considered to be “non-standard construction” types, including negative implications for your insurance, mortgage, and even eventually selling these homes. A surveyor will not only determine what type of construction the property is, but he will also look at the condition of the property. As you can see, knowing if a property is standard or not can be very important for you.
You can get mortgages and insurance on these non-standard homes. These are terms that the mortgage and insurance companies use as a way to mitigate any risk on their behalf. Different lenders and insurance companies utilize different criteria and requirements for investing in these properties. Buying the house is only half the problem when you invest in a non-standard home.
A problem occurs when it comes to selling the property. Due to the already discussed issues with mortgage lenders and insurance companies, your house may be more challenging to sell. You don’t want to run into this hurdle if you intend to sell your house in the future. It can be more difficult for the lenders and insurance companies to determine the condition of these homes and to know what their risks are, which makes it even riskier for them to invest in your property.
Before you sign the lines to purchase any property, hiring an RICS Registered Surveyor can help ensure that your property is a worthwhile investment. You never want to purchase any property without first getting a building survey done, as there are so many things that can go wrong by skipping this critical step.