Cracks in plaster walls and masonry can look extremely worrying but are frequently only cosmetic. Knowing whether they indicate more serious structural problems can be very useful in making your initial verdict on a renovation project. Isolated cracks, e.g. a crack in a single brick or a stress crack in a plaster wall next to a window or doorway, are unlikely to be structural. However, where cracking is more extensive and follows a pattern - this is likely to be as a result of something more serious. Look for signs of movement in the building such as a series of cracks generally around one part of the building, e.g. bay window, corner or additional structure such as a porch or annex since these are typical tell tale signs of subsidence. In a very old building, however, the structure may be perfectly stable despite twists, bows and warps and attempts at repairs may do more harm than good.
Old buildings without damp are the exception, so do not be too concerned about signs of damp as they can always be solved. First you need to identify the source of the damp –once you’ve done this, solving it usually only involves a simple and inexpensive repair or replacement. In an old brick building, a damp proof course can be created by injecting silicone into the bricks both inside and outside the building. Although usually this only costs a few hundred pounds, you will also have to hack off plaster and then re-plaster and redecorate. However, left untreated damp can lead to rot and this can be more costly to correct.
Tell tale signs that a house needs rewiring are easy to spot. Look for an old-fashioned fuse box instead of a modern consumer unit, old fashioned round light switches, round pin plugs or old wires. Rewiring a typical three bedroom terraced house will cost from £2,500 to £3,000, including removing the old wiring, lifting and replacing the floorboards and installing a new consumer unit. On top of this you will need to factor in ‘making good’ i.e. re-plastering and decoration. If you are going to have the property rewired, think very carefully about how the rooms will be used and where furniture and appliciances will be located so that you can direct the electrician on the placement of new sockets and light switches.
4. Central heating
Adding central heating is easily one of the most cost-effective improvements you can make to a house and will always add more to the value of a property than it costs to install. Adding a new gas central heating system to a typical three bedroom terrace house will cost £2,500-£5,000 but you may find that there are incentives on offer that will save you money. Check with companies who supply and install central heating systems. There are also a range of more energy efficient systems that you can use to provide hot water and warmth such as solar water heating, ground source heat pumps, Biomass boilers and underfloor heating.
5. Upstairs bathroom
Many old houses were built either without bathroom facilities or have since had them added on the ground floor. Installing a new bathroom at first floor level is likely to cost around £800-£1500, and is essentially for modern living. You also need to consider the drains and where they will run which could add to your costs. You could section off part of an upstairs bedroom with stud walling to create a new bathroom and this is likely to cost £1,500 - £2,500 including finishing and tiling, but consider the implications of possibly losing a bedroom to make space for a new bathroom.
6. Dry Rot
Dry rot is a fungus that will destroy timber very quickly. It even penetrates brick walls to get to more timber. Dry rot loves moist, poorly ventilated conditions and is usually found in the roofspace or under wooden floorboards. Dry rot is easy to identify – the spores send out fungal strands along the timber and through or along any wall. These strands can become quite dense. The first sign of dry root is often its distinctive musty smell when you lift a floorboard or even just the carpet. Getting rid of dry rot will cost around £1,200 for treatment by a specialist firm but you will also have to repair damage to joist and timbers which can be extensive.
7. ‘Poor decorative order’
This is a term that I frequently come across and is likely to be applied to most buildings in need of renovation. It sounds benign and therefore inexpensive to put right, but it can be a catch-all term for problems ranging from the need for a bit of clearing and redecorating, to a total re-plaster throughout. Don’t assume anything and visibly check all aspects of a property to ensure that ‘poor decorative order’ doesn’t really mean ‘structurally unsound’.
Woodworm is a common pest found in damp timber that can cause major problems if left unchecked. However, in most situations the damage is superficial (providing the holes are 2mm or less) and the problem can be eradicated using pesticides. Its more serious if the woodworm has managed to get into less accessible areas of the structure that cannot easily be treated. Before paying for any treatment, make sure the woodworm is still alive and has not already been eradicated – look for signs of sawdust around the holes. Pesticide treatment will cost from £600-£1,000 for an average house.
Replace any original windows in a property with caution as they can be an inherent part of the building’s character and therefore its value. Original windows can often be repaired and this may cost less than replacing them with new windows in a sympathetic style. In many areas, however, replacement windows are a must for all buyers and will add considerably more to the value of the property than they cost. Make sure you pay attention to the style and proportions and which windown should be opening or fixed. Decent PVCu double glazed windows will cost from £200-£400 each and the same again for fitting. You can get cheaper versions but don’t stint on the quality.
Still the room which sells the house and with today’s busy lifestyles, the kitchen has become not only a place to cook and eat, but to study, entertain, watch TV and generally ‘hang out’. However, completely replacing an old, tired kitchen may not be necessary if you can give it a new lease of life by replacing cupboard doors and work surfaces. Appliances (if you intend to sell or rent with them in) do need to be clean and modern so better to ditch the grimy cooker and replace with shiny new one.