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Building survey and defects

University of Portsmouth,
Department of Property and Resource Management,
Portland Building,
Portland Street,

Contact: Keith Chapman
Tel: 023 928 76543

Keith Chapman
  Teaching Learning and Assessment
  “The curricula provide ample scope for developing and testing transferable skills, and the units reflect the specific specialisms of the professions which graduates enter. Evidence from students at all levels indicates steady personal development through presentation, communication and group-work skills.” Q97/98 para15

This case study will out line an assignment that enables students to carry out a defects survey on residential accommodation of their choice.
The aims are to:

  • introduce the causes of structural defects and failures caused by design or workmanship and to provide a basic understanding of common defects such as structural movement and dampness in buildings, the causes and their remedies;
  • introduce the various types of survey and report undertaken, their differences, the respective responsibilities and the essentials of good practice;
  • examine the causes of decay and deterioration of common construction materials;
  • introduce the correct methods of installation and operation of mechanical and electrical services in buildings.

The assignment enables the student to:

  • identify and describe the most common defects in floors, roofs, walls, frames and foundations of domestic, industrial and commercial buildings;
  • carry out a survey of a building, report accordingly and discuss the likely causes of defects and describe appropriate remedial action;
  • compare available materials of construction in terms of their longevity, appropriateness and maintenance implications

Lecture delivery is facilitated by PowerPoint presentations and supported by 35mm slides and video. During the practical sessions various instruments and tools are demonstrated for use during the site visit. A tool kit is also provided which includes: ladders, crack measuring equipment (tell-tales), plumb bob, torch, crow-bars, tape measures and survey equipment.

Scheduled activities Contact hours
Lecturer 12
Practical/seminar 12
Tutorial 6
Other : assignment 6

The building survey assignment is divided into three separate parts.

  • Observation, description and implication of defects.
  • House Buyers Report.
  • Detailed Condition Report.

The assignment is designed so that each part builds upon the previous one and each part carries equal marks. The Survey and Defects unit is based upon 100% coursework.

Part 1- Observation, Description and Implication of Defects (estimated 20 hours work)
Students are asked to carry out an elemental defects inspection using their own residences or one to which they have permitted access. The elements are limited to:

  • ground floor structure including damp proof course;
  • upper floor structure;
  • roof coverings;
  • windows frame and doors;
  • water mains supply where it enters the property;
  • space heating source (and hot water source if different);
  • rain water collection system

In each of the above elements, students are asked to describe and illustrate:
materials utilised, estimated age, condition, necessary maintenance/repair strategy (immediate, 12 month, 5 year), cost of repairs (using price books), cost implications of repair and positive or negative implications of repair strategy.

Part 2 - House Buyers Report Survey (2000 words)
Utilising the same building as in part 1 and adopting a role-play scenario, students are asked to execute an appropriate survey (without carrying out any 'opening up' of the building) and submit a 2000 word report.

The survey and report may be based on the RICS/ISVA/ASI/GKC 'house buyers' report form, or any hybrid students may wish to develop, with additional notes and appendices as necessary. Students are asked to give advice on any further investigations that they feel are necessary to ascertain the extent of particular defect encountered or suspected.

Specifically, they should provide advice to a prospective purchaser paying particular attention to those defects likely to involve substantial costs in terms of alteration, modification, adaptation, repair and maintenance both initially and externally over the next ten years.

Submission comprises of a letter accompanying the report, the report itself and any additional notes and recommendations. Presentation forms an important part of the assessment of this submission. Students are instructed to be professional in their approach including:

  • to make appointments with appropriate people to gain access to the property;
  • to ensure they have a letter of authority allowing access and a form of identification;
  • to respect the privacy of residents/users of the building in all cases;
  • not place themselves or other persons in hazardous situations.

Students are recommended to make not more than one visit to the property and spend no more than 6 hours surveying the building. In addition, all external inspection should be made from ground level only, using binoculars if appropriate.

a student house
A students own house can be a suitable teaching source.

Monitoring Student Development
Initially students have to provide a plan of action regarding the survey including details of the building, address and contact details of owner.

Students are then required to present their work at fortnightly intervals for interim discussion during the surgery/practical/tutorial periods.

Part 3 - Concluding Report, Proposals and Costs (2000 words)
Following presentation of the 'House Buyers Report' the client requires a detailed report on the condition of the building. In order to maximise income/profit over the next ten years (by repairing, maintaining, adapting and or improving the building) the client requires a report that addresses costs, implications, risks and opportunities for improvement and or adaptations as a result of the condition of the building and the stated aspirations.

Specifically the students are asked to provide:

  • observations on any 'significant' defects in the floors, roofs, walls, services, frames and foundations of the building;
  • discussion of the likely causes of those defects and any other relevant matters;
  • a summary and recommendations of ways in which the defects may be emedied;
  • a comparison of available materials and methods of construction/repair to remedy the defects identified in terms of their longevity, appropriateness and maintenance requirements;
  • an environmental impact of the various materials and procedures.

The report should include sketches, plans, photographs and other relevant illustrative material in order to clearly inform the client of the proposals and any other options that might be appropriate.

Consideration of 'ball park' figures (from SPONS or by other acknowledged approximate price databases) of the repairs and changes proposed and an indication of the 'pay back' period and maintenance and running cost implications of the remedies proposed should also be included.

Student feedback is sought as part of each submission. A pro-forma addresses aims and objectives met, understanding of subject, unit organisation, quality of study notes and learning material. As part of the assignment students are asked to carry out self-evaluation of the exercise. A peer and staff assessment sheet is attached to the assignment brief. The unit is well liked by students as it provides a good mixture of theoretical knowledge and practical experience, which address both vocational and transferable skill.

This assignment enables the students to present professional reports relating to property, condition, adaptation and repair. With each part building upon the previous one, thus providing continuity of learning. The students' benefit from surveying a real building, their own residence, which enhances understanding. Differing properties allow students to discuss amongst themselves a greater number of problems and issues, than would be possible using one property.

Issues and Lessons to be Learnt:
In a module which addresses maintenance, repair and refurbishment issues, building elements and details which contain defects are needed to use as examples e.g. wet rot in timber framed windows. In addition, a building is required which is in need of refurbishment, preferably which requires a change of use.

Whilst a great degree of theory can be taught by the use of video, power point presentations and traditional lectures nothing compares to the actual defective element in it's own undisturbed environment. This is very difficult to achieve in real terms. Most buildings are not allowed to dilapidate into such a state where certain defects can take hold. If they are, it's not long before they are demolished if for no other reason than safety. Another problem is being able to find such a building that will provide access to 100+ students, because of legal liability.

Private residences can sometimes provides such environments and as the students are surveying their own properties there are no liability issues associated with large groups of students. Thus, this approach enables a genuine survey to be conducted without the problems associated with finding a suitable property.

Ongoing Developments:
No serious changes are envisaged in the near future as the module feedback is positive and students genuinely feel they have learned vocational skills as well as the theory that supports them.

References, Further Reading and Sources of Further Related Information:

  1. Seeley, I. (1991), Building Surveys, Reports and Dilapidations. Butterworths
  2. TRADA. (1989), Guide to Surveys on Timber Framed Housing
  3. TRADA Corrosion of steel wall ties: recognition and inspection. Information Paper, 13/90. Garston: BRE
  4. Murphy v Brentwood District Council. ALLER: 908-43, 1990
  5. Why do buildings crack? BRE Digest, 361. Garston: BRE
  6. Addleson, L, (1992), Building failures. 3rd ed. Oxford: Butterworth Architecture. 690.24
  7. Structural renovation of traditional buildings. 2nd ed. London: CIRIA, 1995
  8. Euroroof Ltd. Reroofing: a guide to flat roof maintenance and refurbishment. Northwick: Euroroof' 1985
  9. Oxley, T. A, and E. G Crobert, (1994), Dampness in buildings. 2nd ed. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann
  10. Housing defects reference manual, BRE. London: E and F Spon, 1991
  11. Crocker, Alan, (1990), Building Failures, Recovering the Cost , Oxford; BSP
  12. Hollis, M, and C Gibson, (1991) Surveying Buildings. 3rd ed. London: RICS
  13. Melville, I. A., I. A. Gordon, and P. G. Murrells, (1992), Structural Surveys.. 3rd ed. Estates Gazette

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