Thursday, June 21, 2018

Basement Construction - Part 2 – Waterproofing



Nobody will want to deal with water ingress into a basement, especially when construction is well advanced, or even worse when the basement is occupied and in use. It is therefore necessary to carefully select an appropriate water proofing system, as failure to carry out thorough investigations and careful design can prove disastrous and particularly expensive!

Source: http://www.northernvirginiabasementwaterproofing.com/
In my previous article I discussed the growing popularity of basement construction and highlighted a number of factors that require consideration during their design. Undoubtedly one of the most significant issues in relation basement construction is how to keep the internal environment dry and therefore exclude sub-surface water. The impact of water and particularly hydrostatic pressure was highlighted: ‘Water in the ground has the ability to exert a lot of force onto the structure of the basement depending on the head or height of the water. This is something known as hydrostatic pressure. This is better defined as ‘the pressure at a point in a fluid at rest due to the weight of the fluid above it’. Basement design therefore needs to take into account the height of the water table because that will influence the amount of hydrostatic pressure that a basement structure will be exposed to. The method of waterproofing will also need to be designed to consider hydrostatic pressure’.

Nobody will want to deal with water ingress into a basement, especially when construction is well advanced, or even worse when the basement is occupied and in use. It is therefore necessary to carefully select an appropriate water proofing system, as failure to carry out thorough investigations and careful design can prove disastrous and particularly expensive! There are many specialist companies and waterproofing products on the market who offer a variety of different solutions for dealing with water ingress into basements however for the purposes of this article I will provide examples of a number of well established methods of basement waterproofing. Selection will vary depending on factors, such as ground conditions, the height of the water table, the method of basement construction, the proposed use of a basement and as ever, cost.

Source: http://quality-waterproofing.com/
When considering an appropriate way of waterproofing a new basement it is advisable to review the recommendations within BS8102:2009 ‘Code of Practice for Protection of Below Ground Structures Against Water from the Ground’. The standard advises on the types of waterproofing available and confirms the performance grade to be achieved:

Type of Waterproofing:

Type A (Barrier) protection - A barrier to water ingress is applied to the inner or outer surface of the structure

Type B (Structurally Integral) Protection - The structure is formed as a watertight construction and requires no additional protection

Type C (Drained) Protection - Water entering the structure is received by planned cavities or voids and safely removed

Grades of Waterproofing Protection:

Grade 1 - Some water seepage and damp is tolerable depending on the intended use. Car parking, plant rooms etc.

Grade 2 - No water penetration is acceptable. Damp areas are tolerable depending on the end use. Plant rooms, workshops etc.

Grade 3 - No dampness or water penetration is acceptable - Ventilated residential and commercial

Type A (Barrier) Protection relies totally on a waterproofing membrane to keep water permanently out of the internal basement environment. Concrete and blockwork are typical examples of materials used in basement construction, however these materials are highly porous, particularly in concealed enclosed environments such as below ground. Masonry materials have the ability to absorb high volumes of water, which once saturated will seep through to the internal environment. Barrier protection, often referred to as tanking is a method which prevents water saturating through the basement wall with the provision/application of an impervious membrane to the internal or external face of the wall. Tanking can also be provided within the structure, something referred to as sandwich tanking, although this method is less commonly used.

In my early years working as a labourer for a ground works Contractor, I remember a particularly project where I was required to paint the external face of a number of in-situ concrete constructed lift shafts, at their bases, with a liquid bitumen paint, which was referred to as ‘black jack’. At the time, I never really understood why it was necessary to paint concrete walls that were going to be buried in the ground, until someone explained that what I was doing was providing waterproofing protection.

Nowadays there are many products on the market in the form of brush applied surface coverings, trowel applied renders and rolled sheet applied materials such as elastomeric which are used for tanking solutions for basements. The success of a tanking method will be determined by the selection of the correct method as well as the quality of the installation. Many tanking solutions require installation by approved contractors and although these systems may seem expensive, it is worth considering the likely disruption and excessive cost of trying to rectify water ingress to a basement when it is occupied!

Type B (Structurally Integral) Protection relies on the basement structure itself to be robust enough to resist water ingress. In most cases the external basement structure will be constructed with concrete which must be designed to minimise joints as well as being cast with plenty of reinforcement to reduce the risk of cracking. It is not uncommon for concrete basements designed to achieve structural integral protection to include additional waterproofing measures to provide a barrier against water and water vapour. This may include the introduction of waterproofing admixtures into the concrete mix in order to help reduce porosity and drying shrinkage.

Structural integral protection will nearly always have a cooler internal surface temperature compared to other forms of waterproofing and such will be more prone to the effects of condensation. It is therefore necessary to additionally consider control of atmospheric moisture with the possible installation of controlled ventilation fans and de-humidifiers.  Clearly the design solution will depend upon grade and proposed use of the basement and additional measures may not be required in all situations

Type C (Drained) Protection takes the view that some water will be allowed through the external basement structure, however it will be dealt with or controlled when it arrives.  Drained protection may be a possibility in heavily waterlogged ground, possibly with a high water table or where for other reasons it will prove difficult to prevent moisture entering into an internal basement environment.  Any water that enters into the basement is gathered and disposed of in an appropriate way.

Drained protection usually takes the form of a raised floor and an additional membrane or wall installed/constructed in front of the main basement structure with a small cavity in between. Any water that finds its way through the main basement wall will seep behind the cavity (wall and floor), where through design the water will be channelled to a sump, which is basically a low point that will collect water, which is then usually pumped away from the basement.  Internally, there may be water entering the basement but this is concealed within the cavity. Therefore the internal basement environment remains dry.

As you would expect there are a number of disadvantages with the use of drained protection: Due to the installation of as wall and floor cavity there could be a loss in floor to ceiling height and useable space and pumps will need regular maintenance. There is also a possibility that high hydrostatic pressure will result in excessive amounts of water through the basement structure, which may not be able to be effectively drained. This will however be avoided with suitable design.

It is clear that waterproofing of a basement takes careful consideration, where the method of waterproofing should be determined by the range of different factors discussed above. Failure to understand ground conditions, including the impact of water in the ground, together other site conditions/restraints may result in the selection of a waterproofing system that is not fit for purpose. It is therefore always worth seeking specialist advice as remedial works will often prove to be very expensive.

Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Basement Construction - Part 1 - Design Considerations



When considering whether to construct a basement it is first worth weighing up the advantages and disadvantages, and then also thinking about a number of design considerations which will undoubtedly impact on the construction method, waterproofing, safety, usability and ultimately, costs

Source:Homebuilding & Renovating
An article in the London Evening Standard from 2013 (link) highlighted the growing popularity of basement construction, particularly where land is at a premium or restricted above ground. The scale of the proposed basement construction in the article was extensive to a point where it generated a section 106 contribution of £825,000!:

A millionaire hedge fund boss digging out a basement eight times the size of a typical London home has been ordered to pay £825,000 towards affordable housing in his area.
Kensington & Chelsea council planners said the two-storey, 9,160sq?ft basement — complete with cinema room, swimming pool and whirlpool spa — is the biggest they have been asked to approve. The scale of the extension, below two large Notting Hill villas which have been turned into a single family home, means it has fallen foul of rules that normally apply only to major commercial developments.

The fashion for digging out super-size basements to create so-called ‘iceberg homes’ in London, and the prospect of years of disturbance during excavation, has pitted residents against each other in some streets ......... neighbours are said to be horrified by the scale of the works which will involve scores of lorry loads of earth being removed from the site. One said: “It will certainly be one of the ‘iceberg houses’ and sadly, our house will probably be the Titanic.” The number of applications for subterranean spaces in Kensington & Chelsea has soared in recent years.......

Although the news article identified above is a rather extreme example of a residential basement construction it does demonstrate an alternative way of providing valuable useable space when above ground construction may be restricted or unavailable. Basement construction is still considered a less conventional method of adding space compared to above ground construction and is often instigated by those who are prepared to challenge the conventional norm and think outside the box. There are however many examples of residential buildings throughout the UK where basements were constructed as a normal part of the building process. Houses built during the Victorian period provide a typical example of where basements were commonly constructed and nowadays, these Victorian basements are often converted and refurbished to made them part of the useable habitable space within a dwelling.

When considering whether to construct a basement it is first worth weighing up the advantages and disadvantages, and then also thinking about a number of design considerations which will undoubtedly impact on the construction method, waterproofing, safety, usability and ultimately, costs.

Source: Source: http://basementwaterproof.com/
Clearly basements can add space and value to a property and it could also be argued that security can be less of an issue as there will be less accessible entry points into a basement, as by its very nature the structure in buried in the ground. Also, as long as the basement is waterproofed appropriately (something I will be discussing in my next article), and insulated correctly, you could argue that a basement can be made energy efficient more readily that an above ground building. Conversely, the perceived disadvantages and the impact that these may have on costs will prevent a lot of people proceeded beyond the initial enquiry stage when considering basement construction.

One of the key things to consider is that by placing an enclosed structure such as a basement in the ground you are subjecting the structure to a number of different forces. The first is the presence of water in the ground. Water is a naturally occurring element in the ground and the level of this water will vary from location to location. Many will be familiar with the term ‘water table’ which can be understood as the layer below which the ground is completely filled up (or saturated) with water. Try to imagine a basement like a boat which is surrounded by water in the ground. The problem is that boats leak, and so do basements!  A basement is unlikely to sink like a boat, but because the basement is an enclosed structure it has the ability to hold a lot of water if the basement is not adequately waterproofed. Water in the ground also has the ability to exert a lot of force onto the structure of the basement depending on the head or height of the water. This is something known as hydrostatic pressure.  This is better defined as ‘the pressure at a point in a fluid at rest due to the weight of the fluid above it’. Basement design therefore needs to take into account the height of the water table because that will influence the amount of hydrostatic pressure that a basement structure will be exposed to.  The method of waterproofing will also need to be designed to consider hydrostatic pressure.

In order to design and construct a basement correctly it is first necessary to establish ground conditions. This will require a thorough ground investigation which although will have a cost attached to it, is essential at the very early stages of a project. This will also highlight the type of ground and any contaminants present together with information of water in the ground and importantly the height of the water table. Other design considerations will include; protection and stability to adjacent structures, basement depth, boundary issues including Party Wall etc. Act implications, method of excavation, temporary support, method of construction in addition to exclusion of ground water. Of course all of this will have an impact on costs and there is no getting away from the fact that constructing a basement can be very expensive.

In my next article I will consider a number of methods of waterproofing of basements and explain that the correct choice of which method to use is crucial to ensure that the internal environment within a basement remains dry.

Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Dry Rot – An ‘Intelligent’ Fungus requiring intelligent diagnosis



The reason that dry rot is often so devastating is because of its ability to travel long distances as it searches for more and more timber to remove moisture from

Source: Dynamic Property Care UK
As a Building Surveyor there are certain words that you know, just by saying them will strike fear and panic into the majority of members of the public. Words such as subsidence or asbestos are examples, which regularly appear in the news due to significant cost or health implications. In many cases however, potential subsidence or the identification of asbestos often result in relatively simple and cost effective solutions although it seems to be a natural human reaction to automatically think the worst. The ‘term’ dry rot is also generally well known by members of the public, however unlike subsidence and asbestos the implications of the discovery of dry rot is more often than not serious, depending upon the stage at which it is actually identified.

I was recently watching a well know property renovation programme on TV a few weeks ago where the Presenter had identified what looked to be dry rot on the ground floor of semi-detached three-bedroom residential property. Although, I agree that what he was looking at did appear to be dry rot, his description included, ‘feeding off concrete’ which is completely inaccurate as well as some of his terminology being confusing and wide of the mark. TV programmes should be mindful of the information that they provide, as it is possible, dare I say likely, (just by the nature of the amount of viewers), that someone will act on what they are being told which could result in loss/damage. In order to identify if or where dry rot may be present, it is useful to understand the conditions that dry rot needs to grow and thrive.

Dry rot is a fungus, often referred to as an ‘intelligent fungus’. The reason dry rot is referred to as intelligent is because of its ability to travel across non-timber surfaces and to take moisture from timber. What is left behind is dry friable timber that can easily be broken up with moderate hand pressure.  The reason that dry rot is often so devastating is because of its ability to travel long distances as it searches for more and more timber to remove moisture from. It is worth noting that when the dry rot fungus travels across non-timber surfaces such as bricks, mortar, concrete etc. it is just using these as a route or bridge to find other timber. Dry rot does not ‘feed’ off these types of surfaces but carries moisture with it in strands which allows it to grow and spread. If left untreated dry rot has the ability to affect vast amounts of timber within a building, often resulting in extensive specialist remedial works which are not cheap to deal with.

Dry rot is a living fungus which will continue to grow by feeding off timber, which it will completely destroy be removing all of its moisture. Without being too technical, there are four primary stages in the dry rot lifecycle. The first stage is Spores. The spores are constantly present in the atmosphere however are only activated in certain conditions, which require timber and moisture. For dry rot to thrive its ideal environment will include timber with a moisture content of between 22% and 25%, warm humid temperatures of between 240 and 300, poorly ventilated areas and dark concealed spaces. This is why dry rot will often spread undetected in basements, floor voids, roof voids, behind plasterboard in timber stud walls and the like. As the spores start to become more concentrated they develop into small white strands known as Hyphae, which look a little like small white cob-webs. These are reasonably easy to identify and a good indication of dry rot.

Source: Midas Property Developments
As the hyphae feeds off the timber it will extract further moisture from the timber as it continues to grow and become more concentrated in volume to a point where the hyphae mass develops into the next stage of the dry rot cycle, know as Mycelium. Visible large white mycelium strands can travel large distances in search of more timber and as previously stated can travel across non-timber surfaces in order to find new timber. In suitable conditions, mycelium will continue to exist and grow at a considerable rate within a building. Fungi prefers dark and damp areas with little or no air movement, therefore where these conditions change and threaten the fungus; its natural response is to create a Fruiting Body (Sporophore), and this is the final stage of the dry rot lifecycle. Visually the fruiting body can take a number of forms, however will generally appear in ‘mushroom like’ form. The fruiting body is the fungi's response to a threat to its survival and its reaction is to throw out spores into the air which can be transferred to other vulnerable areas within the building, which allows them to germinate and create a new attack of dry rot, thus restarting the dry rot life cycle right from the very beginning.

The dry rot lifecycle described above demonstrates how the fungus can spread so quickly and how much damage that can be caused if left undetected. It is possible to treat dry rot however this requires specialist knowledge and something that should not be attempted ‘on the cheap’.  If all traces of dry rot are not dealt with then all that will happen is the fungus will continue to grow and spread and start to affect any new timber that may have been installed. The steps below provide an indication of remedial works to deal with dry rot, however please bear in mind that this is indicative only and specialist advice should be sought in all situations:

1.   Deal with the moisture source
2.   Brush down any exposed masonry to remove visible surface fungal growth
3.   Deep-drill masonry at regular centres and irrigate with fungicidal wall solution
4.   Sterilise all exposed masonry surfaces with fungicidal wall solution
5.   Remove all affected timber including a minimum of 1m past the last identifiable location
6.   Dispose all affected timber from site
7.   Provide new treated and primed timber where previously removed
8.   Spray all new and adjacent timbers including cut ends with fungicidal spray
9.   Re-plaster where required using a cement and sand render mix
10. Ensure adequate ventilation is used

Dry Rot is easy to misdiagnose and I would always recommend that you engage the services of a professional such as a Building Surveyor for advice and guidance. Take a look at the excellent video below from Brick Tie Preservation.


Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the?copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Party Wall etc. Act 1996 – Service after work has commenced can prove to be futile!



Unless there is damage caused on an Adjoining Owners land, when works are nearing completion, there is little benefit in appointing and paying for surveyors and issuing party wall notification at this point.  This is because the works ‘have already taken place’, (or mostly), so the remaining provisions that can be included in a Party Wall Award, at this late stage, will be extremely limited

Source: https://www.localpartywallsurveyors.com
The requirements of the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 often come as a surprise for those who propose to undertake works to domestic buildings as well as those who propose works to commercial buildings in England and Wales.  Given that the provisions of the Party Wall Act have now been in existence for over 20 years it is equally surprising that there still seems to be a general lack of awareness of the requirements of the Act.  The amount of Building Owners (a term used under the Act to describe the party who is undertaking the work), who choose to ignore the Act, whether through ignorance (which is no defence in law!) or a genuine desire to cut corners to save on time and expense, never ceases to amaze me. If the main purpose of the Act is to prevent and resolve disputes it seems a contradiction in terms that appointments under the Party Wall etc. Act, were usually made when a dispute had already occurred! (at this stage, the dispute was a dispute in general terms and not a Party Wall dispute).

For the purposes of this article I will refer to the domestic client, someone who in most cases (but not all), will have very little construction knowledge and will rely on others to point them in the right direction.  For many in this situation the first port of call may be to contact a Contractor to come a long to give them some initial advice as well as an indication of likely costs, a ball park figure if you like. I can remember several situations where I had been appointed by a Building Owner as Party Wall Surveyor, after works had commenced, where for whatever reason they had been made aware that they should have notified their Adjoining Owners (a term used under the Act to describe the party who is affected the work), but had not been advised of this by their Contractor, who they felt should have brought this to their attention. In my experience however, most builders/contractors have the same lack of knowledge of the Act as anyone else!

Source: Quorum Consulting Engineers
The impact of dealing with the Party Wall Act retrospectively can vary for the Building Owner depending on whether any damage has occurred on the Adjoining Owners land (which is one of the main reasons that brings the Party Wall Act to the attention of the Building Owner), and how advanced the works are.  In the case of damage occurring before party wall notification has been served, an Adjoining Owner may need to rely on common law rights and may seek an injunction in the County Courts to have the works stopped. The Adjoining Owner will not be able to rely on the provisions of the Party Wall Act at this point because the Act has not been initiated, which only happens when notification is served.

In the situation where works are well advanced and sometimes nearing completion, it is worth thinking about the benefits of a retrospective notification and a retrospective Party Wall Award (sets out the terms and conditions for the proposed works, including costs/fees).  One of the key reasons for the introduction of the Party Wall Act was to enable Building Owners to undertake work and give Adjoining Owners confidence that the works would be carried out in an appropriate manner and any damages caused on the Adjoining Owners land, in respect of the notifiable work would be rectified. Unless there is damage caused on an Adjoining Owners land, when works are nearing completion, there is little benefit in appointing and paying for surveyors and issuing party wall notification at this point.  This is because the works ‘have already taken place’, (or mostly), so the remaining provisions that can be included in a Party Wall Award, at this late stage, will be extremely limited.  An Adjoining Owner should not be given the impression that they can solely use the provisions of the Act as a way of disrupting the Building Owner and making them occur excessive expense (the Act also provides for the Building Owner to meet the reasonable fees of an Adjoining Owners Surveyor, if appointed), unless of course damage has occurred as a result of any works that may be notifiable.

If it is realised that a Building Owner has failed to serve Party Wall notification and works have been completed and an Adjoining Owner is not satisfied with the standard or quality of the works then they can scrutinise Building Regulations and Planning Permission requirements to check that these have been complied with and also consider areas of common law such as negligence, nuisance and trespass etc, if they have suffered damage or disruption. I have previously been approached by a number of people in this very situation where they have been told to insist that their neighbour issues retrospective Party Wall notification.  For the reasons explained above, this is a pointless exercise and very poor advice. Once works are complete an Adjoining Owner should seek a common law remedy if they feel they have a justified grievance with their neighbour. They cannot rely on the provisions of an Act that has not been initiated in the first place! 

It is worth noting that for the purposes of this article I have used the terms Building Owner and Adjoining Owner throughout.  Whereas these roles only exist once the Party Wall Act is initiated through the service of notices, these terms have been used to explain the relationship between those who may have work undertaken and those who may be affected by these works.

Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Party Wall etc. Act 1996 – Much more than just Party Walls!



It is easy to see how the Party Wall etc. Act can be mis-interpreted, particularly by members of the public, just by the nature of its title.  For those who work in the property professions and interact with the Act on a regular basis there will be generally less confusion, however in my experience this is not always the case!

Source: tayrosshomes.com
Although there is a lot of information available about the Party Wall etc. Act 1996 (the Act), and its implications, it appears that there is equally as much mis-understanding or even ignorance about the Act, particularly from members of the public in relation to if and when the Act may apply.  Awareness of statutory approvals such as Planning Permission and Building Regulations approval seems to be improving, however, the existence let alone the requirements of the Act, often comes as a complete surprise to many.

If you are proposing certain types of work on your land or to your property then you may be required to ‘notify’ your neighbour under the Act. It is worth pointing out at this point that the requirements and procedures within the Act are completely separate to other statutory permissions such as Building Regulations and Planning Permission.  On a number of occasions I have been informed by householders that they were either not made aware of the requirements of the Act by their advisors or that they thought that they had obtained all of the relevant permissions because they had Planning and Building Regulations Approvals, which is completely incorrect.

If you are proposing any work to your land or property it is worth undertaking a little research to establish if the work falls under the scope of the Act and therefore will require notification to your neighbour/s (referred to as Adjoining Owners under the Act).  As you would expect, I would always advise you to seek professional advice to confirm whether notification under the Act is required and if so to also guide you through the process, however, nowadays, with the raft of information available on-line, there is no reason why you shouldn’t undertake your own research in the first instance to give you a better understanding of the Act. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (formally the Department for Communities and Local Government) have produced an excellent explanatory booklet, which explains the Act in a clear understandable manner and is a really good starting point, particularly for those with little or no knowledge of the Act. You will find a copy of the booklet by clicking on this (link).

You may be surprised by the range of different types of work that are notifiable under the Act, which you will see are not just restricted to a party wall itself. The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government’s booklet defines a party wall as, ‘a wall is a "party wall" if it stands astride the boundary of land belonging to two (or more) different owner’. The booklet then provides some illustrations to demonstrate this point. It is interesting to note that the definition of a party wall is not just restricted to a wall inside a building, but can also relate to external walls also, such as boundary walls. The Act uses the term ‘Party Fence Walls’ to describe walls that are not part of an actual building itself, however may still require notification under the Act for works to, or in close proximity to them.

Source:My property guide
The term ‘etc’ in the title of the Act is also significant. Three innocent little letters (etc.), however the implications of the term denote that the scope of the Act is much wider than just Party Walls. In fact some works that require excavations near neighbouring buildings may also require notification under the Act. Section 6 of the Act requires notification of excavations within 3 metres or within 6 metres of a neighbours building or structure based upon the following criteria:

‘excavate, or excavate and construct foundations for a new building or structure, within 3 metres of a neighbouring owner’s building or structure, where that work will go deeper than the neighbour’s foundations;

or excavate, or excavate for and construct foundations for a new building or structure, within 6 metres of a neighbouring owner’s building or structure, where that work will cut a line drawn downwards at 45° from the bottom of the neighbour’s foundations’

The six metre ‘rule’ is a little more complicated to understand (see the diagram below) than the three metre ‘rule’ and usually relates to deeper excavations such as piled foundations and the like. It is also worth noting that the six metre rule can affect more than one adjoining owner, depending upon the depth of excavation and the proximity of adjacent buildings and structures. In order to establish how many adjoining owners may be affected in any instance by the six metre ‘rule’ it will be necessary to take measurements and produce a section drawing which will detail the depth of the proposed excavation and the location and proximity of adjacent structures and buildings. Professional expertise is highly likely to be needed to take measurements and to produce a section drawings to establish if and how many adjoining owners will be affected.

Source: My property guide
Another term used within the Act is ‘Party Structure’. This again suggests that the Act does not relate exclusively to party walls. In fact there are a number of notices that may be issued under the Act, one of which is a Party Structure Notice. The reason the notice is not entitled a Party Wall Notice, is that this would be misleading and not account for any works other those to Party Walls. Party structures are generally defined as dividing structures such as floors and other partitions, however it is very rare that these structures are subject to party wall notification.

In summary it is easy to see how the Party Wall etc. Act can be mis-interpreted, particularly by members of the public, just by the nature of its title. For those who work in the property professions and interact with the Act on a regular basis there will be generally less confusion, however in my experience this is not always the case!  As notification under the Act may be required for a whole range of different types of work, as defined in section 1, 2 & 6 of the Act. All construction professionals, regardless of discipline should have a good understanding of the Act including its procedures.

In my next article I discuss retrospective party wall notification and in future articles I will consider different types of notifiable works in more detail, as well as tackle the thorny issue of fees under the Act.


Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read thecopyright notice at the end of the blog.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Romans - The Original Master Builders - Part 2



I doubt that the modern buildings that we are constructing today will leave a similar legacy to that of the Romans. If we could make the same positive impact that the Romans made to the built environment then we will leave behind a similar positive lasting legacy for our future generations

A Roman Hypocaust - Source: www.pages.drexel.edu
In my last article I demonstrated how the Roman occupation of the UK left a lasting impression on our built environment and how the introduction of new building techniques allowed larger, bolder buildings to appear, the like of which had never been seen before in the UK. I also explained that the location of towns and cities was carefully planned to make optimum use of the natural resources available in a particular location, and how gravity was used to provide fresh flowing water into towns and cities often using lead pipes, sometimes over great distances incorporating aqueducts which make use of masonry constructed arches. For the rich and important in Roman society their homes and other buildings became status symbols. The size of the building, the inclusion of mosaics and painted plastered walls, under floor heating and fresh running water would demonstrate how rich and powerful the occupant was.  

Larger Roman houses were designed around a central atrium. You can see from the image that a Roman atrium would have no roof and would therefore be open to the elements. A recess or trough would be built into floor which would collect rainwater, which would be used for many different things including drinking and washing. You could say that this is an early form of rainwater harvesting! something that is becoming increasingly popular today. Various rooms would then be designed directly off the atrium for which the amount and use of the rooms would depend on the size and status of the building. Larger Villas/houses would incorporate a second atrium, something referred to as a Peristylium, which would include a garden area and would also be designed to have rooms access directly off it. The orientation of the building would be designed so that Peristylium would be able to catch as much sun as possible, however for comfort, in warm weather the courtyard would also incorporate trees to provide much needed shade. 

A Peristylium - Source:The Desert Sun
If you ever watch programmes such as Time Team (for those who do not know, this is a TV programme where Archaeologists, Geo-Technical Engineers and Historians have three days to unearth and re-construct a particular building/structure), you will see that there is always a great deal of excitement when they suspect they have unearthed a mosaic. The reason for the excitement is because this will often tell the Archaeologists that they have found a significant or high-status building. Mosaics were usually constructed within floors however wall mosaics were also used.  Making an elaborate mosaic was a task that would require the skills of a master mosaic craftsman would set out the picture/design while others would complete the actual work of making the mosaic. Small pieces of stone or clay would be used to create the image of the mosaic which would often depict a historical event, have a cultural or spiritual meaning, possibly depict an animal or even be an elaborate geometric design. Some of the best examples of Roman mosaics in the UK can be seen at Fishbourne Palace in West Sussex where Archaeologists discovered a number of elaborate mosaics which they have dated back to AD75 – 80, making them the oldest discovered mosaics in the UK. The mosaics at Fishbourne Palace provide a good insight into the skill that would have been necessary (to design and construct), remember over nearly 2000 years ago, to produce such elaborate designs. 

Arguably, one of the most innovative ‘inventions’ that was introduced by the Romans was under floor heating. It is staggering to believe that this would have been possible at the time however palaces, bath houses and high status buildings would often incorporate under floor heating, which was provided by a system know as a hypocaust. A hypocaust comprised a raised floor which would typically incorporate a two foot (600mm), void underneath. The void would be created by the stone floor surface being supported off pedestals (small columns). Heat would then be introduced into the void by a furnace, where a person (usually a slave) would ensure that a fire was continually burning.  As the heat would built in the floor void the stones forming the floor surface would start to absorb this heat, which through conduction would eventually increase the temperature at the floor surface, this would heat the rest of the room as well as the floor. Furnaces were reasonably large and therefore took up a lot of space so the Romans usually designed these to be out of sight and therefore located them in an adjoining room.  

The Romans were so ingenious they even thought about ventilation!  As you would image the furnaces used for the under floor heating system would also create a lot of smoke/fumes, which needed to be directed away from the internal spaces. The Romans dealt with this by building spaces into walls, known as flues, to provide a safe path for escaping smoke and fumes. Excavations at Ashtead Villa in Surrey revealed that the Romans used box flues to vent hypocaust systems. ‘Box-flues are hollow box-like tiles set into walls to allow hot air from an under floor hypocaust to heat the room walls’  Source: www.thenovium.org

Roman hollow box tiles - Source: http://www.thenovium.org
There is no doubt that Roman Architecture and Roman Engineering was well ahead of its time, evidenced by the vast array of buildings and structures that still exist today in many parts of the World. Within this and my previous article I have briefly discussed a small number of Roman techniques such as rainwater harvesting, the use of mortar, the use of arches, under floor heating, ventilation etc. for which although technology has developed, these are still used extensively today. I doubt that the modern buildings that we are building today will leave a similar legacy. If the earth still exists in 2000 years (a completely separate discussion!), what conclusions will the people of that time draw about us and the built environment we are creating now? If we can make the same positive impact that the Romans made to the built environment then we will leave behind a similar positive lasting legacy for our future generations. I suspect however that very little of the World we are creating today will remain compared proportionally to the amount of Roman remains that exist today. This really tells its own story. If I am around in 2000 years I will be more than happy to be proved wrong!


Author: Gary O’Neill

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Monday, April 30, 2018

The Romans - The Original Master Builders - Part 1



There was nothing random about the location of Roman villages and towns. Even before construction would commence the Romans would carefully select where towns and villages would be sited. These were carefully planned to make optimum use of natural resources such as food, water, timber, stone etc. in a particular location

The Colosseum - Source: Gizmodo
One of the wonderful things about living in the UK is our diverse history and what this history has left behind as a reminder of different historical period. This is no better demonstrated than in our built environment where there exists many wonderful buildings/structures that provide us with an insight into bygone cultures, politics, classes, lifestyles, technologies and the like. It is only by looking at our historic built environment that we can fully appreciate the skills and ingenuity of the people of their time. Our predecessors would not have had access to modern building equipment and modern techniques that are available today. Nowadays with the use of things like digital laser measuring equipment and off site manufacturing we are able to work to high levels of accuracy allowing us to design to extremely tight tolerances, something I am sure our predecessors would never have ever dreamed of. Therefore, next time you look at an older buildings, possibly a heritage building, just take a few moments to appreciate the skill, ingenuity and blood and sweat that would have been necessary at the time of construction in order for the building to be robust enough to be standing, often hundreds or even thousands of years, after completion. 

From a built environment point of view in the UK, a significant period in history was from circa 43AD to 410AD, which is when the Romans occupied large parts of the UK as well as most of mainland Europe. At the time the Romans were extremely powerful and were able to take occupation of pretty much anywhere they wanted due to their superior military skills and power. The Romans brought with them technical skills and building techniques never seen before in the UK. This allowed them to stamp a lasting mark on the UK, for which the large amounts of remaining Roman buildings, structures, roads and remains bare testimony too even today, nearly 2500 years after they were first built!

Roman Road - Source: realmofhistory.com
Firstly, let me dispel a myth - most would associate Roman buildings as large masonry constructed villas, with painted plastered walls, mosaic floors and running water etc. This is largely down to the media as when a film or documentary about the Romans is broadcast, this is what is usually portrayed, however these larger masonry structures were inhabited primarily by the rich and powerful, and the reality was that most people during the Roman occupation lived in timber constructed buildings similar to the Celts who preceded them. It is from the larger masonry villas and structures that more advanced building techniques were introduced into the UK.

There was nothing random about the location of Roman villages and towns. Even before construction would commence the Romans would carefully select where towns and villages would be sited. These were carefully planned to make optimum use of natural resources such as food, water, timber, stone etc. in a particular location. Security was also a key consideration where the Romans would ensure that the location and orientation of their towns and villages provided a secure environment as possible for those who would occupy these settlements. Early Roman towns were fortified around their perimeter with an earth ramp (embankment) and a wooden fence, however these were replaced in and around the 3rd century with much more robust stone walls, towers and gates.

Prior to the invasion of the UK, the Romans had spent hundreds of years building large, bold palaces, temples, bath houses and elaborate towns and cities throughout their ever expanding empire. The jewel in the crown was Rome itself which boasted buildings such as the Colosseum (completed circa 80 AD), the original St. Peter’s Basillica (completed circa 349 AD) and the Pantheon (completed circa 125 AD).  These types of buildings demonstrated that the Romans had exceptional architectural and engineering skills, the like of which had never been seen before.

Source: http://www.bible-history.com/maps/06-roman-empire.html
Larger buildings started to emerge in the UK where the Romans introduced limestone mortar which comprised of a mixture of lime, sand, gravel and water, to bind stones together to form walls, arches and vaults. Other mixtures were used to form mortar depending upon available raw materials in a particular location, however when set the completed wall/structure would be extremely strong and durable, which is evident from the many remaining Roman buildings and remains that still exist today.

Sanitation was also a priority as the Romans realised the importance of hygiene in reducing illness and death in the general population. Running water, drains and sewers were therefore considered as very important during the planning of Roman towns and cities. Gravity was a great ‘asset’ which the Romans would use to channel water from springs and other natural water courses, sometimes over considerable distances. This emphasises the earlier point that the Romans were meticulous in planning of the location of towns and cities to ensure that they would have a watercourse close by which was at a height (level) which would allow them to use gravity as a natural transporter of fresh water.

In my next article I will discuss Roman buildings in more depth and demonstrate how the Romans incorporated under floor heating into their palaces and bath houses, how the Romans included plastered and painted walls and how mosaics were used as status symbols by the rich and famous.  

Author: Gary O’Neill

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with colleagues, friends and family who you think would be interested


Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.