When planning any conversion, a whole lot of time and hassle can be avoided if you recognise the different building techniques that have been applied and have an appreciation for the materials involved.

Depending on when a house was built, the techniques used to build it can differ substantially, even if it looks extremely similar to another building, right down to the bricks and roof construction.

Progressive change

Over the years building methods have changed progressively. Up until the 1930s the majority of walls were built in solid brickwork. The 1930s saw the introduction of cavity walls, although not all pre-war homes were built using them, and prior to 1914 foundation details were not specified in by-laws, although many homes did have brick footings.

These little bits of trivia show how much things have changed, even in the last 100 years, and prove how important it is then to appreciate that a house is not just a house. Contrary to people’s beliefs, they are not all fundamentally the same thing, built the same way.

With regard to property development, the most common properties that come onto the market, at a reasonable price and with a potential for profit, are categorised in builder’s terms in the following way:

Older Traditional

This category includes homes that were built from the late 19th century right up until the end of World War II. These homes vary from small, two-story terraced houses and Edwardian houses from the 19th century to larger semi-detached homes, terraced houses with as many as five floors and a cellar, and mansion or tenement blocks of flats, four to eight storeys high.

Buildings from this category will have been built in a consistent local colour due to the use of regionally produced bricks, although stucco or cement rendering was often used to cover unsightly or faulty brickwork.

These buildings may have no damp-proof course and will usually have tiles or slates or slates on the roofs.

Most housing association stock is ‘older traditional’ because as of 1975, half of the national housing stock had been built before the end of World War II.

Modern Traditional

This category includes terraced and semi-detached houses, as well as blocks of flats, which have been built since World War II.

This type of property does not usually have a basement, except to house heating or electrical plant, like in a large block of flats, for example. The houses are usually two-storeys high whilst the flats are up to six storeys.

Due to improved transport and technology the tiles and bricks used on these properties are not necessarily going to be locally produced.

Some of the blocks of flats from this category will have flat, timber or concrete, roofs covered with layers of felt or asphalt.

The windows in these properties have timber, aluminium or steel frames and tend to be top-hung or side-hung casements.

Generally, these post-war properties will have had a damp-proof course and are built with cavity walls on top of concrete foundations. Post-war new build stock is mainly modern traditional to rationalised traditional.

Rationalised Traditional

This type of property covers a range of different construction methods and can require very different methods of treatment to previous houses for major structural defects, although day-to-day maintenance and the methods for minor repair are very similar.

The building methods for these properties were altered from the traditional in a way that improved the efficiency of the build, including cross-wall construction. This is a generic method of building construction using a series of division or party walls which transfer the floor loads through the building to foundation level.

Industrialised building

This category refers to buildings, built mainly by local authorities, in one of a range of building styles developed in the 1960s for low-, medium- and high- rise housing.

The many different structural styles included timber-framed panels, steel frames with infill panels and precast concrete panels.


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