Tips When Viewing Edwardian and Pre-World War II Houses

By David Lewis of Grillo LLP – Chartered Surveyors of Godalming


Although Edward VII’s reign was relatively short (1901-1910), the style of housing being built much later continued to bear the hallmarks of the period. The style progressed from the Victorian model.

In Surrey the renowned partnership of the architect, Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Garden Designer Gertrude Jekyll was producing some its most recognisable work at the time. Many examples of properties resulting from their collaboration can be found in the county.

The Arts and Crafts Movement also had an influence on the developing housing style during this period. Followers aspired to a return to the greater use of well-made handcrafted goods rather than mass- produced, machine-made products, so favoured by the Victorians. Use of ornate ironmongery and windows and doors were particular examples of their influence.

But there are a number of things to look out for when viewing houses from the period |(1901-1939), says David Lewis of Grillo LLP, the chartered surveyors in Godalming.

**Cavity Walls **– Since their introduction by the Victorians, cavity walls became far more common in housing construction. They provided better protection against penetrating dampness and improvement in thermal insulation than solid walls. Builders used various methods to tie the two leaves of masonry together, but by far the most common was the iron tie.

Danger: Today, these are often found to be corroding, which can lead to instability, unevenness and cracks in external walls. Modern methods of repair are economical and unobtrusive, provided the defect is diagnosed in time.

**Rendered external walls **– The Art Deco style developing in the 1930’s often had bold painted rendered elevations. Originally, the render would be coated with a mineral-based paint that allowed the walls to breathe and subsequent coats should be of a suitable breathable type.

Danger: Use of modern impermeable polymer-based paint traps moisture within the render. This leads to failure and remedial work, often requiring removal of the inappropriate paint or renewal of the render to a modern specification. Only suitable breathable paint systems should then be applied.

Roofs – Locally, slate was being superseded by clay tiles, to follow the style of the period. An innovation of the time was to lay tiles over reversed-feather edged boarding but without felt. Early forms of roofing felt were beginning to be used beneath tiles as a secondary barrier against the weather.

Danger: Tiles can suffer lamination, (where they deteriorate and fall apart) particularly with prolonged periods of cold and frosty weather that we have had over the past few winters. The boarding is susceptible to rot and iron fixings corrode and fail. This can lead to groups of tiles slipping and the need to strip and retile the roof. Early forms of felt become brittle and damaged, reducing their effectiveness.

Metal Casement Windows – Use of metal building products developed until the outbreak of WWI in 1914, and painted metal framed windows, often with ornate stays and latches, were a particular innovation. Commonly, these would be set into hardwood sub-frames or stone mullion surrounds. The metal was not galvanised and relied on paint for protection.

Danger: Plain iron or steel frames corrode, which can lead to cracks in the glass, particularly where the decoration has not been maintained. Metal frames suffer condensation due to their poor insulation and the timbers can decay. If windows need replacing, beware as often the metal frames or sub-frames support the walls above. The additional cost of installing new lintels above the openings could be necessary, as well as the window replacement itself.

Heating – In the better larger houses, central heating was provided by a coal or coke fired boiler, usually in the cellar. Large diameter iron pipes and cast iron radiators distributed heat around the house, usually by thermo-siphon rather than a pumped system.

Danger 1: Old iron pipes rust internally, which restricts the flow through. Failure in rusting tanks in the roof can result in a deluge through the house and the resultant damage and disruption. So, all iron pipes and tanks should be replaced.

Danger 2: Pipes beneath floors and within roof voids were often lagged in asbestos, which requires specialist removal.

**Solid Ground Floors **– Solid ground floors of the period often contained neither a damp-proof membrane, as we now recognise it, nor any insulation. Where provided in the important rooms, boarded surfaces were usually laid over timber battens set into concrete beneath with only a layer of painted bitumen to prevent dampness.

Danger: The battens suffer decay, becoming loose and the boards loosen as a result of dampness or condensation, leading to unevenness underfoot and wear in carpets. Often, the preferred remedy is to upgrade or renew the floor to modern standards.

Before any work on a building is undertaken, you must seek advice from an appropriately qualified professional.

David Lewis of Grillo LLP Chartered Surveyors of Godalming is on (01483) 860 600 and at

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