07927123469 -

 Chartered Building Consultant Bruce Spenser MSc MCIOB

Bruce is an experienced and expert Building Surveyor.

Where should you find your Party Wall Surveyor or Building Surveyor if Bruce doesn't cover your area? Bruce recommends a Chartered Building Consultant(cy) who covers your area – these are CIOB registered and assessed surveyors: they are often time served ex-apprentices who have hands on experience of modernising and re-furbishing the period properties they are being asked to survey. Their career will encompass time spent as Apprentices, craftsmen, foremen, managers, sole-traders and company directors who know experientially the harmful short cuts of the construction processes. They will have studied Building Surveying at university in parallel (often in their own time and expense) and then become Chartered; in Bruce's experience these are the crème de la crème of Building Surveyors as they combine the very best of the trinity of hands on experience and reflection married with academic study with degree at University level combined with the assurance of Chartered Status; You can find a link to Chartered Building Consultancies by clicking the CBC logo above.

CIOB or RICS - Advice for Aspirant Building Surveyors

I became Chartered with the CIOB and assessed via the CIOB as a Building Surveyor.  A CIOB or RICS surveyor should both work to the following ethical and moral standards:

Take Responsibility - Be accountable for all your actions - don't blame others if things go wrong, and if you suspect something isn't right, be prepared to take action

Treat others with respect - Treat everyone with courtesy, politeness and respect and consider cultural sensitivities and business practices. 

Always provide a high standard of service - Always ensure your client, or others to whom you have a professional responsibility, receive the best possible advice, support or performance of the terms of engagement you have agreed to

Act with integrity - Be honest and straightforward in all that you do.  Act in a way that promotes trust in your profession - Act in a manner, both in your professional life and private life, to promote you, your firm or the organisation you work for in a professional and positive way.


Cracks -

Thermal expansion 
Moisture expansion 
Chemical expansion 
Subsidence and heave  
Adjacent Excavations 
Mining Foundation movement
Timber rot within the supporting structure
Removing structural support
Vegetation growth

Inadequate Design



Damp -

Normal levels of damp -

Plaster - .2-1%

LIghweight concrete - >5%

Timber 10 - 20%

Test for Damp:   By sight, smell, possibly taste, touch and sound.  A calibrated damp meter should be used as follows:  Electrical Capacitance as a guide to damp below the surface and when located by electrical resistance as a guide to damp on and just below the surface. 


A dripping overflow pipe has caused substantial damage to this property

Spatter caused damp

Dry Rot (serpula Lacrymans) 

naturally occurs and when it finds the right conditions it will flourish and produce enzymes in order to break wood down and grow - Damp and dark it loves - just like the fungi it is


Efflorescence.  These are salts which have come to the surface because of damp.  The damp is probably coming from a hidden lead gutter and has penetrated the brickwork and migrated to the areas which are white and the surrounding areas.  All timber joists and wall plates will be subject to wet and dry rot and become more susceptible to insect attack.  All plaster will be infected by the salts.



Electrical Survey - Prior to use a NICEIC registered engineer should be commissioned to provide an electrical condition report which will advise of anything that veers from regulations and categorise its urgency from 1-4 (urgent).  You should ensure you utilise the most cost effective tariff.

Gas Testing

It would be unprofessional for me to test the gas installation and boiler as I am not certified as per regulatory requirements - however you can be assured that I will advise you minimally as follows:

1.      The heating and hot water system should be checked before purchase (and thereafter regularly)  by a Corgi, Heat safe or IEE registered engineer who should advise you as follows:

2.      The boiler is correctly fitted, flued and the correct distances from surrounding openings.

3.      The correct combustion of the North Sea Gas methane (CH4) by the adequate supply of oxygen (O) to ensure safe Carbon di Oxide (CO2) not deadly Carbon mon Oxide (CO):

a.       Correct - CH4 + 202 = 2H2O + CO2

Incorrect and deadly = CH4 + Insufficient O = 2H20 + CO

Japanese Knotweed - Fallopia Japonica -

The pictures demonstrate how invasive  this is:

On a recent trip to Aubusson, France I noted that the river side had been collonised with Japanese Knotweed - I also noted the novel way of dealing with the problem:  Post in Goats and let them graze it away

 Non Traditional Design

The Historical Problems of Pre-Fabricated Building – Steel, Concrete and Timber

Bruce Spenser MSc MCIOB


 Introduction – Steel and Concrete. PAGEREF _Toc476323592 \h 1




Introduction – Steel and Concrete

During the mid-war period the government encouraged housing boom led to new forms of construction, some of which purposely mirrored the traditional stocks of the time; two of these forms, concrete and steel frame, have had some problems, mainly from corrosion of the ferrous elements.  Indeed, some were designated defective by various housing acts.


Roughly 6% of the 4.5m houses built mid wars were by new methods (non-traditional) and they were mostly built for local authority use.


Most non-traditional housing systems have performed well from a structural point of view, although some problems developed with several systems -built dwellings mostly due to carbonation in concrete houses and rusting of the various members in steel framed houses.   This led to Mortgage companies not lending on these properties and was followed by the 1984 Housing Defects Act required that lists be drawn up of these properties by the local councils and grants were made towards the cost of repairing defects.  Local authorities have over the years corrected the problems.

It can be argued that to avoid detection, their architecture was altered as they underwent upgrading to look like period properties.


The problems arose from carbonation in concrete and rusting in steel – both problems are the result of each material not being protected from gasses in the air, carbon di oxide where concrete is concerned and oxygen for steel.



Carbonation is a chemical reaction between the carbon dioxide in air and the cement in concrete and results in the reduction in alkalinity of the concrete which can remove the protective passive layer surrounding the ferrous reinforcing steel and in combination with water can lead to corrosion – rust – the signs are rust staining, cracking and spalling as the steel has starts to corrode.  If only partial carbonation can be remediated by reinforcement coatings or cathodic protection (this polarises the steel and repels chloride ions thus increasing the alkalinity)


The steel frames (usually housed within cavities) were galvanised, painted or otherwise protected.  However, if the protection breaks down the steel rusts and therefore it is prudent that a maintenance regime be established, however it was thought that the steel framed systems were for life!!  Thankfully breakdown and rust occur at vulnerable points, not throughout a system.

Importantly the clear majority of steel framed dwellings have given levels of performance not very different from many traditionally built dwellings of the same age and there is no reason steel framed and steel clad dwellings and cast iron dwellings should not give good performance into the foreseeable future, and certainly on a par with the life conventionally assumed for rehabilitated dwellings built in conventional construction.”



Pre-1980 poorly designed timber buildings resulted in condensation occurring within the timber frame, leading to the risk of wood rot, and without adequate fire-stopping in the cavities, so that in the event of a fire the flames would have been able to spread unchecked.  A TV documentary exposed these problems in 1983 and the timber frame market fell off a cliff.  Building regulations of course have subsequently come to the rescue and timber framed building has resurged especially as a sustainable method of construction.


1666 – Becher proposes that things are made to burn by a fire element

1703 Stahl names it phlogiston

1754 Black describes fixed air (CO2 dissolved in water – gasses dissolve in water and create acids!!)

1766 – Cavendish reports to the Royal Society that metals zinc, iron and tin generate inflammable air in acids (hydrogen H2)  - Deduces by experiment that water is 1 part inflammable air (H) and 2 parts flammable air (O)

1772 Scheele discovers fire air

1774 Priestly isolates dephlogisticated air and tells the Frenchman Lavoisier

1783 Lavoisier confirm Priestly’ s findings and renames it Oxygen or acid maker

Priestly, probably due to his strong religious beliefs, was unable to give up his, “belief” in Phlogiston and made little further scientific contribution

1794 – Lavoisier was guillotined on 8 May in Paris, at the age of 50 - Joseph Louis Lagrange "It took them only an instant to cut off this head, and one hundred years might not suffice to reproduce its like."



are a very serious health hazard and they will infest lofts - they cause histoplasmosis, cryptococcus and pisttacosis



The periodic table is composed of groups (the columns) which equate to the free electrons in the outer shell of elements – 1 on the left and 8 on the right.  It is also composed of periods (rows).  The elements closes to the left and the right (except for column 8 – the Noble Gasses) and closest to the top are the most reactive because they most easily gain a full outer shell by forming compounds which are elements which join together by sharing, receiving or giving up electrons;  Ionically is giving up or receiving which leaves charged particles or covalently is sharing electrons. 

The left most elements are metals and right most elements are non metals. 

The elements closest to the top of the table are the most abundant. 

The most reactive elements exist as compounds. 

The elements to the left of the periodic table are acidic, to the right and alkaline and to the middle are basis (neutral). 

The metals and hydrogen form positive ions (and are named as per the atom) 

The non-metals form negative ions (and are suffixed with “ide”) 

The ones in the middle called the transition metals form 

When a negative ion and a positive ion form a compound for example: 

·         Lithium Fluoride - LIF

·         Sodium Sulphide - Na2S

·         Sodium Chloride - NaCl

·         Potassium Fluoride - PF

·         Magnesium Oxide - MgO

·         Magnesium Chloride - MgCl2

·         Alluminium Oxide – Al2O3 

A ionic compound is formed.  The ionic compounds above have swapped an equal number of electrons and they are therefore neutral – they have no charge 

There are also compound ions: 

·         Ammonium -  NH4+

·         Sulphate -  SO42-

·         Hydroxide  - OH-

·         Carbonate   CO32-

·         Nitrate  - NO3-

·         Hydrogen Carbonte  - HCO3- 

The compound ions above have a positive or negative charge and react to form compounds  

·          Sodium Carbonate – Na2CO3

·         Calcium Nitrate – Ca(NO3)2 

Compounds decompose by  

·         Heat  - CaCO3  + Heat = CaO + CO2

·         Light – 2AgCl  + Light = 2Ag + Cl2

·         Electrolysis  - 2LiCl + electricity = 2Ag + Cl2

·         Fermentation – Grapes + Yeast = Wine, CO2 – Too much equals a hangover, Much too much leads to unhappiness

·         Cracking – Industrial break down 

The common acids (they all contain Hydrogen Ions and are all dissolved in Water): 

·          Sulphuric Acid – H2SO4

·          Nitric Acid – HNO3

·         Ehtanoic Acid – CH3COOH

·         Hydrochloric Acid – HCl 

HCl in water = H+ and Cl-  the more H ions the more acid the solution

The common Alkalis: 

·         Sodium Hydroxide  - NaOH

·         Potassium Hydroxide - KOH

·         Calcium Hydroxide – Ca (OH)2

·         Ammonia – NH3 

Neutral Substances (Basis) 

·         Water 

Acids usually react with metals (from the left of the periodic table)  and form a salt and hydrogen: 

·         Magnsium + Sulphuric Acid = Magnesium Sulphate and Hydrogen

Mg + H2SO4 = MgSO4 + H2 

The salts of the acids are called:

·         Sulphuric acid = Sulphates

·         Hydrochloric Acid = Chlorides

·         Nitric Acid = Nitrates 

The Alkalis – They all contain Hydroxide Ions OH

·         Sodium Hydroxide – NaOH

Na + H2O = NH4+ and OH-

The more Hydroxide Ions the more alkali 

Alkalis react with acids to form  a salt and water

 This is where the salts come from

Stone Deterioration - Stone will deteriorate by Acid Attack

·         CO2 in air when dissolved in rain water forms a weak acid solution,

·         Sulphur dioxide SO2 formed when sulphur is burned in the air mixes easily with rain water and forms Sulphurous acid H2SO3

·         Nitogen Oxides from car exhaust and power stations are other culprits

 – therefore it is essential that all stone work is regularly maintained and protected against these attacks.

Smokey Fires - Stromness 13 Feb 2016 - The question of the smokey fire

Safety First – fire = heat, fuel (carbon) and oxygen (o2).  When these 3 are correctly balanced the fuel turns to carbon dioxide (co2) and water (H2O) when burnt.  When they have inadequate oxygen the fuel turns to Carbon Monoxide an odourless, deadly gas which will put you to sleep before killing you. 

Therefore all open fires must be correctly installed by a Registered Engineer and must meet the requirements of Building Regulations.  The engineer will ensure that there is sufficient oxygen available via vents.

 A Smokey fire is a warning that something is wrong, it must be put out immediately and not used until corrected by a Registered Engineer.

 The Science of a Smokey Fire:

 A Volume of gas increases as pressure reduces and reduces as pressure increases therefore it will expand to fill the available space or can be directed by physical forces where ever you want it to go

 When a fuel (say coal) is burnt it alters its state from a solid to a gas. The emitted gasses and particles (fumes) will fill a room if no other physical forces are in place.  The physical forces which generally act on these gasses are as follows:

Heat which will force the gasses upwards

A flue within a chimney which will force warm gasses upwards

Therefore if the fire is placed directly beneath the flue within the chimney the fumes will move upwards within the flue unless stopped by other forces such as:

 If the flue is cold a plug of cold air can restrict or prevent the fumes

Down draft from winds above can blow the fumes backwards

The fire opening must be less than 8 times the flue cross sectional area or the up draft will be inadequate and fumes will spill into the room

If the combustion is inadequate insufficient heat will be generated to assist the updraft and smoke and deadly carbon mon-oxide will enter the room

Tides and Storms - Stromness -  9 Feb 2016 – Tide height 3.9m (by tide table), pressure from BBC weather 973mb, all measurements taken on pier adjacent to Double Houses, Stromness.

The atmospheric pressure is measured in millibars (mb).  The standard pressure assumed by tide tables is 1013 mb.  The lowest pressure ever recorded was 925db.

As more pressure is exerted per mb the sea height decreases by about 10mm and of course the reverse is true.  Generally the maximum effect pressure has is 300mm.

By measurement the tide maximum height today was 400mm below the top of the pier.  The pressure was 973mb or 40mb below the presumed standard pressure.  Therefore the tide was 300mm higher than the standard pressure and of course the maximum tide height (4.2m) will be 100mm above the top of the pier when the pressure is at the lowest level ever recorded.

From the above measurements can be calculated the height of each pier/shore front property in Stromness and whether or not they are likely to flood when only affected by pressure (by comparable measurement or by utilising Ordnance Survey data).

Tides are caused by the effect of gravity on the seas by the moon and the sun, the amphidromic systems of the oceans and the shape of the coastline etc.  As air warms, it rises leading to low pressure at the surface.  As it cools it descends leading to high pressure at the surface.  In general, the lower the pressure the higher the winds and unsettled weather (rain etc) and the higher the pressure the lower the winds (sunshine etc). 

High winds in combination with high tides cause storm surges generally in the direction of the wind - this raises the tide level.  The tide damage is caused by the waves which store energy and then release this energy in combination with the winds.

The perfect storm conditions for a sea front property in Stromness are when the moon and sun align and are at their closest to the earth, when pressure is low and when the high winds and storm surges come from the South East. 

Rarely, a transient or a temporary oscillation may be experienced causing a tide which continues beyond the tide table predictions - this is not correctly understood - this condition may be known as a tidal strand and also a double high tide.  The conditions required are hypothesised as a sudden change in force, an entrance protected by island(s), pressure, winds etc. etc.

Importantly extreme and unusual conditions will occur periodically which will seriously affect water side properties (for example the great storm of 1953 etc).

A pier or shore front property owner should ensure they are correctly insured or have adequate funds to cover any maintenance, repairs or storm damage.  Communal owned piers would be well advised to put in place a sinking fund managed by a company.  It may well suit burdened owners who are not at risk to give up their rights to a pier to an at risk  owner who in exchange for the ownership would take on the maintainence costs.  When purchasing a pier or shore front property they should ensure they commission an adequate survey.  Should damage or suspected damage occur they should advise their insurance companies and utilise the professional services of an appropriate Chartered Construction Professional.

The Chartered Construction Professional, when assessing any damage, will be seeking data and analysing it as follows:

  • Construction of the pier, its mass, its bonding, its foundations and signs of damage.
  • Historical storms, their strength and damage caused.
  • Local conditions ie it has been suggested that the newest Ferry may be undermining the piers.

The Professional will be able to advise how the piers/structures should be repaired and maintained.

In extreme conditions Local Government etc assistance may be required.

Sulphate attack to a Chimney Stack

The flue's inner coating has broken down; Condensation builds up within the flue and migrates into the external mortar between the bricks.  The water reacts with the soot and expands - the mortar pointing comes away - The stack may need re-building.

Tree identification - As uncovered by Carl Linnaeus, through observation and the scientifice methodology,  you need to go through a logical identification process of characteristics  as follows:  Bark, leaf arrangements, leaf shape, leaf margin and texture, Flower, Seed and Fruit, Habit - If you are doing a dissertation and you are not sure of the scientific methodology study trees and Linnaeus and all will become clear - click for table

Tree Damage - Risk of Damage by different tree species – the table indicates (click here) that the extent and depth of drying around oak trees can be significantly greater than occurs with most other species.

If damage occurs an expert should advise, with reference to BRE 298, action required

Roof Detailing - correct detailing at roof level prevents defects


Types of Surveys - Pictograph

Conduction, convection and radiation –  The transfer of energy through the various states of matter; liquid, solids and gasses, and vacuums affect the building and occupants as follows: 

Thermal gain and loss, sustainable construction, Building Regulation compliance, Condensation and interstitial condensation, Building position and orientation, Light, shade, plant growth, mould, fungi, algi growth, energy cost, windows and glazing, comfort, mood, ventilation, type of heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Electron Movement, chemical bonding, ionic bonding and transfer:


Electricity, within central heating systems (Ion exchange to remove/break down/prevent scale), Electro Magnetic fields, Chemical reactions ( CO2 – Carbonation, Lime, Plaster – O2 – rust, H2O Hydration, damp, rot, Sulphate attack – stacks, flues and brickwork, Thaumasite, Ettringite, Alkali-silica reaction, Alkali-carbonate reaction, Alkali-aggregate reaction, Acid attack, Brownfield sites, Polymers, Granite and radon, mining, uranium (Farewell to Stromness - Peter Maxwell Davies) ....


Functions of Elements:

Strength, Stability, Weathertightness, Thermal, Sound, Durability and Maintenance, Fire, Habitability, sustainability, hygiene,

FE = Iron


Rust - iron + water + oxygen    →    hydrated iron(III) oxide = FE3+


When FErrous come into contact with oxygen and water they Rust


·         Iron + Carbon = Steel

·         Steel + Concrete = two materials with the same coefficient of expansion = re-inforced concrete = sky scrapers


Protection from rust – Alkalinity, Paint, plastic, Cathode


The principal signs of deterioration and distress within reinforced concrete structures are:

  • Cracks
  • Spalling
  • Pop outs
  • Discolouration
  • Leaks
  • Damp Patches
  • Lim-scale
  • Re-inforcement corrosion
  • Previous repairs
  • Location and condition of joints
  • Condition of bearings



Period properties often used ferrous metals as ties and as structural elements.


Some mid- war properties of non conventional construction were built structurally of Ferrous structural elements :


Your structural/Building survey should advise you where these elements may be, their expected condition and how to ensure their protection.





Bruce Spenser MSc MCIOB - Building Surveyor - 12 Forburg Road, Stoke Newington, London N16 6HS





Finding your Surveyor



Conduction, Convection & Radiation

Cracks In Buildings


Dry Rot (serpula Lacrymans) 


Electrical Testing

Electron Movement

FE = Iron

Function of Elements


Japanese Knotweed

Non Traditional Design



Roof Detailing


Smokey Fire


Stone Deterioration

Sulphate Attack


Tree Identification

Types of Surveys

Party Wall Surveyor 



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Third Surveyor 



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Structural Surveyor