BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

An A–Z of inspection for APC

In a new APC A to Z series for Built Environment Journal, Jen Lemen discusses issues related to a variety of core building surveying competencies and hot topics

Author:

  • Jen Lemen FRICS

03 November 2022

Four people walking on a construction site

All building surveying APC candidates need to be aware of issues related to the Inspection core technical competency. To help you demonstrate competency in this area, Built Environment Journal offers an A to Z of some key considerations.

The competency of inspection is defined in the RICS building surveying APC post-2018 pathway guide as 'a core skill of all chartered building surveying activities […] including the degree of detail required in connection with differing types of inspection'. Candidates must have 'a detailed knowledge of building construction and pathology […] to competently carry out inspections of property for clients […] and to fulfil the requirements of the client's brief'.

Read on to find an A to Z list of topics relating to inspection that will be essential knowledge for your APC. However, remember this is not an exhaustive list and further reading will be required.

Advice: In order to demonstrate the APC Level 3 Inspection competency you are required to give reasoned advice and recommendations to clients based on your inspections. There are many ways that you can do this, such as providing building surveys, dilapidations claims, schedules of condition and pre-acquisition technical due diligence reports; analysing lease documentation; and interpreting the results of advanced inspections undertaken by others. The rest of this A to Z list will delve further into some of these forms of advice and other technical areas related to inspection.

Calcium carbide test: Alongside using an electrical resistance meter to diagnose damp, surveyors may advise clients to instruct further testing using a calcium carbide meter. This is a method of measuring moisture content by combining a sample of drilled masonry with calcium carbide powder. If the mixture produces acetylene gas, moisture is present. As it is a destructive test, surveyors will need to agree the nature and scope of the service with the client before proceeding.

Dilapidations: A claim for dilapidations arises when a covenant to repair a building is breached during or at the end of the lease term. This compensates the landlord for the tenant's breach of repairing covenant. There are different types of schedules of dilapidations: 

  • interim (during the lease)

  • terminal (usually within the last 18 months of the term) 

  • final (usually after the lease has expired). 

Surveyors will need to be able to inspect the property, analyse the lease, advise on the dilapidations liability, serve the correct schedule and negotiate the claim. There is a lot more to dilapidations than these simple principles, which will be explored in a future article and in Quantified demand below.

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Environmental factors: It is essential to consider environmental factors when inspecting buildings. This can include desktop due diligence into flood risk, radon, coal mining, contaminated land and neighbouring or historic land uses. When inspecting, surveyors can then back up their research by observing potential environmental issues such as a building being dilapidated, asbestos-containing materials, air conditioning that potentially uses R22 refrigerant, proximity to a watercourse, vehicle maintenance or refuelling uses, or being a brownfield site. Surveyors need to know the scope of their competence, using what they see to help identify deleterious materials and diagnose defects while recognising where specialist or further advice is needed, for instance from a contaminated land specialist or asbestos surveyor.

Fibre optics: A borescope is a piece of specialist inspection equipment, comprising a flexible fibre optic inspection camera that can be inserted through a small 10mm drilled hole in the external fabric of a building. It can then be used to inspect a variety of building elements, such as examining the internal space within a cavity wall to check for cavity fill insulation or the condition of wall ties. As it is a destructive test, surveyors will need to agree the nature and scope of the service with the client before proceeding.

Health and safety: This must be considered every time a surveyor steps outside of their home or office. Surveying safely introduces the 'safe person' concept, where each individual is responsible for the health and safety of themselves and others while at work. This includes undertaking risk assessments, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment and ensuring safe lone working.'

Infrared thermography: This is a non-invasive technique for measuring surface temperature. It enables a thermogram image to be created, which can then be used to aid the diagnosis of insulation defects, air leakage, heat loss through windows, hidden detail defects and damp.

Joint: Surveyors will inspect a variety of joints in buildings, such as between wall and roof, the ridge of a roof, window and wall, mortar joints and floor to wall. Buildings are in constant motion, and differences in material strengths and finishes can cause a variety of defects, such as cracking. Being aware of where to look for defects can aid a surveyor in carrying out comprehensive inspections.

Levels of survey: Under the RICS Home Survey Standard there are three levels of survey: Survey Level 1, Survey Level 2 and Survey Level 3. Each survey level has its own defined scope of inspection based on the purpose of the survey. For example, Survey Level 3 will involve the surveyor attempting to open all windows, where possible. By comparison, Survey Level 1 only requires the opening of at least one window at each elevation.

Methodology: The inspection methodology is personal to each and every surveyor and instruction; however, there are some tips that can help you develop a safe and comprehensive inspection routine. These include working around a building in a logical manner, carrying out an initial walkthrough, taking a checklist proforma to fill in and carrying out sufficient due diligence beforehand to be aware of potential risks and defects.

Not inspected: When providing a home survey report, surveyors can apply condition ratings to the main elements of the building, garage and outside space. These ratings range from 1 to 3, with 'not inspected' denoting an element that could not be inspected. A condition rating 1 relates to elements where repair is currently not needed, but general property maintenance should be continued; 2 relates to a defect that needs repairing but is not serious or urgent; and 3 relates to a defect requiring urgent repair or replacement, with a failure to do so leading to safety issues or long-term property damage.'

Ownership: There are two interests in land, freehold and leasehold. When inspecting a building, surveyors need to be aware of tenure as this will affect the liabilities of the client. For example, a freeholder will be responsible for the full repair of the property, whereas a leasehold may have defined responsibilities for certain elements – or even limited liability via a schedule of condition and conditions of the lease. If a building is subject to a lease, there may also be common areas to be aware of that are shared between multiple tenants.

Protimeter: A Protimeter – which is commonly known as a damp meter but actually measures electrical resistance, not damp – is calibrated to provide an indication of the moisture content of timber, which is expressed as wood moisture content. A reading can be provided for other materials, such as masonry, but this is expressed as wood moisture equivalent. A Protimeter can still be used as a damp diagnosis tool, as long as surveyors understand its limitations. This could be to create a damp profile and follow the trail of suspicion further.

Quantified demand: In relation to dilapidations, quantified demand is a summary of the dispute – which will include, but is not limited to – setting out the landlord's losses as a result of the disrepair and will usually accompany the schedule of dilapidations. It could include the cost of the repairs, holding costs, loss of rent and service charge, rates, insurance, security, utilities and other fees.

Reinstatement cost assessment: A building surveyor may be instructed to provide a reinstatement cost assessment. This could be for insurance purposes or to be included in an RICS home survey. It estimates the cost to rebuild a building and typically involves the use of BCIS (Building Cost Information Service).

Schedules of condition: Schedules of condition are required in a variety of scenarios, such as prior to when a property is let or prior to if party wall works are to be carried out. They provide a detailed visual and written summary of a property's condition and are typically appended to a lease. For a new letting, they can be used to limit the repairing liability to what existed at the date of the letting, 'rather than requiring the tenant to put or keep the property in any better or improved condition.'

Standards: Surveyors must be aware of relevant standards. In regulatory or disciplinary proceedings, RICS and any court or tribunal will take account of whether a surveyor followed the relevant RICS standard, which would demonstrate the extent to which they acted professionally and competently.

Survey Level 3: See above Levels of survey for a summary of all three levels of residential survey. Survey Level 3 includes a thorough inspection of a property and a detailed report based on the inspection. The aim is to inform the purchase decision or plan for repairs or maintenance; provide detailed advice on condition, defects and their causes; highlight the identifiable risk of potential or hidden defects; and, where agreed, to advise on repair costs and timescales. Survey Level 3 can also be undertaken for commercial buildings; see Technical due diligence below.

Technical due diligence (TDD): TDD is defined by RICS in the relevant guidance note as the 'systematic review, analysis, discovery and gathering of information about the physical characteristics of a property and/or land'. It covers instructions such as building surveys, condition inspections, pre-acquisition surveys and vendor surveys. It includes an inspection and assessment of the property, summarised in a written report with the surveyor's professional opinion on condition.

Underpinning: Surveyors need to be aware of underpinning, how to identify it and why it might have been undertaken. Typically, where a building's foundations have been affected by subsidence or where additional storeys are being added and the foundations need to be strengthened, underpinning may be carried out. This is generally via mass concrete underpinning, which involves excavating the ground underneath the foundations to a suitable depth and then filling this with concrete.

Vernacular: This relates to traditional, historic buildings constructed of local materials. They typically comprised the bulk of the housing stock prior to the industrial revolution, with the materials used being inexpensive and easy to source nearby, for example timber, stone, cob, earth and brick. Many are now highly desirable, such as thatched cottages, timber-framed Sussex Weald houses or limestone Cotswold cottages. Vernacular buildings come with their own defects and issues, so it is important for surveyors to know the building stock of their locality well when inspecting.

'Surveyors need to be aware of underpinning, how to identify it and why it might have been undertaken'

Wet and dry rot: These are two common defects that surveyors need to be able to identify and diagnose the cause of. They are both types of fungi, although wet rot needs an environment with a higher moisture content to grow. Typically, this is a wood-moisture content of 50% or above for wet rot and 20–30% for dry rot. Each has different causes and remedies, so it is essential to know what each looks like and where it might be found when inspecting a building.

X-ray vision: This is something that surveyors definitely do not have. It is essential to define the scope of inspection in your terms of engagement, explaining what will be and what will not be inspected, such as services, loft spaces and areas that are not visually accessible. This could include the wall cavity or a damp proof course that is not visible without destructive or invasive testing.

Yes: Getting a verbal 'yes' from a client is not enough when it comes to taking on new instructions. Surveyors must record the instruction, client requirements and scope of inspection and instruction in clear terms of engagement. These must be reviewed and returned by the client prior to any work, including an inspection, being undertaken.

Zero carbon: Sustainability is increasingly important in the built environment, with the term 'net carbon' meaning a building that is highly energy efficient, powered by on- or off-site renewable energy sources and any remaining carbon balance being offset. Good knowledge of sustainability factors and zero carbon is essential for all building surveyors.

 

Jen Lemen FRICS is a co-founder and partner at Property Elite
Contact Jen: Email

Related competencies include: Building pathology, Construction technology and environmental services

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