Help! My Brighton House Is Falling Down


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Help! My House is Falling Down

We have just seen the programme ‘Help! My House is Falling Down' by Sarah Beeny on Channel 4 i-player, which is well worth watching. This is about a young couple living together for the first time in Brighton . We were pleased that at the start of Help! My House is Falling Down Sarah Beeny advises that they brought the house without having a structural survey, sometimes the term full structural survey is used. More commonly today and more correctly the term building survey is used or full building survey. What this type of survey does is assess the building you are about to buy before you buy it and advise you of any costs that you may incur. As you are about to see there can be considerable costs if you don't have a survey first.

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Problems on a property in Brighton

The Brighton couple had following problems as shown on Help! My House is Falling Down programme, relating to:

1.  Old electrics - estimated cost of repairs £4,000

2.  Dampness - As Sarah Beeny says, the mix of electrics and dampness is not a good mix.

3.  Disintegrating ceilings and walls to the back of house, which turned out to be a leaking roof and the wall construction - repair of the slate pitched roof, estimated cost of repairs £10,000


Things we like about Help! My House is Falling Down


We do like the detail that this programme goes into. It is particularly good in the way it repeats itself a lot and goes over the points again to ensure they are fully understood. It also advises the best ways to sort out the problems is to fully understand them.

We also like the flashing of thunder and lightning that occurs on the programme to emphasise the point and indeed the splitting house, although this is a bit dramatic and we have never actually seen a house split in half and we have surveyed hundreds if not thousands of properties, but it certainly makes the pint.




The Problem

1. Dangerous electrics, what can I do?

It was obvious to anyone with the slightest bit of electrical knowledge that the electrics were very dated. If you had a Building Surveyor have a look at it they would have also noted that the fittings were Bakelite fittings and probably from around the end of the war era.

The Help! My House is Falling Down programme pointed out the various dangers of electrics, such as the fire hazard of burning your house down, which is one extreme to the more basic and probably realistic problem of getting a shock from the system.

There was also an interesting part in Help! My House is Falling Down programme where they discover there is only one socket point in the kitchen area. We have found in the past this is a tell tale sign of old electrics where there are next to no socket points, as in years gone by we simply didn't use as much electricity as we do today.


2. Dampness

The problem was, as with much of Brighton , the house was built on a sloping site. This house looked to be up near Brighton railway station, where there is a particularly large hill. We used to live near this area and know it very well.

This means that if you look at the diagram that the back of the house is likely to be below ground level, whilst the front of the house is at the correct level. Therefore anything at the back of the house gets damp.



3. The Roof Problem

Sarah Beeny talks about Bungaroosh construction which is local to the Brighton area and seems in our experience to have been made out of pretty much anything local they could lay their hands on and pack together, although we have come across a similar mix of local materials across the country, but it is probably the mass of stones that makes the Bungaroosh construction stand out.

Like Sarah Beeny says when Bungaroosh construction gets wet it falls to bits. This is true throughout the country of this type of earth wall, also sometimes known as a rubble wall, although often this relates to stone construction.


Sarah Beeny calls in the property professionals

As in previous episodes of Help! My House is Falling Down Sarah Beeny calls on property experts; in this case

1.  An electrician

2.  A roofer

3.  A structural engineer

4.  A damp expert

We were surprised at the number of different people that Sarah Beeny called on. Really one surveyor would be sufficient to cover most areas in this report and also you wouldn't get conflicting views and ideas on any problems.


The dangerous electrics

An electrician looked at the property (although they didn't explain what qualifications to look for we would advise that you need an NICEIC Certificate of something equivalent to this).

In the programme there seems to be some confusion over the age of the electrics, where at one point the electrician advises that he thought the electrics were from the 1960's and in another point Sarah Beeny said that she thought the electrics were put in at the end of the world war and in another point she mentioned the electrician was taking out this type of electrics from the 1950's! So unless we misheard it, it is probably best to sum up that the electrics were dated and old!


DIY electrics not a good idea

What amazed us next was that the occupiers decided to save money by doing the electrics themselves, or to be exact the first bit, which is known as the first fix which is really the running of the cables. Although it was explained in the Help! My House is Falling Down programme that it would all need to be checked off by a fully qualified electrician,(NICEIC or equivalent), it didn't explain how difficult it could be to find an electrician that would sign off any work that's been carried out by a complete amateur; in this case from what we remember the person doing the work was a hairdresser had nothing to do with the building trade whatsoever.



Sarah Beeny went through the main cause of the dampness being the sloping site of the property. Sarah Beeny was also very good as she commented on other areas where dampness could occur, such as leaking gutters, faulty plumbing and the difference in ground level, such as a sloping site in this instance. Sarah Beeny was also good in that she talked about the typical costs of £2,000 and upwards to tank the property. In our experience it is usually more, but we would comment that our clients are always looking for what sort of costs things would be and we have had comments in the past that some surveys don't have costs in them so make sure if you are commissioning a building survey it includes the action required and associated costs, as ours do.

Sarah Beeny explains very well the difference between tanking and a drainage membrane system and a drainage membrane system was chosen. The representative from the drainage membrane system company came into have a chat to Sarah Beeny and he advised that this is a system that has been used in the London Underground and also the Channel Tunnel!

Unfortunately, due to the couple's DIY work they are unable to fit the membrane in some areas where the couple had removed the parts of the wall that would be needed for fixings. This was put right by the company but again it shows that even good intentions when you're carrying out building work can cost you money if you don't know what you're doing.


Thermal imaging was used to find dampness

We were pleased to see that they were using thermal imaging cameras (yes we have got a thermal imaging camera and are happy to use it) to look for the dampness, as opposed to the electronic dampness resistance meters that are often used wrongly by damp proofing companies, and of course they are used to sell the dampness products. We never understand why people go to a damp proof company when the sole aim of that company is to sell damp proof products.


When to renew the roof?

With regards to the deterioration to the rear of the property to the ceilings and to the walls they decided the problem related back to the slate roof.

We were pleased to see that they went to the Building Research Establishment (BRE) taken to the BRE where they were showed a simulation of their roof, albeit that it wasn't completely correct because if you noted later on in the programme their roof actually had a sarking felt, whereas the example shown at the BRE didn't have any felt underneath it. Interestingly, these sarking felts have been used post war, so it does look like the roof had already been re-roofed previously.


We could see from the surrounding roofs that this was the only one that still remained of the original slates, other than being replaced with concrete tiles and it has to be said it did look, from the pictures we could see, that it was repairable, rather than needing to be replaced.

We were pleased to see that they did put slates back rather than using concrete tiles like the neighbouring roofs. We weren't sure whether they were natural slates or manmade slates.


Running out of cash and the girlfriend moved out of the house

As with some of the other building programmes that I've watched, such as Grand Designs, the couples always seem to run out of cash as well as the projects running over time of course, although in this case without any washing facilities in the building, and for their sanity, the girlfriend moved out of the house which is probably just as well!


Summary of property problems

There are three main property problems:

1.  The old electrics

2.  The dampness coming in through the walls due to a sloping site, which needs tanking, and

3.  The roof that was leaking

The couple took six months to carry out the work, with a budget of £50,000 and they ended up doing a lot more DIY than they were expecting to but we must say the end result looked good. Sarah Beeny's moral of the story was that where problems appeared to be cosmetic damage is not necessarily made good by cosmetic repairs as there may be more to them, for example in this case the dampness coming in due to the sloping site and the dampness coming in due to the roof problems.

Another good programme by Sarah Beeny.


Independent Surveyor's Advice

If you truly do want an independent expert opinion from a surveyor with regard to structural surveys, building surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, defects report, including things such as cracks, dampness, condensation, foundation problems, etc, dilapidations, homebuyers reports or any other property matters please free phone 0800 298 5424 for a Surveyor to give you a call back.


Independent commercial property surveyors

If you have a commercial property, be it leasehold or freehold, then you may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site .


We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

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We would refer you to other interest articles on our website:


Help! My House is Falling Down

Loft Conversions Do They Add Value?

My property has been repointed in a cement mortar, what can I do?

Rising damp, condensation and damp through your walls


building engineers

Home Buyers Reports Property Surveys - why we're the best. Engineers Reports
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