building valuations




How to look at a window and understand if you

have problems with the window


As Building Surveyors we can provide help and advice with regard to building surveys, structural surveys, independent valuations, property surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, home buyers reports or any other property matters. As you can see from this article we use lots of sketches and photos in our reports as the feedback we have from our clients is that the sketches and photos help them understand the reports.

We, of course, like to meet you at the property during the survey and we are more than happy to talk to you about the reports. Please free phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat with one of our surveyors.


Is there movement in the property?

Windows can show so much in a property, a distorted window can indicate that there has been movement in the property, whether this movement is important or not it will indicate to a Surveyor to look at the rest of the building to understand the whole construction of the building. However it is one sign that a good Surveyor will look out for.



Chimneys are situated at roof level and above and are exposed to everything the weather can throw at them. Ironically, they are no longer generally used as they once were for the main fire of the house but more likely to be used either as a boiler flue or a flue to a feature fire. Deterioration to the chimney can still result in, at best, dampness coming into the property and, at worst, the chimney collapsing.

Typical diagonal crack to top right hand corner in a Victorian property

Is it a problem or not?

Other signs as such things a cracking around windows and again if these cracks are important will depend upon the age, type and style of property. Some property types we almost expect to find cracking around windows are for example:

Crack to the rear of a Victorian terraced property is almost a standard crack which is caused by the leaking of the rear drain. However with this crack it is important in the scheme of movement in the whole building and can only be assessed by looking at the whole building.

Cracks in Georgian properties that are above and below the windows

The adjoining photograph has a property which has had many changes to the windows over the years. There is cracking visible; is it a problem?

If you look very closely in the photograph below the pen indicates where the cracking is. Is this a problem; only a survey of the whole property would establish this properly.

Georgian property

Close up of Georgian property

Cracks over Bay Windows

Bay windows typically have timber lintels above them and as such these can deteriorate over the years.


Large bay window

What lintels are holding this bay in place?


Cracking where older windows have been replaced with modern windows or doors

Many older windows and doors have structural integrity but when they are removed and replaced with a modern plastic window which has not got the same structural strength movement can occur in a property even though the lintel above is strong enough it may move to some extent.

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Render can hide lintels and in some cases can be used to hide the lintels

Lintels may not always be visible due to being hidden the adjoining photographs show some examples.

What lintels are beneath this render?

Sometimes you cannot see the lintels or much of the windows at all!

Types of Windows

One of the important things when carrying out a structural building survey is to access the type of windows and from this to access what movement from this is typical.

A good place to start with windows is to have a walk down to your local church or a very old property. Churches often have very ornate windows and have over the years as they have progressed and developed often had every type and style of window that there is to be had.


Church stained glass window


Arched shape windows

The arched shape window was the first style of window and the challenge was to produce an opening that literally stayed as an opening and did not collapse. In the years when this type of window was being built buildings collapsing was quite common. This resulted in a tall narrow window with a large arch and then this in turn meant that there had to be large rooms within, this we were told but are not sure if this is a rumour or not why the flattened arch shape window was invented!



What is Tracery?


A question we asked as a student was what is tracery as we often saw this in the Listed Building references on a property. Tracery is the detailing to the top of a window and normally relates to an arched window.



Flattened arch shape windows

With the building from the principles of the high arch shaped window the flattened arch shape window allowed room heights to be lowered.


Timber framed properties and timber lintels

We call this an introduction of the timber lintel, it could also be headed an introduction to the window for common man as windows with glass in were very much for the main buildings. By main buildings we mean churches and other places of importance to the community.

A timber lintel allowed an opening in a modest a modest home which at the time often did not have glass but would have either been open or had timber shutters or, we have been told, oiled linen.

Timber was used for everything in construction so it was natural to use it for a lintel.


Tudor timber framed building with timber lintels


Lintel defined

A lintel is an element over a window that gives support to the opening area.

To some extent the original timber lintel were not lintels as we now know them as the timber was simply part of the structure for example in a boxed timber framed property.


Box timber frame property


Stone building with a new timber lintel

Stone building with a timber lintel


Did you know where the word window comes from?


Single window

The word window stems back to the Old Norse vindauga from the words vindr which means wind and auga which means eye therefore a wind eye. The Old English for window was eagþyrl which meant eye hole and for a door eagduru which meant door hole.


Multiple windows

The Swedish fönster and German fenster later gave rise to the English equivalent of fenester with the word fenestration still used to describe the layout of windows in a facade.


Brick and Stone lintels

It took many decades before different types of lintels were introduced first came the brick lintels but this of course was only in areas where bricks were produced. Stone lintels were common in stone areas.

The lintels were used in quite different ways; a stone lintel was able to span a window whereas a brick lintel had to be formed into an arch. Stone lintels were also used in this format for larger openings or where the stone was not available and were locked together using a key stone.

We do, during the course of our structural building surveys, come across brick lintels that have dropped slightly and we have found brick lintels with a timber lintel behind.


Key stone

Bricks that stand out in the centre of the window


Concrete lintel

In the Post War era and in the 1960's in particular it was the era of concrete everything and as such the lintel also had a concrete option. This sounded like a sensible move forward but we are now finding in modern houses that have concrete lintels that cold bridging can be a problem.


Concrete lintel


Cold bridging defined


Cold bridging is caused by a colder element in the structure allowing coldness to pass through the structure much quicker when warm moist air is present in the property.



Metal lintels

From the 1970's onwards we saw metal lintels of various types; we now have what is known as a pressed lintel. Pressed lintels come in many different shapes and sizes with the boot lintel probably being the most common. A boot lintel allows the lintel to be put in place and hidden as it is to the rear of the wall by whatever material is being used to build the wall in i.e. typically brick.


Insulated metal lintel

Metal lintels have also seen to have a problem with cold bridging and we now can see that there are insulated metal lintels.


Other building surveying articles you may be interested in:-

Building surveys or structural surveys

Compare commercial surveys

Buying property at auction

Problems with roof windows, roof lights, sky lights

and light tunnels

Windows and The Great Fire of London



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Independent Building Surveyors

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, home buyers reports or any other property matters please contact 0800 298 5424 for a surveyor to give you a call back.

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).

The contents of the web site are for general information only and is not intended to be relied upon for specific or general decisions. Appropriate independent professional advice should be paid for before making such a decision.


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