Common historic property problems

Buying an idyllic property built in times gone by is an appealing idea to many people. These feature houses are full of history and carry stories of their own. They’re fascinating places to live.

However, before committing to a historic property purchase, you should be aware of several common problems often seen in these old buildings. These issues are almost always manageable, but could raise your base living costs, so they’re important to be aware of.

Below, we’ll go through several of the most common historic property problems, how they might impact you, and why getting a home survey can help protect you against unwanted future costs.

What counts as a ‘historic’ property?

The phrase ‘historic property’ essentially refers to an old – yet still fairly functional – building.

Usually, historic properties can be broken up into the respective eras in which they were built. These eras were generally named after the ruling Monarch or their family and are known as:

  • Tudor (1485 – 1558)
  • Elizabethan (1558 – 1603)
  • Stuart (1603 – 1714)
  • Georgian (1714 – 1837)
  • Victorian (1837 – 1901)
  • Edwardian (1901 – 1914)

Although property existed before Tudor times, in the Medieval era and Dark Ages, most buildings haven’t survived the test of time. Thus, it’s rare to find houses built before 1485.

In fact, Tudor and Stuart homes are also few and far between. As a result, most people think of buildings from the Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian eras when the term ‘historic property’ is used.

Common historic property problems

Some of the most common historic property problems are to do with:

  • Energy efficiency
  • Subsidence
  • Damp

Energy efficiency

Poor energy efficiency is probably the first thing most people think of as a common ‘historic property’ problem. It’s true, you’ll almost always find that old houses cost a lot to heat and, despite this, somehow always feel a little cold.

When these houses were built hundreds of years ago, modern heating and plumbing systems were the stuff of dreams. They also didn’t have the advanced insulation materials and techniques we currently use today. Many houses were heated with large fires and, for the common folk, body warmth from sharing a bed with several others. As a result, it can be tricky to modify them to fit today’s more hygienic standards.

Climate change is currently one of the most worried about things globally – and with good reason. Making our homes as energy efficient as possible is a win-win situation. It keeps costs down and reduces a country’s carbon footprint.

This is occasionally a tricky field when it comes to some historic properties, as ventilation and damp control are sometimes dependent on these ‘problems’. Using the wrong kind of insulation could create further problems with damp.

For the best advice on how to upgrade the energy efficiency in a historic property, consult home surveyors, insulation experts and – in some cases – your local council’s planning department.

Expect to install things such as:

  • Double-glazed windows
  • Certain types of insulation
  • Energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs

Without more efficient heating and lighting, you can expect to pay significantly more in monthly utility bills compared to a modern home.


Historic properties can be affected by subsidence. Subsidence is when the ground or foundations underneath the building move, causing parts of the house to become physically lower. This, in turn, can put a strain on other parts of the structure.

It can be caused by a wide range of things, including:

  • Low-quality foundations
  • Tree roots growing under the house
  • Leaking drains
  • A large proportion of clay in the soil
  • Nearby excavations

Subsidence shows itself through cracks in the walls. You’ll also find that doors and windows suddenly become tight or don’t fit properly.

Houses were once built with shallower foundations which aren’t as effective as the deeper modern-day ones we dig now. However, the buildings also tend to be more flexible, allowing them to cope with the subsidence better than rigid ones.

Subsidence is a manageable issue affecting many homes across the UK. However, it’s best to consult an expert for a professional opinion – just to make sure.


Damp can affect many of us, especially in our island country and other places with similar climates. Historic properties, with their poorer damp-prevention techniques, can be significantly impacted.

Damp simply refers to the presence of moisture. It then, in turn, causes problems such as rot and mould.

Rising damp – moisture coming up through the foundations – is infamously known to be present in historic properties.

Dealing with damp problems in a historic property requires an expert. Some of the modern techniques for damp prevention aren’t as effective or appropriate in an older building and could lead to further issues.

How do I look for common historic property problems?

Home surveys, provided by professional, experienced and accredited surveyors, are the best way to spot common problems with historic properties. A trained eye can spot the issues mentioned above before they mature enough to be serious.

Calculating the costs of repairing problems with historic properties can be difficult. In most cases, it’s certainly worth contacting an expert in the specific issue you’re dealing with. A home surveyor can help provide you with cost estimates for this work and provide professional suggestions on your options going forward.

For more information about the different home surveys offered by GB Home Surveys, feel free to get in touch with us on 03333 600 685 or check out our Surveys page.

Looking for a quote, or maybe you have a question? Get in touch today.

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