Victorian Style Houses 1837 to 1901
The Victorian age describes a period of time from the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign 1837 to her death in 1901. The term is also used to describe a time of improved standards and increases in wealth, prosperity and in industrial and scientific development.
Due to these reasons the Victorians found the need to build more and more houses to satisfy the need for a growing population which during this time had nearly doubled.
Houses from this period built in two basic ways either middle class or working class properties although they are both similar. The main difference is the size as the middle classes needed more room for their larger families and servants who usually had the basement as this was separate from the main building.
Most Victorian houses were designed with one of the following 4 layouts or something very similar.
The basic Victorian house was terraced and easily built in rows with a simple lay out inside with a hall leading to two rooms on each floor, due to poor construction methods and health problems of that period. It was for these reasons the Public Health Acts were introduced to improve living standards.
Victorian houses were not designed like our modern houses with toilets, drainage and damp proof courses to prevent rising damp. The Public Health Act of 1878 enables the local authorities to enforce some building controls and insist on improved sanitation for houses to take sewage by drains.
Damp Proof Courses DPC
Damp proofing courses were not regularly installed in any building construction method until the introduction of the Public Health Act in 1875. Three years later the Building Act of 1878 provided more detail with constructions- they defined foundations, damp proof courses, thickness of walls, ceiling heights, space between dwellings, under floor ventilation, ventilation of rooms, and size of windows.
During this period, a greater number of bricks were made and laid than during all the previous periods. Brick manufacturing methods had improved in all respects including quality accuracy, regularity and in range of colours available.
Early brickmaking for constructing your house was done locally this is mainly due to the bulk of the materials and logistics of moving such vast amounts of clay and kilned bricks. Transporting materials was still moved by horse and cart so the bricks were generally made at or near the local clay pit.
From the late 19th century onwards the manufacturing process, like many others, was becoming mechanised. This enabled deeper clays to be used for pressing into dense bricks for use on civil engineering works. And with improvements in travel and communications, bricks could be transported over wide areas which removed the traditional local variations.
During the Victorian period foundations were for stability were not fully understood like today the vast majority were simply laid in a shallow soil trench.
The common method was the stepped foundation this was 3 bricks at the bottom with 2 laid on top of them then it would solid brick walls and later early cavity walls were introduced on top of this. There were no foundations as you would understand one today. This is why these old houses move throughout the year and get slight cracking or widening of the mortar beds.
Victorian Construction Faults
Although the need to prevent dampness was understood, how it should be applied differs greatly. Due to this common building mistakes were made, this even today causes sub floor problems. Especially as the ground around them has been raised for modern driveways, concrete paths and raised flower beds. These have been laid next to the property which then shows up the problem with their DPC method of the time. This has also led to covering the air vents which are inadequate anyway.
Today we would consider many of their methods as bad practice because they have placed all the materials in the wrong places and at the wrong heights. This has allowed dampness to be in contact with the brickwork or the oversite, this is commonly called bridging. The lack of ventilation and the increase humidity levels at sub floor level has caused damage to plaster work, brickwork, floorboards and floor joists.
Common damp problems appear such rising damp, penetrating damp, hydroscopic salts, dry rot, wet rot and wall tie failure.
The most common causes of decay or woodworm in lower floor timbers is due to dampness helped by the lack of sub floor ventilation Victorian houses the joists are traditionally built into pockets in the main walls. So when the sub floor brickwork becomes permanently wet it begins to rot.
This is particularly noticeable in places exposed to wind and rain, missing or badly pointed or a failed external wall concrete plinth is now trapping moisture. Even when the joist and wall plate don’t touch the external walls debris could have fallen into the cavity and could be breaching the DPC. A common fault is metal sash window weights are often left in the cavity when replacement UPVC is installed.
Wood being in abundance usually pine and locally sourced made the ideal product to use in construction of suspended wooden floors. Standard examples are joists supported approximately every 5ft resting on timber wall plates over brick sleeper walls or posts called piers.
Joists a roughly 8 inches by 2 inches and can span up to 10 feet without support. To help with ventilation at sub floor level brick sleeper walls have been built with a honeycomb pattern to allow air to circulate better. You will find iron grated air vents just above DPC level on the external wall which should correspond to an air vent on the internal wall.
Plain pine floors were used throughout most Victorian houses. There fixings were tongue and groove or face nailing was the norm.
Pine floors were usually covered with rugs and the surrounds were stained and polished with beeswax and turpentine to create the effect of a better timber. Some borders were stencilled as an inexpensive alternative to parquetry.
During the 1860s, floors painted in Indian reds and deep blues became fashionable.
Victorian House Repair Guidelines
Victorian properties are built with soft internal/exterior clay bricks and were rendered with breathable sand and lime mixes careful consideration should be taken when having to carry out any internal damp proofing or re plastering.
The main requirement to any new plastering system is that it should act as a barrier to residual salts and moisture in the wall. Preferably it should have a high vapour barrier to allow the evaporation of residual moisture. It should also be weaker than the back ground it is be applied to. (Avoid products like Natcem 35) High strength rich cement products have nil to low permeability and do not breathe and are so hard it is impossible to remove once set without really damaging the bricks.
Results of using unsuitable plastering specification such as High strength render and gypsum plaster in Victorian houses has seen an increase in hydroscopic salts, condensation and black mould. Also removing the high skirting boards and poor plastering practices such as re plastering to the floor has resulted in bridging of the DPC’s.
Don’t be damp Be Dri call us today and let us help you with any of your damp proofing, woodworm treatments, wall tie replacement, repointing brickwork and wet and dry rot issues.