Terrace House Problems

Owning a terrace house can be incredibly rewarding, but it is not always roses.

They can be expensive to maintain and renovate.

Common problems with terraces include:

Damp

Like with all old buildings, damp can be a problem, however it is heightened with taller terraces, especially mid terraces due to a general lack of ventilation and natural heat circulation.  Damp can enter either as rising damp through the floor or through poorly waterproofed roofs and walls.  Damp and salt can present a huge issue, causing mould and paint to flake and render to dislodge, structural timbers to rot or attract pests and mortar to crumble.

Subfloor Problems

Terrace houses often have problems in the subfloor.  Not necessarily structurally.

But being typically low to the ground creates several problems many homeowners are not aware of.

Damp and mold can creep up through the floor, staining wooden floorboards and presenting a health hazard.

Poor ventilation is another problem which terraces often suffer and can encourage pests such as termites and wood borers which can cause major damage if left uncontrolled.  Leaking plumbing can exacerbate these problems.

Small crawl space makes it difficult to access and treat problems without ripping up flooring.  In many Victorian and Edwardian terraces, the foundations are built up with piers isolating each room, making access more difficult.

Rising damp is a common issue of old buildings, but this is a particular problem for terraces.  Especially mid terraces.  Fortunately there are new technologies which make treatment easier.

It can be difficult to treat with difficult access without ripping up a floor.

Structural Problems

Another often overlooked problem is that sharing a party wall can have its disadvantages.  If there are structural problems with the terrace next door, this may well effect others in the row.

The cast iron verandahs featured in Australian terraces are often very heavy and can often put pressure on load bearing structures causing some structures such as balconies to be unusable without proper reinforcement.

Fire

Older terrace houses can be more susceptible to fire than other homes.  Old wiring and gas systems in particular can cause fire hazards.

Roof Problems
Like many homes, roofs can be a problem with terraces, but terraces can have particular roof problems. Older galvanised iron roofs can rust, corrode when combined with copper piping and also leak and slate roofs can be expensive to replace. For roof replacement, zinc aluminum is a hardy replacement for galvanised iron, although modern colorbond is not always recommended for heritage buildings. Other problems can be caused by deteriorating chimneys, drafts coming through open fireplaces and years of soot and pollution built up in fireplaces and roofs which can be more difficult to clean and access than detached houses.

Access

Lack of access can be a real problem for terraces, for furniture, repairs or renovation.  With attached terraces, sometimes the only access is either via a narrow rear lane or through the narrow hallway of the house.    Narrow hallways and stairways can exacerbate the problem.

Noise and Annoyances

Noise and annoyances are an often overlooked problem with terraces. As terrace houses share party walls and are often aligned with street frontage, noise can come from many directions – traffic and next door neighbours. Many terraces are located in busy inner city areas and often being rental properties, neighbours can be a mixed bag.

Many older terraces have thick walls of stone, double brick or even triple brick construction. However some cheaply made terraces can share thin party walls and structural cracks which may allow sound (sometimes muffled) and other problems including smells and smoke to travel between the homes. Long time terrace house owners are typically fairly tolerant of these problems but it can catch first time tenants off-guard.

Hazardous materials

Like many old houses, the age of terraces can introduce other problems, including waves of renovations which may have introduced materials such as lead, arsenic and asbestos, sometimes in suprisingly large quantities.

Lead was often used in Victorian paints and could also collect in large quantities collected in the roof and floorspaces from years collecting dust particles and air pollution.  Arsenic was used in the Victorian and Edwardian eras for certain wood stains and also in dyes for curtains and wallpapers and rat poison among other applications.

Left alone, they may not present problems, though they can cause unseen health problems through floating fragments can’t always be detected in air quality tests.   Disturbed, however, they can be potentially fatal.  It is important to take extreme care to identify these materials and if they are present, take the proper precautions if renovating.

The Australian Government publishes information on the hazards of lead based paint, while the Victorian government has information on asbestos, arsenates and other hazards.

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