What Does a Building Survey Entail?

Posted on August 9, 2018 Categories: Getting a Survey, Moving Home, Selling Your House

When I first started with White Horse Surveyors, I shadowed one our surveyors on a building survey for my induction to learn about the surveying business.
It was not an easy task as the surveyor in question is high energy and I quickly realised the extent of the checks the surveyor had to run through. Through my inexperienced eyes of a digital marketer , the building was a lovely refurbished chapel in the middle of a rural town.
After the building has been inspected, analysed and reported upon thoroughly, I viewed the chapel very differently. The surveyor had a very detailed form to fill in on his tablet and it took approximately 3 hours to go through it to ensure the building is safe and to evaluate how many repairs are deemed necessary to make the house suitable to live in, as requested by the buyer at an extra cost. Let me take you through the scientific approach that was required.

Around the property

The surveyor had a good look at the area surrounding the property: road and train track nearby were noted, pylons, distance to the nearest houses… there are a lot of factors that need to be taken into consideration there.

History of the building

Then the surveyor assessed the story and the evolution of the building.
When was it built? Extended? What work has been completed on the exterior walls? When was it done? Were there renovations completed? Did they occur with necessary planning permission? Are they in line with building regulations?
They will also gather as much information as possible on the materials used to build the property and any relevant technical information.
All of these will enable them to assess the integrity of the building as well as common defects you need to know about.


A building survey is a brilliant opportunity for you to get to know this often-unknown part of your house. The survey will include a visual inspection of the roof to check the aspects of the covering and gutters. They will move to a different street to get a view if necessary.


Structural and non-structural walls will be assessed. Surveyors will look at: How straight are they? Is there any evidence of subsidence? The pointing, which is the ‘finish’ that is between the bricks or stone used to build your house, will be checked. Incorrect pointing causes irreparable damage to older buildings and can prevent water penetration through the joints by its physical presence.


The surveyor will do a full inspection. They will look at the water drainage as well as the presence of large trees close to the property. You need to check for Tree Preservation Orders.

Presence of hazardous materials

Asbestos could be a concern if the property was built before the year 2000 as there may have asbestos containing materials (ACMs) within the structure. It wasn’t until August 1999 that asbestos became a prohibited substance in the UK. Therefore, it’s imperative that extra care is taken when carrying out building surveys on premises built prior to this time. If found, you will be advised to see a specialist.

Building survey ilustration

Not only will surveyors check all the walls with their moisture meter, they will also assess its root cause analysis. Timber problems such as dry rot or beetle attack will often be related to dampness combined with a lack of ventilation. The report will recommend on how the conditions that caused the attack can be improved as well as the replacement of affected timbers. You may be referred to a specialist.

The central heating system

If the central heating system is complex, has been added to or is more than a few years old it is likely that a test will be recommended by a qualified specialist. We can give general advice based on what we have access to.

The Electrical Installation

A building surveyor will look for the fusebox. A test is often recommended of the electrical installation and it could be triggered by a lack of certification, DIY additions, lack of earth bonding (the green and yellow wire) or older re-wireable fuses.


A building survey report includes a visual inspection of the installation and an operational check. It should be noted that a plumbing report might be additionally necessary from a specialist.


Infestations such as rats, mice or woodworm will be assessed. If such issues are picked up by the surveyor, they would advise on a specialist report.

Door and windows

A building surveyor will make a point at opening most of the windows, doors and cupboards they can find just to reveal any cracking, missing keys, damaged timber that might reveal bigger problems.


An unconverted loft is perhaps one of the best places to spot problems in a house. The first thing a Surveyor will always look for is evidence that the roof covering has failed and is letting in water. Once a Surveyor is happy that the covering is fine, and no water is getting in, the next thing to look at is the structure. A surprisingly common issue is the DIY conversion job. He/she will look at some of the other small issues, such as: Are the firewalls complete? Are there  signs of woodworm or other wood boring insects? Is there evidence of any other forms of infestation? Are there are any visible problems with the electrical wiring that can often be seen in a loft? Are there any problems with the cold-water storage tank? How much insulation is present? Don’t forget your Surveyor can also tell you some of the good things about a roof space such as how much has been boarded for storage, if conversion is possible or if a loft ladder is fitted.

When getting a building survey, you may expect the surveyor to cover every element of the property. Whilst many of these elements may be touched on during a survey, it’s important to remember that Chartered Surveyors are subject matter experts, they are not electricians, plumbers or structural engineers. Sometimes they might recommend using other specialists.
After hours of inspecting the house the surveyor was working on, I felt relief as there was nothing especially wrong with the place, just a few repairs to be made. It also changed the way I saw the place. I felt I knew the place a lot better, travelled back in time to understand what it went through. I would happily shadow a surveyor again.

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