Stains on walls from neighbour’s chimney

Your property queries answered

Q My next door neighbour's (rental property) chimney appears to be leaking a water and soot mixture down the walls of our house (the hall walls down to stair level and also across the landing ceiling). There are about half a dozen streaks of black stain. The landlord/ neighbour's property is end-of-terrace and he thinks the chimney needs to be stripped down and rebuilt.

The chimney is not shared. There appear to be some cracks in it. Several of the chutes have been capped with concrete to try to solve the problem. The houses were built approximately in the 1930s. We are in the centre of a three- house terrace.

Who is responsible for the cost of rebuilding the chimney or any other repair work that is needed? Could you also advise an approximate cost for a building surveyor’s report for this specific problem if we needed one?

AThe first thing you need to establish is whether the chimney is shared between the two properties or is serving one property only. Bearing in mind that the problem with the dark streaking is appearing in your staircase and landing area, there is unlikely to be any fireplace in this area which would suggest that the chimney is purely serving the adjoining property. Accordingly and on this basis the responsibility for any repairs to the chimney lies with the neighbouring property owner.

The next issue is to determine the cause of the problem. The black staining that you refer to is most likely old soot deposits within the chimney flues. In effect, when water passes through the flues it will pick up this old soot and this can be deposited or give rise to streaking stains within the property.

This could simply be as a result of water penetrating down through the flues and in turn seeping through the wall structure. However you mention that the old flues have been capped off with concrete and thus the risk of water penetrating into the chimney is in fact quite minimal.

However when an old chimney is being capped off, it is very important to ensure that adequate provision is made for ventilation to the flues in order to minimise the risk of condensation occurring within the flues. In this respect, a build-up of condensation will give rise to water droplets, and depending on the extent of condensation there could be a significant build-up of condensed water which can make its way through the wall in the exact same way that the rain will.

I think this is the most likely cause of the problem. The solution will involve removing the concrete infill and providing proper flue terminals which will prevent water penetration but will allow ventilation to the flues.

The opportunity should also be taken to closely inspect the chimney stack at roof level to check and infill and seal any cracks within the chimney stack, and the flashings at the chimney-roof intersections should also be closely inspected and resealed as appropriate. Taking down the chimney stack is a last resort as it would be relatively expensive.

When the above works have been attended to, the interior should be left for a period of time in order to allow the structure to dry out, and at that stage, some plaster repair works together with the associated redecoration works can be undertaken.

No doubt your local building surveyor would be happy to carry out an inspection and to advise more specifically on the works required in this case and you could probably expect costs in the region of €250-€300 excluding VAT for the inspection and a detailed report. Val O’Brien is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

Who owns space over our entrance ?

QWe have recently purchased a Guinness-built house in Dublin. It is a mid-terrace house with a side entrance on our land. Who owns the space above the entrance and in the attic, as part of the neighbour's house is also over the entrance?

If the boundaries are not clearly marked in the deeds, where do we go from here? Can we get this information anywhere perhaps from archives?

AArchives maintained by organisations such as the Irish Architectural Archive or the Iveagh Trust (Guinness houses) are likely to hold architectural records rather than title boundary details. In any event subsequent changes of ownership will supersede ownership information held in such archives.

Your concern about the boundaries being clearly marked is understandable as surveyors regularly find that inadequate deed maps contribute to difficulties in determining boundaries.

High quality deed maps for the boundary configuration you describe would clearly delineate the boundary at each floor level using a separate drawing for each floor. This is standard practice for organisations such as Dublin City Council which own residential or commercial units with complex boundary arrangements.

You did not say if you have access to your deeds. Since yours is a recent acquisition the title is likely to be registered, therefore one option is to request a copy of the Instrument from the Land Registry.

The Instrument should contain the documents, including original deed maps, used to prove title in the registration process. It is advisable to first consult your solicitor as they would have examined the title and should be familiar with the contents of the Instrument.

If available, professionally prepared deed maps are likely to confirm that the boundary conforms with the floor arrangements as you describe them.

If your neighbour’s house extends over the entrance then the wall separating the properties at that level is a party wall and the deed map will show the boundary to be located along the centre of the wall, irrespective of the relative location of the ground floor boundary.

The same interpretation applies to the attic. A deed map that is in conflict with the actual boundary walls presents problems as the extent of possession and use of the respective properties is determined by the layout and positions of boundary walls which in turn were intended to reflect this possession and use.

If the properties have been possessed and used accordingly for many years then this will, in the event of litigation, is likely to be seen as evidence of ownership.

Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor, a chartered civil engineer and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland

How best can I convert my attic?

QI am about to purchase a BER A2-rated four-bed semi-detached new-build in a managed development. I am considering converting the attic space into a den/study area. The house has extensive photovoltaic solar panels on the east-facing rear aspect, and also has a Mechanical Heat Ventilation System (MHVS). I anticipate that the Velux roof lights would have to go on the rear aspect to avoid the need for planning permission. How should I best approach this, bearing in mind the issues with the current placement of the solar panels and the attic ducting for the MHVS?

AYour initial description of the house immediately points out the many clear obstacles in proceeding to convert the attic as you wish. In addition, most modern speculatively built properties will incorporate pre-fabricated roof trusses. These are designed as a “structural unit” and it can be problematic to alter them to accommodate additional, usable space. The placement of ducting, insulation and more particularly, the solar panels, all complicate the proposed alterations further and will regrettably, inflate the cost of the work.

In this case, I would recommend placing the roof-lights on the front elevation. As you suggest, this will require planning permission. I would not see that as a major obstacle and indeed, placement of well-proportioned rooflights on the front elevation can enhance the overall appearance of a property. The possibility of placing rooflights on the gable or hip end should also be researched. I would avoid moving the solar panels as their orientation is important. The ventilation unit, ducting and the water storage tank will also have to be relocated. New steel beams and a new floor structure will be needed.

The additional space that you will achieve and the space that will be lost at first-floor level to accommodate the new access stairway should also be reviewed. In some cases, depending on the configuration of the roof, the net gain in terms of usable floor space can be minimal.

If the new space is to be deemed “habitable”, there will be many improvements needed in terms of fire safety and means of escape. Your BER will also be affected. You should research this ahead of carrying out any works so that the correct insulation can be specified and the A2 rating can be maintained. In this case, as the development is managed, you may also require the consent of the management company.

You should explore all options. If the house is too small, there may be more suitable options available in the new development or in the surrounding area. Noel Larkin is a Chartered Building Surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland