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Surveying Buildings

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Malcolm Hollis, RICS Books (4th edition), 2001, £50

This book is a more intellectual appraisal of the issues confronting surveyors, and those who survey buildings for defects.

The author takes the reader through the skill of surveying in the same way that a masterbuilder might train an apprentice. In the same way that experts sometimes need to treat an apprentice as an idiot to ensure that the first principles of the profession are not glossed over, this book is often repetitive and concerned with minutiae. But its scholarly quality overcomes any irritation for those who wish to learn.

The topics include elemental failure, corrosion, plastic deterioration, timber damage and dampness. It also explains how to assess the areas surrounding the property in question, to glean clues from any local deterioration.

Based on a wealth of experience, Hollis advises that 'bare feet are better for identifying the horizontality of a floor, as footwear conceals the floor's contours'. This is undoubtedly true, but how many of us have heeded this logic?

Similarly, he points out that 'opening an airing cupboard to find a prominent display of female underclothing makes it unlikely that there will be a detailed inspection of that space, particularly if the house is occupied'. How true. The point he seeks to explain is that embarrassment, due to accidental or intentional diversionary factors, does not lead to a satisfactory assessment of the object under consideration. If you want to examine something successfully you must be thorough - whatever it takes.

Use the back of your hand rather than the palm to feel for damp, train your nose to identify day-by-day humidity, or recognise that 'to see you must first look'. Notwithstanding the Zen imagery, this book is as complete a guide as you could hope for.

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