What to look for when buying Edwardian houses

Edwardian homes are known for their tall ceilings, ornate designs, and brightness. Much of the finer details that are associated with homes from this era grew out of the Art Nouveau, or the Arts and Crafts Movement, that had begun in the Victorian period and is still held in high regard today.

Edwardian period houses are also regarded as being better built than Victorian properties, as builders began to focus more on longevity and less on efficiency. This, again, makes Edwardian homes popular to this day.

However, despite their attractive designs and sturdy structures, Edwardian homes are now all relatively old, so there are a number of things you should look out for if you are looking to buy an Edwardian property.

We are going to take a look at some of the issues Edwardian properties can face, what the tell-tale signs are, and how you can spot them.

What should you look for when buying Edwardian houses?

As with properties from most eras, one of the main issues you should be aware of in an Edwardian property is damp. Not only is damp an issue in itself, but there will also be underlying causes of the damp, such as cracked walls or poor insulation, that can also lead to further problems down the line.

Some of these problems are easily spotted, while others may require the aid of a professional surveyor as even the seller and their estate agent may not be aware of them.

We will explore all this and more. But first, let’s begin by finding out a bit more about the Edwardian era.

When was the Edwardian era?

The Edwardian era refers to the period in British history when King Edward VII was on the throne between the years 1901 and 1910. Some historians push the era to 1914 at the start of the First World War.

The previous period was known as the Victoria era, which spanned the years of the long reign of Queen Victoria between 1837 and 1901. When Victoria died, her son Edward took the throne and ushered in a time of relative peace prior to the start of the First World War.

The Edwardian era is the final period of British history to be named after the reigning monarch. Other monarchical eras with eponymous architecture include the Tudor era, Elizabethan era, Georgian era, the Regency era, and the Victorian era.

Depending on where you are in the UK, you will see some of these architectural designs more than others. In London, you will predominantly see Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian, and modern architecture.

What are the characteristics of Edwardian houses?

Edwardian architecture is described as a Neo-Baroque style that draws heavily from French architecture of the 18th century and English Baroque of the 17th century. For this reason, Edwardian architecture is often seen as a retrospective period.

Sir Edwin Lutyens was a pioneer of Edwardian architecture, and he defined his designs as being of ‘the Grand Style.’

Edwardian architecture typically features rustication, especially at the ground levels. Rustication is a masonry technique that gives the exterior wall of a building a visible surface. A visible arch over a door frame is an example that you may frequently notice. Larger Edwardian designs also often feature large dome-topped pavilions, which you can see in places like London, Bright, and Oxford.

It is also common for Edwardian houses to have front gardens. In the Victorian era, there was a boom in the number of houses that were built in the inner cities to help the growing problem of overcrowding. By the Edwardian era, cities had become more spread as they had grown in population, and places like Hampstead in London were now seen as more desirable areas as they were away from the stench and squalor of the urban areas. Wealthier people wanted to have more privacy and seclusion, so front gardens became increasingly popular.

Edwardian houses are also remarkable for their intricate details and decorations, such as stained glass, floor tiles, high ceilings, and use of timber. These ornate details give the properties a vintage and retro aesthetic.

Why are Edwardian houses so popular?

Edwardian houses are very popular to this day. Unlike Georgian and Victorian-era houses, Edwardian properties were well built as designers began to place a greater emphasis on the longevity of a property as short-term maintenance costs would quickly reduce the value of a house.

There was also a focus on making Edwardian houses brighter and lighter than their Victorian counterparts, which was furthered by the light colours that the houses were often painted with. The high ceilings and large windows help with this, and for many people, brightness is a key factor in shaping their overall opinion of a property.

The propensity for Edwardian houses to have stained glass front doors is also a feature that many modern buyers are still sold on.

And, as we saw before, many of the areas in which you are likely to find Edwardian-style houses are still very much desirable places to live.

What problems can Edwardian houses face?

However, despite all the intricate details and expert-level craftsmanship, Edwardian houses are now all well over 100 years old and will likely need some maintenance work if they haven’t had any already.

So let’s now take a look at some of the problems to look out for in Edwardian houses.

Cracked walls

External wall cracking in Edwardian houses is often caused by cavity walls, which are hollow. Originally, these were installed to protect against dampness and cold air in ways that previous designs had been unable to.

However, although the cavity walls were better for damp and insulation purposes, over time, they begin to crack and are liable to corrosion. So keep an eye out for any cracks in the external walls when you view an Edwardian property.

Chimneys

Chimneys are a quintessential feature of Edwardian properties. Although many people find them attractive, chimneys do also mean that the building is far more exposed to weather and the elements. Chimneys can also lead to more damp due to the air that is channelled into the house via the pot.

Roofing

Any roofing that is made using original tiles, usually slate, may need to be replaced. Old tiles are not only dangerous, but they can also lead to other issues such as leaks and damp.

Ground movement

Ground movement is when the ground on which a house is built sinks or moves, which leads the house to do so as well.

Many Edwardian houses were built with very shallow foundations and are, therefore, subject to ground movement. You can notice ground movement by looking for gaps and cracks at the base of the house.

Damp

Builders and designers in the Edwardian era were well aware of damp and the problems it can cause. One method they used to combat it was to build the ground floor on raised air bricks, which allowed air to flow beneath the house and keep it well ventilated. However, over time, these air bricks are likely to have begun to disintegrate or become blocked, which can lead to damp.

Damp can also be caused by some of the other issues we have already explored, such as broken tiles, old chimneys, and wall cracks.

Security of the doors

People are often immediately drawn to Edwardian houses because of the ornate designs of the front door and the rustication around it. However, the glass panelling – which is a common feature of Edwardian front doors – is also a security hazard. Not only this, but they can also let heat escape the house and allow cold air in the colder months of the year.

You should also check all the windows and doors around the house for similar problems.

Eaves

Eaves should be designed to allow air to pass through the loft spaces and keep the house well ventilated. But depending on how well the insulation of the house was laid, condensation can build in the eaves and lead to damp in the roofing.

This often happens over a period of time regardless of how well the insulation was installed, so it is always a good idea to check.

How spot issues with an Edwardian house

It is important to be alert to all of the above issues before you make the decision to buy a property, as they can build up over time and cost you a lot of money in the long run. But spotting all of these problems can be tricky, especially for someone with an untrained eye.

So if you are looking to buy an older house, say from the Edwardian era, then you might want to enlist the help of a property surveyor who can carry out a professional house survey for you.

What is a house survey?

A house survey is a professional inspection of a property to determine its condition for potential buyers. The surveyor will inspect the property and then write a report that lays out the problems and how much each will cost to fix. From there, the buyer is then free to negotiate the final price of the property with the seller.

A house survey is normally carried out once an initial offer has been made on the property.

You should try to opt for a survey that is accredited by either the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) or the Residential Property Surveyors Association (RPSA). There are other accreditors, but these two are the most recognised in the industry.

Surveys carried out by unaccredited surveyors may be unreliable and offer no accountability.

Summary

The Edwardian era marked a key period for architecture that many still revere today. The combination of Art Nouveau and a more retro aesthetic came together to create a unique architectural identity that is highly sought after in the world of 2022.

However, there are a number of issues that you should be aware of and look for if you are buying an Edwardian-era property. Chief among these is damp. Not because damp is the worst problem a house can have, but because it acts as a canary in the coal mine that can lead to discovering other integral issues within the property that can cause problems as the years go by.