This week we have been surveying a Laing Easi-Form house for a prospective purchaser. The Laing Easi-Form is one of a range of house types that are considered as ‘non-traditional construction’ and which were generally erected immediately post the first world war and up to the 1960s or so. As the name suggests it was a housing solution developed by John Laing, the well-known contracting firm.
They were intended to be cutting edge, fast and cost effective to build and to meet the nations urgent need for housing. The type was widely adopted by Local Authorities, the MOD and other providers of social housing.
Well known styles and trade names, amongst others, include Laing Easi-Form, Cornish, Airey, Boot and Wimpey No-Fines. Most often constructed of cast in-situ concrete or of pre-fabricated concrete panels they seemed to be a panacea until the last part of the 20th century when it was realised that the houses were very often poorly built, used poor quality concrete and were in need of serious structural attention. They were practically life expired, so bad was the situation that many mortgage companies refused to lend on non-traditional housing and many types were designated as “defective” under the Housing Act 1985.
This post concentrates only on the Laing Easi-Form type and must not be considered as advising on any other non-traditional housing type.
The Laing Easi-Form is generally accepted as one of the better types and is not (as far as we know) designated as defective under the Housing Act. It is, we understand, suitable for mortgage with a number of mortgage companies prepared to lend against them (again, as far as we know, please take proper financial advice from a mortgage broker!)
The particular house that we looked at was in Eltham, London Borough of Greenwich where there is a fairly sizeable estate of two-storey terraced and semi-detached Easi-Forms but we know of similar estates in Croydon and Kent and is widespread across London and the rest of the country.
There are two construction types: type 1, which were built up and until 1925 or so; and type 2 which were built subsequently. More often than not you will come across type 2 houses.
The construction of the earlier, less common, type is of solid concrete outer walls whilst the latter type are of cast in situ cavity walls – typically 75mm thick inner and outer leaves with 50mm cavity. Externally the walls were originally finished externally with a render coat but this may have subsequently been pebble-dashed or even insulated as part of refurbishment schemes by local authorities.
The concrete is reinforced in both skins by 4 horizontal steel bands above and below window openings – these can cause problems if the concrete cover is insufficient as they can rust allowing the surface concrete to fall away in small patches often exposing rusting beneath. Some remedial schemes have included the cutting out of defective concrete and the insertion of concrete blockwork repairs – unfortunately without destructive and invasive investigation such repairs cannot be easily identified unless the original render finishes have been patch repaired in these locations.
The structural pattern of an Easi-Form building is very similar to a traditional cavity walled brick dwelling with floor and roof loads are taken directly to the foundations via the load-bearing inner skin of the external walls which are enhanced by wall tie connections to the outer skin. Some wall tie failure can occur as the ties were of steel, this can be more severe if the cavity is insulated as this can allow dampness to develop around the ties and encourage rusting.
Spotting an Easi-Form can take a little time, especially as there were at least 25 different styles ranging from bungalows and traditional looking homes to four storey apartment blocks. The style has multiple plan forms and different styles of roof treatment – some hipped, some gable-ended.
Most of the clues are in the roof space and to the chimney stack. In the attic the party wall is most likely exposed cast concrete with evidence of horizontal casting lines. We also find it useful to look in under stair cupboards and where electrical or gas pipes come through and the wall construction and thickness can be identified.
The buildings are not especially thermally efficient and although cavity insulation can be incorporated many schemes involve external insulation and cladding. In our experience enhancing the roof insulation is usually required. Given their age and construction style finding some element of asbestos in these houses is also common – particularly to stair linings, soffit boards, rainwater goods and some partitioning (usually in the bathroom and kitchen).
Care must be taken to avoid damaging asbestos material and you should ask your surveyor to check for any asbestos products specifically. We recommend it is removed whatever its condition. Dampness is not a great problem in these houses but some condensation is quite common. They have an asphalt-based damp proof course at low level to the outer walls, typically between the brick low level dwarf wall and concrete panels cast on to the brickwork.
These houses were originally developed by John Laing Ltd and in 1950 their film unit recorded a contemporary documentary detailing their construction:
In our opinion, and having inspected a fair number, the Easi-Form provides good accommodation and is often structurally free of significant problems. Research is essential though and apart from your local surveyor we recommend consulting the local authority housing and building control departments to see what repairs may have been carried out previously.
You should also be aware that any non-traditionally constructed house may prove more difficult (or for some types impossible) to mortgage or require additional inspections, and that problem will roll on to the next prospective purchaser so you could find it slightly harder to sell. We would, of course, be happy to survey one for you – give us a call or get a quote.
- British Postwar Temporary Houses – Wikipedia
- Council of Mortgage Lenders – Non Traditional Housing in the UK
Note: Laing Easiform is also referred to as: Lang Easi Form, Easi-form, Easyform or Easy Form type houses.
(Originally published by Steven Way, 20 June 2011)