While the majority of new Perth homes are built on concrete slabs, many older Perth homes and regional WA homes have wooden floors which are suspended and sit on stumps above the ground. The stumps, bearers and joists are structural elements of the home and need to be inspected during a pre purchase structural building inspection and a pest inspection. But, there can be issues!
1 There can be Several Issues in Trying to Access the Underfloor Area
a) Finding the manhole
Where there is no external access to the underfloor area there is likely to be a manhole cut into the floor within the house which will provide access to the underfloor area. But often the issue is nobody knows exactly where the manhole is. On occasions, carpet may have been laid over the floors such that the location of the manhole cannot be determined. The Australian Standards (and the majority of property sellers) do not permit the lifting of carpets across the property to try and locate manholes. Sometimes, manholes are located in wardrobes, pantries or even underneath significant pieces of furniture. Under Australian Standards, access does not include moving heavy furniture or stored goods.
b) Manholes sealed closed
Occasionally, we will locate the manhole but the manhole will have been sealed closed with nails, screws, locks or even glue. Australian Standards require inspectors to access manholes without the use of tools. Under Australian Standards, access does not include the use of destructive or invasive inspection methods. Nor does reasonable access include cutting or making access traps.
c) Manholes may only provide limited access
On occasion we can find a manhole and it does not provide access to the entire underfloor area.
d) Manhole and crawl space does not meet OH&S standards
If a man is injured or becomes unwell when under a property there can be enormous ramifications. Hence, there are minimum OH&S requirements which apply to both the manhole and the crawl space under the house.
Manholes – must be a minimum of 500 mm x 400 mm
Crawl space – must be a minimum of 400 mm of crawl space beneath the lowest bearer
It is the inspector’s responsibility to determine whether sufficient space is available to allow safe access to confined areas under the OH&S obligations.
2 So What Happens if an Inspector Cannot Access All or Some of the Underfloor Area?
Where an inspector cannot gain access to the underfloor area then he will simply need to record that no access was available to the area and hence the area was not inspected.
This can represent a significant issue to the buyer who wanted a pre purchase building inspection on the entire property. In essence, they may have to accept that the area has not/cannot be inspected.
The broader issue being if there is no access to the underfloor area it could indicate that the area has not been inspected since construction which in many homes could be circa 50 – 100 years ago. Apart from the obvious and potential termite issues, there may be a variety of wood fungal issues along with simple frame failures.
Given the standard building clauses do not deal with lack of or restricted access, the buyer could be substantially frustrated and disappointed with the entire process resulting in buyers adopting a range of very aggressive positions.
3 Are There Ever Issues Under the Floor?
Simple answer is yes – that’s why we want to inspect them.
4 Recommended Approach
When a property is being prepared for sale, vendors and agents should carefully consider if access to the entire underfloor (and or roof space) area is available. Where it is not, consideration needs to be given to providing access not only for building and pest inspections but also for ongoing maintenance. For many properties, installing access manholes into the floor are can be accommodated relatively easily.
Where access cannot be provided and the seller is not proposing to install access, it is worth disclosing this to buyers when Offer to Purchase contracts are being considered so as to avoid potentially considerable angst to stakeholders at later stages.