An important point is that the space below the ground floors should be ventilated by "air-bricks" let into the walls (see illustration above). This not only ensures that no stagnant air shall be imprisoned beneath the floors, through which it may filter into the living-rooms, but also that the wood of the joists and floors shall be protected from dry-rot, a fungus that plays havoc with all woodwork, and diffuses an unpleasant musty odour through the house. Airbricks, if present, will be seen in the brickwork below the damp-course.
Cracked walls, even if the cracks have been made good with cement, are an indication either of settlement, due to bad foundations or unstable soil, or of bad materials and faulty building. Houses with cracked walls, therefore, are best left out of consideration. Window-frames should be examined to see that they fit snugly and are properly pointed with cement.
Houses, the brickwork of which is rendered in cement and covered with rough* Coarse plastering applied to the exterior of walls.
cast, are, generally speaking, drier and warmer than those with the brickwork exposed. Thick walls - thicker than the local by-laws insist upon - imply the same advantages.
A good criterion of the state of the roof is the condition of the ceilings in the topmost rooms. If water has come through, the ceilings will show evidence of it. Access to the inside of the roof is generally provided, and it is well to take a peep amongst the rafters to see whether or not the tiles or slates are exposed internally.
In all these questions of structural quality and fitness it is an advantage to have someone technically well informed to help in the survey, though a shrewd observer, guided by these hints, may find out much for himself.
The comfort of the home may be seriously discounted if the chimneys refuse to perform their office in all states of the weather. There are few houses that do not suffer from down-draught in one or other (of the chimneys in gusty weather. Smoky chimneys mean much soiling of decorations and unwelcome dirt on furniture and other belongings.
The presence outside of any of the various patented devices for persuading the smoke to take the upward course should awaken the suspicions of the house-hunter.
In many cases the defect is a radical one, due to faulty construction or to insufficient freight. Patent cowls rarely do more than half remove the trouble.
One cause of chimneys smoking: Eddy produced by wind striking roof. Patent cowls rarely remove the trouble entirely
The condition of the drains is so important from the hygienic standpoint that one cannot be too particular about them. Nothing short of a thorough inspection by a properly qualified expert should satisfy the tenant. If the house is an old one, this applies with greater urgency, because it is only in comparatively recent times that house drainage has been reduced to a strictly sanitary system.
In spite of stringent by-laws, modern houses are frequently found with the drainage in a deplorable condition, either as the result of original bad work, or of neglect to remedy defects which have arisen from the ordinary wear and tear. As such defects do not appear on the surface, a superficial inspection is useless. The only safeguard for the house-hunter is to obtain from the landlord a guarantee that the drains are in perfect condition, and thus be in a position to force him to repair them if it should prove subsequently that they are defective.
Landlords are usually quite willing to give such a guarantee, and it should not be forgotten that one can always appeal to the sanitary inspector.
Allusion has already been made to the usefulness of the forecourt. Garden space is valuable for so many reasons that a house without a garden must have some other very strong recommendations to make it desirable. The open spaces at back and front mean a better circulation of air around the house, and, as regards the back, some few feet of territory to separate one from surroundings which in certain circumstances may be, or may become, a source of annoyance. Then the housewife requires space for drying clothes, even though she may send the bulk of the washing to the laundry. Again, where there are children, garden space is really a necessity.
It is true that the tenant of a flat has to forgo this item, but there are few flat-dwellers who do not pine for some open-air retreat in the summer months, and it may be added that the absence of the garden is one of the greatest drawbacks to flat life, and deters many from adopting it. Side Entrances
Where the garden exists, the convenience of a side entrance should not be overlooked. This is almost invariably the accompaniment of a semi-detached house, but not always of the terrace house.
The latter is more often provided with an entrance to the garden from a thoroughfare at the back. The disadvantages of this arrangement hardly need be emphasised. It involves the tradespeople traversing the whole length of the garden, thereby destroying its privacy, or, in the alternative, it necessitates the servants making the journey in the reverse direction.
Thus far, we have considered the garden solely from the utilitarian standpoint.
To a large section of the community its utilitarian features are eclipsed by its horticultural interest. It is there for the flowers, and a very few square yards of soil suffice to provide a healthful and interesting occupation for one or other member of the household.
A well-tilled garden usually is in a more sanitary condition than a neglected one, hence the cult of the flower contributes in a measure to the healthiness of one's surroundings.
Gardens which adjoin a school playground, or waste ground, are apt to be invaded by the ubiquitous boy, whose capacity for mischief stops at nothing, and on that account should not be considered, when a second choice is available.
The householder who may contemplate purchasing his house, either immediately or in the future, should ascertain whether the street has been taken over by the local authority. If not, he may be called upon to contribute his share to the cost of "making up" the roadway, which may be anything from 10s. to 20s. per foot of frontage. Bearing this in mind, he will consider twice before he takes a house on a corner plot, or one with a garden skirting the roadway.
Desirable as garden space is for the many reasons above set forth, an excess of it has disadvantages for the tenant of limited means. Garden upkeep entails a certain yearly expenditure, and, if the garden is large, one has to face the alternatives of spending more than one can well afford, or of seeing the garden neglected and unprofitable.
Gardens adjoining other gardens are preferable to those which are bounded by buildings, trees, and other obstructions, not only on account of the more open outlook, but also because they obtain more light and air, and are therefore better conditioned for cultivation.
It is well to note just what accommodation is provided for coals, as often this is too scanty to admit of storing more than one quality of fuel. At least there should be provision for a ton of coal and an equal quantity of coke, with a division for separating the two.
If a permanent receptacle is provided for household refuse, it should be of brick, with a cemented floor and an iron door.
A garden-tool house is a convenience that is now more generally embodied in the house structure or permanently attached to it, and if not applied to its avowed purpose, it may be used for the storage of bicycles, mailcarts, and other things one likes to keep out of the house.
Should a motor-house be a necessity, then it is well to see that it is not so placed as to be a nuisance.
Also it should be seen that the motor-house does not usurp too much of the landscape as seen from the living-room windows.
Lastly, it is preferable that the motor-house should stand on that side of the house remote from the kitchen quarters, for more reasons than one.
If the burnt gases find access to the larder they will taint the food.
A few square yards of open space immediately adjoining the kitchen premises is a great convenience. It gives opportunity for drying cloths, shaking dusters and mats, and in the summer months enables the maids to conduct outside many dusty operations that otherwise they might be tempted to do indoors.
It is better if the yard is paved with bricks or cemented. Less dirt is conveyed indoors, and the yard itself is more readily cleaned and kept clean.
In a well-planned house the outbuildings will be grouped round, or at least open upon the yard.
After all, it is the little conveniences in the aggregate which make for comfort in the home, and, therefore, unimportant as some of these things may seem, it is worth while to take them all into account when searching for the ideal house.