Common problems and remedies

A wide range of problems and issues – affecting design and structure – will need to be considered as part of any villa renovation.

Considering the large number of villas constructed, there was wide variation in construction details and materials used, so careful site investigation is always recommended.

Before the scope of the villa renovation is finalised and initial sketch plans completed, the state of the existing building should be carefully reviewed. The villa’s owner will have identified the problems they would like to rectify – things like layout unsuited to the way they want to live, or dated fixtures and fittings – but there are a significant number of other issues that arise with villas that the designer will need to consider, evaluate and (possibly) address as part of the renovation project.

Design and layout

Anyone who designs a villa renovation will need to consider the original design and layout, as well as any subsequent, unsympathetic or poorly done alterations.

Common problems with design in original and renovated villas include poor orientation for the sun, poor indoor/outdoor flow, poor layout (meaning, for example, that bathrooms and toilets are remote from service areas), and low levels of natural light in many rooms (although north-facing rooms with bay windows are generally well lit).

Other common problems include:

  • internal gutters that can be prone to leaking and may have insufficient fall
  • lack of power outlets and light fittings
  • lack of headroom in lean-to additions
  • lack of garaging
  • lack of access to side walls for maintenance/repair.

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Other problems and remedies

Structural weakness

Common problems include undersized structural members (for example, rafters, floor joists, limited bracing to walls, roof and subfloor, sagging of joists or bouncy floors) or potentially dangerous structures (typically, brick chimneys with lime mortar). Read more.

Matching new to existing

With any villa renovation, it is likely that there will be areas new construction is being merged into old, or where small areas of original construction need to be replaced. This may include framing sizes, timber profiles, roof tiles or glazing that are no longer available. Read more.


Villas were constructed without insulation. Even with modifications, most villas fall below current insulation standards. Read more.

Moisture and weathertightness

Villas have generally coped well with moisture because their structure allows air to circulate. But as they are upgraded and become more  airtight, moisture can become an issue. Read more.

Borer, rot and mould

Borer is frequently found in old villas. Rot and mould are also common when moisture is present. Read more.

Health risks 

Asbestos and lead can cause serious health problems and may be present in villas.

Fire safety

Read more.

Foundations and subfloors

Many villas have uneven floors and need to be repiled or levelled. Some have inadequate foundation bracing, insufficient ground clearance, or insufficient subfloor ventilation.


During renovation, villa floors should be checked for borer and for splitting or other damage. Installing insulation will provided added comfort and reduced bills for homeowners. Read more.

Roofing and cladding

Common problems include no wall or roof underlay, cracking in masonry, rising damp (around brick chimneys and within the walls of brick villas) or corrosion of metals such as head flashings and fixings. Read more.

Internal walls and ceilings

Common problems include the need to incorporate hard lining, walls that are out of plumb or corners not square, cracked plaster ceilings, draughts or jammed windows and doors (through settlement, paint build-up or broken sash cords). Read more.

Plumbing and drainage

Common problems include low hot water pressure, leaking drains, and corrosion of original pipes. Read more.

Electrical wiring

Some villas will have old wiring that is deteriorating, and will need to be rewired as part of renovation. Read more.

Chimneys and brickwork

Old fireplaces can contribute to unevenness in the floor, and can become dangerous either due to failing structure or for fire safety reasons. Read more.

Other problems

Although this website describes many of the potential problems that may be faced when renovating a villa, there are still likely to be some surprises that will need to be dealt with. Examples may include:

  • termites – although very rare, termites have been found
  • two-toothed borer infestation – a much more aggressive borer, which is uncommon but can significantly weaken infested timber – it leaves a much larger exit hole than common borer
  • wasp and rodents nests
  • a structure that is quite different from any described on this site
  • soft ground conditions or fill in the area where an extension is planned
  • special restrictions and requirements that apply to building work on land subject to natural hazards such as flooding or liquefaction
  • illegal previous work, particularly where the building has been converted to flats
  • ‘dodgy’ modifications during previous work on the house.