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What is a BISF House? All You Need to Know

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Whilst looking for a new home there is a chance you have come across the term BISF house and been left wondering what one is and whether it would be a suitable property for you and your family.

After the war, to help rehouse people quickly and cheaply, this type of house began to spring up. Much like today, the demand was far outweighing the supply, and houses needed to be built. Luckily, the BISF houses could be built quickly and at very little cost with the average cost per build coming in at approximately £1400. With just over 30,000 being built, the housing market was getting a cheap and rapid acceleration towards meeting the demand for accommodation.

They are still seen today but certainly not in the numbers that were evident immediately after the war. You may have also lived in one without realising, especially when you were younger. BISF houses are also commonly known as prefabs or prefabricated so that may well sound familiar.

What are BISF houses?

The destruction caused by the war rendered many people homeless and a solution was needed. In 1944, a new type of housing was commissioned. This followed a government committee investigation into new methods that could provide quick and cheap housing that could saturate the demand somewhat.

The Governmental Interdepartmental Committee on the construction of housing, also known as the BURT Committee, awarded contracts to several development companies to help with this substantial project.

One of the models chosen was the one proposed by BISF (British Iron and Steel Federation) which was designed by renowned builder Edward Airey, this has led to these houses often being nicknamed “Airey Houses.”

He put pen to paper after the devastation left by the war made regular, costly, and lengthy house building much more complex and ultimately not viable when the demand was so high.

Made with simple construction in mind, the houses were built around a steel frame with panels of walls manufactured at a factory and then transported to the site. Upon arrival, they were then assembled and, in effect, wrapped around the BISF frame. Rapidly built housing with a fairly uniform and therefore distinguishable look.

What does a BISF house look like?

Compared to the more common properties filling towns, cities, and villages today, a BISF house is likely to stand out when compared to the modern forms of accommodation. In the majority of cases, they all look the same with just a few subtle differences between each.

The easiest way to identify a BISF house is in its render that surrounds the expanded mesh system on the ground floor. The first floor in most cases is surrounded by a metal cladding. Simple in appearance, they do not impose like some garish building might.

In addition to the external structure, the windows are often a key indicator of whether the house is a BISF model or not. When constructed they were commonly small and would look vastly different from those that adorned the more typical Victorian and Georgian houses found in most residential areas. Letting in little natural light, these properties would often be dark inside even in the lighter parts of the day.

Built with simplicity in mind, you would not find a BISF house with a porch or an extension, although, people that still reside in them today may have altered them to factor in such additional features.

Of all the prefab-style housing created during this period, it was the Airey house that stood out more than many others. It would have a pitched or flat roof and may vary in design depending on location. It fast became one of the most prolific permanent designs.

Is asbestos common in BISF houses?

Asbestos is often a concern for many, especially when moving into a building that is quite old. BISF houses were not exempt from this and when constructed, it was asbestos that was initially used in the roofing. It may not be prevalent in all though, so it is worth finding out before buying. If you are considering moving into a BISF house or selling one, you will be able to find out whether asbestos was used in the construction of the roof.

Generally, there is no problem unless the asbestos is tampered with. You can have it removed though and for this, it would always be recommended that a professional completes the task to minimise any risk.

Many BISF houses were constructed with aluminium roofing in mind, meaning that asbestos was not needed at all.

Is a BISF house safe?

Aside from asbestos, which is only really a problem if you aggravate it or don’t feel comfortable with it being in the structure of your house, you may have heard that these houses were built back in the 1940s, quickly and cheaply, and are unsafe or not fit to last. Interestingly, that is a little wide of the mark. Many still stand today and have been developed by homeowners and landlords to great effect.

When built, over 60 years ago, the actual plan was to build something that would last and if anything, at least last as long as a conventionally built house. Other forms of prefab have been known to be built with the short term in mind, this has led to many of those having a lifespan of up to 10 years.

Some people are concerned about the steel frame corroding too, with it then leading to a building collapse or severe damage but as with any property, if good upkeep is maintained, and preventative maintenance is carried out where necessary, there will be very little risk of this type of damage.

Can you get a BISF house mortgage?

These days it is a little harder when compared to before. In the 1970s and 80’s a Right to Buy scheme was introduced to give council tenants the right to buy their homes. 5 million people were given the opportunity to secure a home on a 100% mortgage this way and by 2003 a huge 1.5 million homes had been bought. Many were BISF and with such a small number having been built. It limited the opportunities for others to buy one of these cheaper houses.

Since then, many have changed hands meaning that the market does often have them available. Getting the mortgage is slightly more difficult though. These days there are a few more things you may need to do to secure that mortgage for a BISF house.

Get input from a surveyor: Surveyors in the area may have a more detailed knowledge than many about the BISF properties local to you. They will have insight into which lenders tend to work with such property and give guidance on who you should contact.  You can then also consider this surveyor for your house survey, especially if you proceed with a BISF house. Due to their construction, it will always be highly recommended that you have a survey carried out if you are planning to proceed with the purchase.

Have honest conversations with your lender: In some circles, BISF houses are seen as a property of high risk and as a result may not be touched by lenders. This is where the results of your survey stand to help. If the survey detects no risk of rust or no problems with the property, let your lender know. This allows them to have a more open look at whether they should lend. Likewise, if the survey was to throw up any problems. Let the mortgage lender know. This way, your honesty can help them make a more informed decision.

Reduce the lender’s risk: Anyone lending a substantial sum of money will always assess the risk and if that risk can be mitigated somewhat, you are more likely to fall into favour with the lender. By offering a higher than the expected deposit, you are reducing your LTV and as a result, putting you in a stronger position with any lender.

Consider a guarantor: This can sometimes be trickier, especially as it involves asking a family member or a friend. If they are happy to have their name associated with the property and have a strong credit rating and perhaps a second home, your application may hold that little extra weight it needs to get the application over the line.

Can I carry out a BISF house extension?

The general appearance of a BISF house is quite often not high on the list of positives you give the property when buying one. And it is with that in mind that you will be pleased to know that you can certainly extend, renovate and alter the property. Due to their standardized look, many owners of BISF property look to engage in great development projects that transform the house into something more resembling their ideal vision. Depending on what parts you wish to renovate, you may find specialist firms that deal exclusively with BISF properties.

Most of the time, the types of work people wish to carry out falls into the categories below:

BISF house cladding

Perhaps one of the most common types of renovation work carried out on BISF housing, the mostly unattractive cladding is often the first thing people look to change. Luckily, a more modern approach is available, and creating a highly customisable exterior of the property will be easy to organise and can really create a great impression for your house.

BISF roof replacement

With the original roofs being fundamentally lightweight, they opened themselves up to the prospect of damage quite easily. Luckily, there are a host of options out there that still retain the lightweight properties but give enhanced stability. If the roofing is a refurb plan high on your agenda, it is vital to remember that lightweight roof construction is important as the framework of a BISF house isn’t constructed to support a heavy roof.

BISF porches and conservatories

Earlier we mentioned how the BISF properties were all pretty uniform in their appearance. Aside from a few location-based changes, the houses were fundamentally the same. 2 up, 2 down. Nothing more, nothing less. However, it is this compact nature that has seen many looking to expand outwards where possible. Not only can these additions help increase house value, but they can also help cover the metal poles you may sometimes see on a BISF house.

BISF windows

The windows in these properties are typically smaller than in many other types of homes. This means very little natural light gets in, and in these times of ridiculous electricity prices, the more sunlight and the less lights, the better! Installing larger double-glazed windows increases that natural light instantly and improves the energy efficiency as the property will stay warmer, reducing the need for excessive use of the heating. Along with cladding, windows tend to be one of the first considerations for people moving into a BISF house.

Can I sell a BISF house?

In theory yes. Every house can be sold. Selling a house doesn’t have to be difficult. It is just that some property types have more difficulty in moving on the market than others. Unfortunately, houses of this age are often labelled with a negative label, often without a lot of foundation.

As a result, companies like SOLD.CO.UK, who operate as online estate agents can relieve you of that concern. We can offer a free valuation allowing you to see a realistic value for your BISF property. You can then make a decision on whether to sell or not. Not only that, but we can also sell your house for free, removing the worry about the variety of fees often associated with a house sale.

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