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January 2016


I own a commercial property, however it has been vacant for some time. My wife and I have decided to spend some time with our daughter and her family who live in Australia. I am terrified that something might go wrong when I am away, given that there will be nobody around to look after it. While flooding shouldn’t be an issue I fear that wet and cold weather may cause problems. I would appreciate any advice you can offer in terms of what problems might develop and what I can do to remedy them.


It would be helpful to have more detail about the property’s age, size and location. It is not possible to advise on remedies for any number of problems at this stage. Most damage to property is caused by water. Should moisture enter a concealed unvented void then there is a risk of dry rot. I have seen an old three-storey building where the upper two floors were vacant and had no ventilation. Moisture entered at the eaves from blocked guttering. Within a nine-month period dry rot spread down the inner walls behind the shop fittings at ground floor. The owners paid dearly for lack of maintenance.

However, you are wise to give forethought to the condition in your absence. This can be described as planned preventative maintenance, which is work carried out in anticipation of failure. Typical elements to check are roofs, gutters, downpipes, chimneys, external walls, windows and doors, footpaths and gullies. Review plumbing and heating systems, air conditioning and any wet-pipe systems, water storage tanks and cylinders. Are water services adequately insulated and will heat be left on or will water be drained from the tanks? Are the electrics in order? Are there fully-serviced fire alarms, security and CCTV systems? Is there valuable stock? What is the condition of the adjacent property where defects could impact on your premises?

Check that your building is adequately insured and will be covered in your absence. If you are satisfied that the aforementioned has been considered and is in order then you should have no concerns.

Jim Drew is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland