My client is in the process of buying an old empty pub. We’ll call it the Dog and Duck. He is acting as an agent on behalf of an organisation that wants to convert it to a club house. As with most pubs, the ground floor was a large open plan area with large beams overhead spanning between the walls and piers. Upstairs, the rooms were for living accommodation, most probably for the publican’s family.
Because of the large number of people who will be using it at any one time, especially upstairs, the client needed to be sure that the first floor was strong enough to take the weight. The client would also wanted to remove most of the walls upstairs to create a large open plan area for the club meetings.
I was therefore instructed by the client to carry out an inspection of the structure to make sure it would be suitable for the intended purpose. So in order to determine whether or not the floor is going to be suitable, I needed to know key information about the joists which was their lengths, depths, width, spacing and stress grade of the timber. This meant lifting some of the floor boards so I could see exactly what we were dealing with. Having established this information, I was able to determine the strength of the floor.
It turned out to be a very robustly built floor and one that was more than adequate for its intended purpose at the time of construction in the late 1800s. The thing is, whilst it was a very well built floor, it was not going to be suitable for a club house which requires it to be able to accommodate an imposed load which is over three times that for a domestic situation. However, there are always ways and means of overcoming problem such as this. For example, the joists could be reinforced or steel beams could be placed under the floor to reduce the span. But there are obvious cost implications which the client did not fully anticipate.
Unfortunately, the problem was not just limited to the timber floor joists being undersized, because if the floor was not designed for club house loadings, neither would the steel beams supporting it. They too would have to be strengthened or replaced.
Regarding the removal of load bearing walls, this can normally be dealt with by the installation of appropriately design steel beams to support the loads that the walls carry. However, there are times when it is not quite as straightforward as simply putting a beam in and this was one of those times. The walls in question form an integral part of the structure in terms of supporting the weight of the roof and providing essential bracing against wind loads. So removing the walls would result in a significant weakening of the entire building. A steel frame rather than just beams would therefore need to be installed inside the building to provide the necessary rigidity.
Because the pub is a commercial premises, a non refundable deposit was required, in this case £10,000. You will of course be forgiven for asking why the client didn’t arrange for a Structural Engineer to carry out an appropriate inspection before the deposit was paid.