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Damp proofing needed? Do your homework before parting with your hard earned money

Posted by: Neil on 14/01/2020


I carried a survey last Friday in Gateshead, Tyne & Wear to investigate the cause of the damp reported upon by 3 different damp proofing contractors. My client is selling their property and the house sale fell through due to the negative reports which stated that the property was suffering from rising damp and the subsequent quotations for damp proofing which ranged from £1,900 to £3,250 excl VAT. All three companies (who had carried out the free surveys) quoted for damp proofing in different parts of the property and the reports varied significantly. My client was at a loss as to how to proceed in view of the differing opinions presented by the 'expert damp proofing contractors'.

They decided to seek independent advice and contacted my company. What is the difference between an 'independent damp expert' and a damp proofing company?

In simple terms, a damp proofing company relies upon finding rising damp in order to sell their services and make a profit, whereas as an independent surveyor, I have no vested interest in finding work as I do not rely on installing Damp Proof Courses to make my living. If a damp proof course is needed I will, of course, recommend this to the client, as well as providing an accurate cost indication of what they should be paying for that work. But if no damp proofing work is needed, again, I will also state this clearly to the client as well as identifying the actual cause of the damp and what is necessary to rectify it which very often is no more than general maintenance work to deal with external defects which may be allowing moisture to penetrate the building fabric.

In this particular instance, the property has already been subject to damp proofing in the recent past (approximately seven years ago), and therefore it is highly unlikely that further damp proofing work will prove to be necessary. BS: 6576 Code of practice for the diagnosis of rising damp in walls of buildings and installation of chemical damp-proof courses and the Property Care Association (PCA) Codes of Practice for the investigation of damp in buildings both clearly state that consideration must be given as to whether a property has been subject to damp-proofing previously when carrying out a damp survey as the type of diagnostic used (predominantly electronic moisture meters) may not be deemed to be suitable in such circumstances. In this instance, all three companies carried out their respective surveys using electronic moisture meters and made no reference to the fact that the property had previously benefited for a full chemical damp proof course.

It is likely that once a wall has been subject to damp proofing (presuming that the wall was actually suffering from rising damp) that elevated moisture meter reading would be recorded thereafter. The fact that this is not taken into consideration is the very reason why some properties are subject to 2, 3, or more damp proof course installations. To be fair, many surveyors who carry out surveys on behalf of the lender fail to take this into consideration and blindly recommend that damp proofing work is needed which often results in a 'retention' being put in place which further complicates the house sale/purchase process.

If I had a pound for every time that I have seen 'evidence of rising damp was noted to the base of the internal walls and therefore it is recommended that you engage a competent damp proofing contractor to investigate the source of the damp and provide a quotation for the necessary damp proofing work' in a professional survey report I would be a reasonably wealthy man. Just because elevated moisture meter readings were recorded does not mean that another pointless damp proof course is needed, especially when the wall looks and feels dry. It is this very situation which results in so many people calling or emailing my office stating that they need a quote for a damp proof course. Of course, I correct them and state that they should not ask for a damp proof course but should instead request a damp investigation, the two are totally different. If you ask for a quote for a damp proof course you will almost certainly get a damp proof course whether it is needed or not (not by me of course).

There are certainly some excellent professional, responsible damp proofing contractors out there but unfortunately, there are significantly more unqualified, unregulated and unscrupulous damp proofing contractors who will see the pound signs flashing almost as quick as their moisture meter starts flashing.

So the moral of the story is to never self diagnose the damp problem and request a quote for damp proofing. Instead request a damp investigation. Do your due diligence on the individual/company, verify their qualifications, customer testimonials and their trade association membership. The Property Care Association (PCA) is the major trade association within the Damp and Timber preservation industry and they have a search facility on their website so if someone is claiming to be a PCA member you can easily confirm this with a few clicks of a button.

So what was the outcome of my survey last week? The property was generally free from active rising damp. Two small areas of damp require attention (water ingress around an external door frame and the other hygroscopic salt contamination of the cheek on the chimney breast) with an estimated cost of £300-£400 to carry out the necessary remedial work.

Hygroscopic salts at the base of the chimney breast (salt damp). Salt damp at the base of the cheek on the chimney breast.
Rainwater penetration adjacent to the door frame. Inadequate seal between the door frame and the masonry.
Evidence of a chemical damp proof course Drill holes indicate previous chemical damp proofing work.
All case studies