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'I need a Damp Proof Course'

Posted by: Neil Marsden Snr- Damp & Timber Expert on 02/05/2017


'I need a damp proof course'is the comment I generally hear from clients that get in contact with me.

I always find it strange that clients self-diagnose damp related issues. We would not dream of diagnosing a noise on our car engine etc and would seek professional diagnosis by a competent mechanic. But when it comes to our most valuable asset, time and again people are quick to diagnose the problem and look for quotes for what, in many instances will be the incorrect solution to the problem.

If you call a damp-proofing company and request a damp-proof course there is a very high chance that you will end up with a damp-proof course. It is common sense. You have asked for it so you will almost certainly get it.

A recent case that I have been involved with epitomises this scenario.

The client actually sent me a hand-drawn sketch of their property and asked me to provide a quote for a damp proof course. I explained that I do not sell damp proof courses I investigate damp related problems and provide advice on the potential solutions.

' I have already had three quotes from damp proofing companies and they are all over the place. One has quoted£3800 and the cheapest £2175 so I am confused as to which one is the right one to go with'said the client.

I asked how he had reached the conclusion that he needed a damp proof course?

'My mate is a builder and he has had a look at the house and said I need a damp proof course'

Now, I served an apprenticeship as a bricklayer. During my time at college, there were several courses running such as Bricklaying, joinery, roofing, plastering, electrician, plumbing/heating etc. There was no apprenticeship in 'building'. You cannot serve an apprenticeship and qualify as a builder. You can serve an apprenticeship and qualify in one of the above trades and your knowledge base will generally be restricted to the trade in which you have qualified.

Yet I hear people stating their profession as a 'Builder' and then offering advice on anything building related. It is dishonest and misleading for unexpecting customers. I have huge respect for anyone who has a recognised trade but the extent of the advice that they are willing to share should be restricted to their range of knowledge unless they can prove themselves to be competent in the field in which they are offering advice.

So back to my client who was asking for a damp proof course. After 35 minutes on the telephone, he admitted that he was totally confused by the three quotes that he had received and did not know where to go with them.

We arranged a time and date for me to visit his property and investigate the need for a damp proof course and he willingly paid my inspection fee of £300-00. I did point out that it was extremely unlikely (if not impossible) that he would have rising damp as the property was only 50-60 years old and would almost certainly have been built with a damp proof course in place. He was still happy for me to carry out a survey.

I inspected the property and found a perfectly functioning physical DPC on the external elevations so it was reasonable to assume that the same would be found on the internal structural walls.

I found that the wall plaster had been taken down to the solid floors resulting in the bridging of the damp-proof course and thereby preventing it from serving its intended purpose. In other areas, the skirting had been formed in sand/cement mortar resulting in the same bridging of the damp proof course.

The client did not require a damp-proof course as he had requested. I advised him on the course of action required which involved removing the skirting boards throughout the property and cutting back the wall plaster approximately 50-75mm to expose the original damp-proof course which would allow it to perform the function of preventing rising damp. Some minor plaster repairs may prove necessary in the future due to hygroscopic salt contamination of the plaster but this will not be determined until the wall has been allowed to dry out.

The estimated cost of the necessary remedial work is £500-600. I was delighted that the client has made a significant financial saving but more importantly that he is not installing an unnecessary damp-proof course which in the process would have almost certainly damaged the original functioning damp-proof course.

Installing a damp-proof course unnecessarily can have a very negative impact on an otherwise sound wall/property. Such major work should only be undertaken as and when it is essential. You should always seek the advice of a suitably qualified surveyor to determine the need for a damp-proof course and not rely upon the opinion of a damp-proof course salesman.

I strongly recommend that you employ an independent PCA Damp & Timber Surveyor to ensure that you get unbiased and reliable advice. It is virtually impossible to get unbiased advice from a company that relies on installing damp-proof courses to make money and stay in business.

Getting good advice with regards damp-proofing is a minefield for the unsuspecting client. Using a PCA Independent Surveyor ensures that you will receive unbiased honest advice at face value. More often than not it will result in you not getting that damp-proof course that you asked for.

A damp stain can be seen above the line of the skirting board. This pattern of damp staining was noted on most of the walls in the property.  Rising Damp?
Plaster bridging the damp proof course due to the solid skirting. Plaster in contact with solid floor.
Where the skirting baord has been omitted the plaster is clearly in contact with the floor. Walls affected by damp at low level.

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