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Free damp surveys

Often we come across instances where people have had free damp surveys, where the only thing free is the damp survey. They are then given advice (or should we say sales talk) to carry out the work, costing many thousands of pounds. This then causes disruption with re-plastering inside. In most cases we have found that this isn't rising damp at all and that the free advice from a surveyor is really sales talk from a sales person.


What is rising damp?

We've all heard of rising damp and many of us have been unlucky enough to experience it, and also experience the difference in opinions that can be given on it.

There is a multi-million pound industry involving rising damp problems. However, research has shown that rising damp may not exist. Most people's reaction when they hear this is to move swiftly on because they will comment they have actually seen rising damp. What they've actually seen is dampness which may have come from a different source; but let's look at the evidence.


Rising damp, more than just a situation comedy


All parties involved with this debate agree on this that there is something happening to the walls. Whether it is rising damp is a point of discussion.


Evidence would seem to show that dampness can rise up through bricks, albeit that it is not necessarily as easy as you may think, and some would argue that rising damp does happen but it is not necessarily coming from ground water or the water table level.

The evidence is flawed

Many people, from the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to, more recently, Jeff Howell, then of South Bank University , carried out research, which involved building walls and trying to get water to rise up through them. Jeff Howell in his book The Rising Damp Myth gives a great account of how he tried to do get rising damp to rise up walls for students and their disappointment as he was building in normal construction. He spoke to the BRE (generally considered to be the authority on this sort of thing) and they advised they had had similar problems with their brick peers and they hadn't had any success until they used a more absorbent brick and a chalk based mortar mix (the sort that we never use in construction). Only in these circumstances would water draw up through the brickwork.

So we now have the very strange situation where the test for rising damp is actually different to the reality, or maybe it isn't a strange situation!


Why does dampness work get recommended by surveyors?

You would have thought that a surveyor that has degree level training, together with additional practical training, and a test in front of a panel of surveyors would be able to analyse when rising damp occurs and when it doesn't. They genearlly do but they don't have the time. You have to take a step back to understand what's happening here.



When someone goes to purchase a house in the majority of cases they require a mortgage. To get the mortgage a valuation is required by a surveyor, or to be more correct many disciplines of survyeyors, and you would usually get a valuation surveyor. These surveyors are tasked by the mortgage company and usually owned by the mortgage company to look at properties and value them to ensure they are a suitable investment for the mortgage company to offer a mortgage on. One of the restrictions of nearly all mortgage companies is they won't lend on a damp property. So, because the valuation surveyors are required to do between four and eight valuations a day, although we do know of surveyors that have done over 12 a day (you just try visiting 12 different properties in one day and having a cup of tea in each!).

The surveyors needed a quick way of identifying dampness. Equally, at the same time, an industry saw the opportunity to gain lots of work and the damp meter was invented. We would say it's the use of the damp meter incorrectly that has led to the wrong diagnosing of work.


What is a damp meter and why it is relied upon so much?

We have looked at this in more detail in other articles, but it is basically a conductivity meter, which shows the rate at which electricity is conducted through a material. Damp meters are calibrated for timber and as such this could be argued as almost farcical that they are predominantly used in plaster or to brickwork or stone. The meter reading therefore that's being looked at is one that should be related to timber, not to plaster, brick or stone.


Let's have a look in more detail at how the damp meter came about

We've heard various stories relating to this, but the one we're going to recount is that the damp meter was originally designed as a meter check to see whether the corn and wheat had dried out sufficiently and was then transferred over for use in the building/surveying industry.

Another story that we have heard is that a damp proof company wanted a better way of measuring the dampness in buildings so they went to an army surplus store and purchased the relevant parts.

So, we now have a strange situation where valuation surveyors are making their recommendations on rising damp based upon a damp meter that's set up for timber. However, this has been considered by the damp proofing industry and the meters now use timber dampness equivalent scales, which means you can check the appropriate table to see how the dampness relates to the material you are using it on; the argument being of course that if the plaster, brick or stone is in contact with timber then dampness will be transferred.


The soaked in water brick test is it damp?


Jeff Howell, during the course of one his lectures on dampness, gives a great demonstration of dampness in bricks by first of all soaking a hard brick in a bucket of water. This is then passed around for meter readings to be taken and in the lecture that we went to most people got 40% moisture meter readings using a damp meter. You would have thought that this would make the brick quite damp.



However, it was explained that the BRE Digest 245 recommends that you can only get accurate readings by drilling a hole into the brick and taking a sample. You then put the wet weight, minus the dry weight, divided by the wet weight of the brick, to give you the brick's true wetness and in the example that Jeff Howell gave it came out to about 12%, which is very different from the 40% being read by the damp meter.

Jeff Howell argued that a speedy test is the only way to take an accurate moisture test of plaster and brickwork, which involves drilling into the wall and taking a sample. He even looked at the arguments against this, for example the drill may get hot and dry out the damp brick dust and you will need to use a relatively slow drill speed then there won't be such a problem.

The problem, of course, for valuation surveyors looking at properties is that they don't have the time to carry out a proper test. It would appear using damp meters they don't even have time to think about what really is the cause of the dampness. Many would argue they are just passing the problem onto someone else less qualified and experienced to comment; such a strange situation.

In Jeff Howell's book he makes the point about the inaccuracies of damp meters by emphasising they are conductivity meters. He demonstrates this by passing a piece of blockwork round. This showed very high readings, although it was clearly dry and this is due to the conductivity of the material.


Strange situation

So, we now can summarise this very strange situation. We have experienced qualified valuation surveyors recommending damp work based upon damp meters that are not the most accurate way of measuring dampness and indeed if you need considerable thought to establish the real cause of the dampness; anything from leaking gutters to capillary attraction in the render to high ground level, and normally is what it is. The real problem is the valuation surveyors recommend the work to be carried before a mortgage can be given and this clearly is an opportunity for a sales company, such as a damp proofing specialist company, or more commonly known as damp proofing specialists.


What is a damp proofing specialist?

They are a contractor that carries out damp proofing work. Interestingly, they are also seen as a contractor that gives advice on damp proofing work. So you can see there is a conflict of interest here, as they are advising clients on work that they obviously want to carry out, which is an intriguing and interesting situation.


They also call their sales people surveyors, which is also very confusing as the term surveyor isn't protected like the term architect, for example. The only way to really get a surveyor is to look for a surveyor. Nevertheless, the industry has sprung up where the damp proofing companies, or did I mean damp proofing specialists, or did I mean chemical sales companies. These companies are of course going to see the world in one way. They are set up to stick damp proofing liquid into walls; known by many as magic liquid!



Putting magical liquid into walls to stop dampness

Jeff Howell (who incidentally regularly writes for the Sunday Telegraph) has carried out some interesting research on this. The process is to drill holes in the walls on the inside and/or the outside, then insert the magic liquid, allow it to do its work and seal up. These holes can be drilled inside and outside or what is known as double drilling, where they are short drilled and then the liquid added and then long drilled to get the liquid to the rear part of the wall. All well and good in assuming the magic liquid works; it should if they are put close enough together. We think from memory this is about every 25mm radius apart, so that means they should be every 50mm drilled into the brickwork. However, the liquid needs time to actually go in the wall.


Jeff Howell also talks about the difficulties of putting a liquid into a product that's already meant to be saturated but we'll skip over that part for the time being and just assume it can be put into the wall. In Jeff's lecture he also quite graphically illustrates how typically it would take four weeks and even if the work was carried out consecutively it would at best take about a week. Clearly this isn't what the damp proof industry does as the operation is more in the terms of hours and the odd day than weeks.


Where does all this water come from that causes dampness?

There are many sources of where the water comes from, after all Britain isn't the driest of nations! As mentioned, it can come from anything from leaking roofs, gutters, high ground level, damaged downpipes, and soil and vent pipes, but probably one of the most common places is from leaking round pipes. Jeff Howell has an interesting story about this and showed us an article of him in a white lab coat (that's a story in itself), where in a national newspaper he shows how water was coming from a leaking pipework; this was in a summer drought year.



Independent surveyors

For independent expert opinion from a surveyor with regard to valuations, mortgages, mortgage companies, estate agents, surveys, building surveys, structural reports, engineers reports, specific defects report, structural surveys, home buyers reports, dampness, damp proof courses, damp proofing companies or any other property matters please free phone 0800 298 5424 for a friendly chat with a surveyor call back.

Independent commercial property surveyors

If you have a commercial property, be it leasehold or freehold, then you may wish to look at our Dilapidations Website at and for Disputes go to our Disputes Help site .


We hope you found the article of use and if you have any experiences that you feel should be added to this article that would benefit others, or you feel that some of the information that we have put is wrong then please do not hesitate to contact us (we are only human).

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Other related articles:

Dampness in Buildings - Basics Article

Dampness in Buildings - Technical Article

Resolving Dampness in your Basement


Shared Freehold and Problems with Dampness

Dampness Defects Report

Dampness Problems


Please see our section on:

Specific Defects Reports


If you require any information about Dampness in Properties please telephone us for help and advicefree phone 0800 298 5424



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