More damp testing woes

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Before buying my 1920's semi three years ago the Homebuyers Report said there was rising damp in some of the walls up to three feet. To be sure, I ordered a free specialist damp survey and it reported severe damp in a different set of walls up to three feet. Two reports with different results? So I paid for a third survey from a big name company and they reported rising damp again but in a different set of walls from the other two reports. All three had used their trusty damp meters on the walls and none had actually looked at the underlying plaster or brick, yet two of the reports recommended thousands of pounds of damp proofing and replastering. I was getting suspicious so bought the house anyway and stripped off all the wallpaper on the ground floor to look at the walls. There was no sign of damp anywhere. I took photos for future evidence.
Since then I've done my research on damp proofing and I now believe it's all a big scam. The best info I found (apart from the same views held on the uk.d-i-y and free.uk.diy.home newsgroups) is a consumer report at http://www.onthelevel.in-uk.com/damp-proofing.htm .
I'm selling this house now and have to deal with the buyers' surveyors. Sure enough, their Homebuyers Report says there's rising damp. I asked the buyers to come round and look for themselves and see the evidence I have against rising damp. They seemed pretty convinced when they left, but my agency thought it best if they paid for a specialist report. Now the funny thing is that the house had some damp proofing work done on the walls 30 years ago, which although out of warranty should still be OK, so we decided that the same company should do the specialist report.
Trying to be helpful I listed for the surveyor all my observations about the house: no mildew or tide marks, no blown plaster, no lifting or discoloured wallpaper, no condensation, no damp smell, no rotting woodwork, no water leaks or flooding, etc. I also showed him the photos of the walls, and reminded him that the damp proofing was done by his company and should not have failed after just 30 years.
Surprise, surprise... he didn't find any rising damp in the walls. In fact he didn't even bother to use his meter on the walls. He told me they were a waste of time on brick or plaster and only designed for wood, so he used his meter on the skirting boards instead. In minutes he'd found they contained 20% moisture so declared it must be the floor that's damp, and recommended thousands of pounds of work. Apparently 20% is the magic figure where they recommend work but the house will last for a few more years if it's not done. He didn't look under the carpets, didn't comment on how the original wood floor shows no sign of damp, didn't comment on some of the skirting boards being nearly 80 years old, nor how the skirting boards could show damp from the floor when most of them don't even touch the floor (the newer ones being at least 5mm off the floor so the carpets go under them).
Well, for me this proves the whole damp proofing industry is a scam. Five separate reports from two building surveyors and three specialist damp proofing companies, all with different results and the last completely refuting the other four with it's own dubious conclusions! None of them looked for any evidence other than the readings from their damp meters before recommending work. I've even heard the Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors now recommends that no work should be done solely on the basis of readings from a damp meter (I can't find the actual quote as they charge for their booklets). What really bugs me is that I'll have to go through this all again when I buy my next house.
Anyway, I'd like to say thanks to everyone who's posted about the realities of damp testing on this newsgroup. It's all been a real help.
Ken
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All houses are damp. The real question is, so what?
If it leads to smells, moulds, and rot, its a problem. If it doesn't who cares?
I had all three in spades, and no chance of an effective fix, So I built a new house.
Ive been able to contrl damp in other houses by using oil. You burn it in a central heating system, and ventilate the rooms. That stops the rot and mildew allright :-)
Whether its cheaper than damproofing is a moot point.
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On 16 Oct 2003 02:28:20 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Kooky45) wrote:

<Snip>
Correct on all points I believe. My previous rants about damp proofing can easily be found using google groups so I won't repeat them here. This is uk.d-i-y, the home of the damp-proof company skeptic :)
In fact everyone I know who has a working nose to smell wetness thinks its all a con, apart from our next door neighbours who were told they had rising damp half way up a wall (not at the bottom!) before I had a look and found that a section of gutter was missing from the back of the house so rainwater from the rest of the guttering was streaming down the wall and had found some bad pointing.....oh yeah, and the guttering has grass growing in it!
damp schmamp. And don't get me started on T**m***x 'cos I bet that was the big name company you had out......
cheers
witchy/binarydinosaurs
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On 16 Oct 2003 02:28:20 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Kooky45) wrote:

Yep bought/sold couple of 1900 houses, these Homebuyers reports come up with appalling guess work and unsubstantiated nonsense specially when concerned with damp and rot, and all the clauses and assumptions make them totally useless. One report said that all beams under the floor must have probably totally rotted as there were insignificant number of air bricks for todays standards (lifted floor boards and all dry as a bone as was brickwork and soil), another said there was no dpc, took off the render and there was a perfectly good one in place, and one report said 100 year old lath and plaster ceilings were by their nature due to fail at any moment, the list goes on and on. The one thing I have noticed is that they are totally obsessed with skirting boards for some reason, considering the cost of a new skirting board compared to the cost of a house who cares if they are "barely fit for purpose".
C
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Hi Chris Vowles In you wrote:

What *is* the purpose of skirting boards? Do they just fill the gap twixt wall and floor neatly?
--
Fishter
unhook to mail me | http://www.fishter.org.uk /
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you wrote:

Yes.
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Yes. They also stop you bashing the plaster of the bottom of the wall.
--
Richard Faulkner

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Must be a man who never wields a Hoover...
--
*The severity of the itch is proportional to the reach *

Dave Plowman snipped-for-privacy@argonet.co.uk London SW 12
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Hi Dave Plowman In you wrote:

Too much furniture to get the Electrolux near the skirting boards ;-))
--
Fishter
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I am an estate agent and have to go through it every time we sell a house.
The only true test for damp and its cause is a series of core samples which are then analysed chemically.
However, this costs money, and buyers and sellers are rarely willing to pay, so we are left with the free quickie surveys which, as you suggest, are not worth a bean, but are valued highly by surveyors and mortgage lenders.
--
Richard Faulkner

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On Thu, 16 Oct 2003 14:53:05 +0100, Richard Faulkner

*gets out voodoo doll of estate agent*
Only jokin' of course :o)

Surely the only true test for damp is to look for evidence, such as peeling paint/lifting wallpaper, rotten skirting boards, distemper, wet plasterwork, staining and all the other ones we had in this house.
What good does a core sample do other than to show that the soil might be wet? It's not chemicals that cause damp, it's osmosis. We've got wet soil under the kitchen and the hall but there's no damp there. Never has been, and this 117 year old house has only had heating in it for the last 4 years.
I don't see how a *cause* for damp can come from a chemical report either, but I'm not a chemist :)

Free? I paid 350 for a full survey including underfloor access once, and while it came back saying the house was damp free it totally missed out the fact that the living room floor support (there was only one) was resting on damp earth and rotted completely.
Anyhoo, any rants contained in this message aren't pointed at you personally!
-- cheers,
witchy/binarydinosaurs
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Witchy wrote:

I think the core sample refered to in not taken from the ground as such, but a core sample from a wall - i.e. drill a hole and collect the brick/plaster dust. You can then analyse that for moisture content. This give a much better indication of the actual moisture content of the whole wall thickness rather than just testing the surface for moisture content (or testing your wallpaper for electrical conductivity as most "damp proofing" companies would ;-).

The contents of the water you extract from a core sample can tell you a bit about the likely source of the water. If you can detect salts that should be present in ground water but not rain water for example, then you should be able to identify one of the very rare genuine cases of water being drawn up from the ground (or "rising damp" as the industry would ungrammaticaly calls it!), a concentration of chlorine might indicate treated tap water from a leaking pipe for example and so on. I am sure someone who knows something about chemistry (i.e. not me!) could give some better examples.
--
Cheers,

John.

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On Thu, 16 Oct 2003 23:08:24 +0100, John Rumm

By the time you've done all that work you could just as easily have done the visual checks - I've not heard of 'hidden' damp before :)

I can imagine chemical analysis being handy to perhaps discover a particular form of dry or wet rot so suitable treatment can be arranged, but even with that the visual evidence is there first. Happily for us the one room we had that had been weevil infested could be dealt with, according to the T**m*n*x bloke, by 'removing the source of damp'
Now I know why they charge so much :) -- cheers,
witchy/binarydinosaurs
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Witchy wrote:

Not sure about hidden damp ;-) it is perhaps more useful in detecting "surface dampness" i.e. the wall visually appears to be damp - but in actuality most of it is dry.
This would often be the case where the dampness is due to internally generated moisture not being able to escape and instead condensing on a cold wall. Fixing would be a case of adding ventilation or heating rather than doing anything about the wall necessarily.
--
Cheers,

John.

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On Fri, 17 Oct 2003 18:42:51 +0100, John Rumm

More often than not that sort of dampness manifests itself higher than skirting board level though, so it's a bit more obvious that it's not rising damp. In that instance you know it can only be condensation or a breach in the external wall. We looked at a house recently that had a damp patch at first floor level 2 feet off the floor and nowhere near a window - there was nobody living in the house and no furniture so a look outside revealed the street sign fastened to the wall exactly where the damp area was......
Another time a tenant said his bedroom wall was damp at bed level, again not under a window and again on the first floor. No visual breaches outside, and once we found out he showered with the bathroom and bedroom doors open it turned out the steam was condensing on the wall in the bedroom and was being absorbed by the quilt on the bed which was in contact with the wall! Shows you how often he moved his quilt too :) -- cheers,
witchy/binarydinosaurs
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Kooky45) wrote in message
<Anti-damp survey rant snipped>
I agree with you entirely; problem is as a house-seller, how do you refute the surveyor's findings to the buyer who is demanding 2K off your asking price to 'get the damp fixed'? Or as a buyer, how do you tell the same thing to your mortgage lender who are putting a 5K retention on your loan, for the same reason?
David
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Lobster) wrote

Yes, interesting questions. It's a problem I hope I don't face with the next house. I suspect that if you got a core sample done and it proved there was no damp despite a meter based report you could probably use that as evidence to sue the lender for the cost of the test and any bridging loans you needed to get the purchase done.
I also wonder what would happen if you ordered a normal damp survey and told the surveyor that you were intending to get a core sample done later and if his report was wrong you'd likely sue his company for the cost of his survey and for financial loss that occured if it put off buyers. I bet you'd find it hard to get surveyor to come at all if they realised you'd be double checking their reports in this way.
Incidentally, although I looked I couldn't find anyone who offered core sample tests. Does anyone know who does them and what the cost might be? I'd consider it a good investment.
Ken
PS. I notice that there's not been any replies to this thread from representatives of the damp proofing industry denying our claims, yet they're quick to post to people enquiring about what to do about suspected rising damp (i.e. "call me, we do work in your area").
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On 17 Oct 2003 02:46:08 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com (Kooky45) wrote:

I haven't seen any postings from damp proof companies here at all, here being uk.d-i-y.....they're all obviously too busy in their ivory towers :) -- cheers,
witchy/binarydinosaurs
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At least ivory wouldn't need a damp course.
--
*It sounds like English, but I can't understand a word you're saying.

Dave Plowman snipped-for-privacy@argonet.co.uk London SW 12
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Dave Plowman wrote:

Not too sure about that actually...
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