In building pathology, the effects of dampness are numerous and well documented often leading to costly building repairs or to potential health problems from mould.
For many years, the investigation of damp has been the preserve of "Damp Specialists", whose focus is on providing a quote for remedial work.
At Martin and Mortimer, we believe that referring potentially important aspects of a survey to a damp contractor, other than to provide costs for remedial work, is not always appropriate. This is particularly the case for older properties where a more holistic, in-depth approach is often required to ensure that an accurate diagnosis is achieved.
Our view is that you should expect your surveyor, who has no commercial interest in the remedial work, to diagnose, advise and recommend appropriate solutions from which clients can make informed decisions and potentially avoid costly and inappropriate treatments.
To achieve this, we are guided by two key criteria:
Gaining an understanding of the whole building within its particular context, i.e. a holistic approach; this means appreciating a range of details such as the geographical location, age of the property, construction and an awareness of any evolutionary changes the property has undergone.
Crucially, we also seek to understand our clients' aspirations, plans and criteria for the building they have or are about to invest in.
Having gained a crucial understanding of the moisture, our aim is to work towards obtaining an accurate diagnosis of the actual causes, not just identifying the present symptoms. From this point, appropriate recommendations can be made and advice given, providing clients with the information to make informed decisions and avoid costly and inappropriate remedial treatments.
Why is my property damp?
There are a multitude of reasons why buildings suffer from dampness. There are different forms of moisture which interact with building fabrics in different ways, not to mention varying ways for moisture to enter. Often problems manifest from previous unsympathetic repairs and building works that have not been considered in the context of the precise details of a particular building. Often the cause can be established from a single non-invasive survey. However, there are situations where invasive and more complex analytical tests are required to determine the cause, type and extent of the dampness.
What can Martin and Mortimer do?
Martin and Mortimer undertake both invasive and non-invasive damp assessments, including any additional testing that may be required to give more definitive results.
Two of our team members, Mark Duckworth and Lucy Shalev, are qualified and experienced in this area and are able to offer a professional and independent approach to the subject.
We can provide detailed damp assessments as an appendix to a building survey provided by us, or as separate in-depth expert report.
We do not undertake damp proofing work and as such there is no vested interest. The report will provide straight-forward, impartial advice.
Mould and Condensation
Increasingly Martin & Mortimer are being contacted more by home owners and landlords who are concerned about mould. The push towards better insulated homes and the way in which we occupy them has led to an increase in the incidence of condensation problems.
Many condensation issues can be easily rectified but the problem can be complex and may require a multi-pronged approach to resolve the issue.
Fungal rot and insect infestation can cause significant damage to buildings if the underlying causes are not remedied. Both are directly associated with raised moisture levels in timber and therefore remediation will always involve resolving the causes of dampness (which created an environment conducive to rot/insect attack), but may also include replacement and/or chemical treatment.
It is important that signs of insect damage are correctly identified to ensure that historical evidence is not confused with active attack.
Of the various types of insect attack found in Britain, by no means all require treatment: Common Furniture Beetle (woodworm) is often inactive in properties which are kept dry and well ventilated.
Often the reporting of this insect causes significant anxiety among home owners and potential buyers. It should be remembered that it is very rarely a significant problem and seldom affects the structural integrity of timber. It is however a judgement call, and should be assessed and reported accurately before an appropriate remedial strategy can be sensibly implemented.
Deathwatch Beetle (Xestobium rufovillosum)
A principal problem with Deathwatch beetles is that they are secretive, colonising in areas behind timbers and between masonry that are hard to access, degrading wood slowly but surely over many years.
Reducing the conditions that favour the insect, such as moisture ingress on wood which aids the deterioration process through fungal decay, is a fundamental remediation strategy.
Control of the insect should always include periodic and consistent maintenance of the building to help ensure that the fabric, particularly the timber elements, remains free from contact with moisture/water and that internal humidity levels are kept low.
If considered necessary, the use of chemical treatments such as injected Boron can assist as part of a well targeted plan which is monitored preferably on an annual basis.
Boron is a relatively safe and effective insecticide but also a wood preserver and fungicide which will help to arrest any associated fungal growth.
It is essential to understand each building/situation in context and this applies especially in older properties where other professionals such as Conservation Officers may provide important input.
There are however some important guiding principles:-
Identifying the source of moisture and where possible, eliminating or managing it.
Maintaining air flow, i.e. ventilation, which is a critically important requirement for buildings, especially where timber is a key building element.
Seeking to understand the extent of the damage and replace only where necessary, keeping collateral damage to a minimum. This is often a subjective assessment, especially in older period properties.
Where chemicals are used, a Borate derivative can be useful but only as part of a considered remedial plan as opposed to an automatic response being applied to all adjacent timber elements.
How can we help?
Are you concerned or unsure about symptoms of damp, mould, possible insect infestation or rot within your property?
If you are looking for meaningful and independent advice, we can help. We offer a range of surveys and assessments to help cover most situations. These range from simple visits providing an immediate assessment for peace of mind to more detailed invasive surveys where samples are analysed with results set out within a professionally written report.
We have suitably qualified personnel experienced in the identification of wood boring insects and who can advise on whether treatment is required and if so, whether a localised or comprehensive approach is needed. We reiterate that we do not undertake treatment works ourselves and therefore our advice is given from a completely independent perspective.