/ Home & Energy

Don’t be a drip! Watch out for dodgy damp advice

Damp companies that offer ‘free surveys’ may seem appealing, but our latest undercover investigation found several companies recommending unnecessary treatment that could cost hundreds of pounds.

Everyone loves a freebie, but if you’re tempted by the ‘free surveys’ on offer from damp-proofing companies, you may end up spending more than you need.

In our snapshot damp investigation, we invited damp-proofing companies to carry out an assessment of our properties’ damp problems. In two thirds of cases they recommended unnecessary or inappropriate treatment, or missed the problem completely. But does that mean you have to pay to get good advice?

All we needed was a plumber

In one case, our property had a leaky toilet – and any damp specialist should have instructed us to get this fixed before the room could even be assessed for other potential damp problems.

There was no evidence here of rising damp, and yet four of the eleven companies told us that we needed to install a chemical damp-proofing course in the walls and re-plaster the room – at a cost of up to £1,440!

That’s not to say all the companies were bad. We did see some good practice, with just over half of the companies that visited this property giving us helpful advice.

How to get good damp advice

Deciding whether to take your chances with a free survey, or shell out hard cash for independent advice is a toughie. Even though I’ve seen these results first-hand I know I’d be tempted to try my luck with the free option first – although I’d make sure to get at least three companies to come round and quote for the work.

Then, if there were inconsistencies in the work recommended or I had any inkling that the work might be unnecessary, I’d definitely consider getting an independent damp specialist round.

If you think you might need to call on a damp company, check our damp advice guide first for info on the different types of damp that can affect your home (if it’s just suffering from condensation you won’t need a specialist).

[This Conversation has been closed and is not open for commenting.]

Comments
Member

When I did my ‘surveyor’ training in the early 1980’s I worked for a BWPDA company who were the biggest shower of bandits on the planet. The modus operandi was to inject anything that didn’t move, stud walls flint walls, you name it, and to spray anything that didn’t fight back. Everyone was on commission and anyone that failed to achieve their monthly sales targets were heavily disciplined and threatened with the sack. (Not much has changed has it?) One thing that was interesting was the fact that we we not allowed to call ourselves ‘surveyors’, we had to call ourselves ‘Timber and Damp Inspectors’ and sign our reports with this after our names. We were told that the BWPDA insisted that we must under no circumstances refer to ourselves as ‘surveyors’. We were told then that a surveyor was somebody that had studied for years and had obtained professional qualifications. I suppose they were right about something. I’d be interested to know if this really was a BWPDA directive at that time. Perhaps David Prince remembers and could shed some light on this. Perhaps it might now be a good idea if this directive was reinstated.

Member
Pete Ward says:
4 April 2013

Richard (London Conservation)
Why dont you post more details of this case – I am sure that David Prince would be very happy to take the case to his organisation and have the ‘surveyor’ brought to task. It would be interesting to see what action his ruling / governing body – the PCA – would take, when the details were presented.

Member

Pete,

Richard didn’t state that the company involved was a member of the PCA so I don’t know if this is the case or not. Perhaps you know something that I don’t. In any event, the PCA do take any customer complaints very seriously but this is really a matter for the parties involved rather than you or I.

David

Member
Pete Ward says:
4 April 2013

David – fair comment – I’ll see if I can find out – or maybe Richard can comment – not my call to do so.. However – it does highlight yet again that there is dreadful misdiagnosis going on all the time -this industry needs cleaning up ….

Member
amac says:
4 April 2013

Hi there,

I posted above about my situation with a damp patch on an outside (cavity) wall that has been diagnosed as rising damp by a surveyor (am I supposed to put ‘surveyor?!) from a damp company who have quoted me for the work. The survey was free and they posted me a detailed quote with diagram etc. Anyway, all the details are in my previous posts but after the responses I have had I don’t know what to do now.

I’m 99% sure it’s not condensation, for above reasons.
The symptoms tie in very much with those of ‘rising damp’
I agree that there could be a problem in the cavity caused by the cavity wall insulation which has been added at some point (house was built in approx early 1930s) but I don’t know how invasive the diagnosis would be and I don’t know how to find someone to trust to have a look.
I also have a limited budget so I can’t afford hundreds of pounds for a survey and hundreds of pounds for the treatment. I do, however, need a guarantee on the work as we are trying to sell the house. (I would much rather it was rising damp then it would hopefully cost around £200-£300 for the dpc and around £100-£200 for the plastering.)

I really do appreciate any thoughts on how I should proceed.

Member

Hi Amac,

It really is vital that the damp problem is diagnosed correctly otherwise the treatment will be incorrect and guarantee or not you will still have a damp problem. It is unlikely that the dampness is attributable to rising damp but not impossible. It would be worth removing the skirting board to check the plaster hasn’t been taken down to the floor thereby bridging the damp proof course. How far up the wall is the damp visible?

David

Member
London Conservation says:
4 April 2013

David , Amac,

In response to the last two posts;

There are many schools of thought out there who question whether Rising damp actually occurs at all. If rising damp does not exist are all products sold to “cure” it going to work ? I have listed a number of sources from people far more intelligent than me explaining why it is not as prevalent as it may seem (If rising damp exists at all) .

In reference to basement waterproofing – in my opinion providing waterproofing which tries to resist the constant back pressure of moisture will ALWAYS fail, and at best will offer a temporary solution to damp. The only real way to remove damp is remove moisture source, or channel moisture away from walls using cavity drain systems or drainage – google them.

a few WELL respected sources of rising damp research below;

Mike Parrett – tested hundreds of houses diagnosed with rising damp in the 80’s and did not find a single example – there was a video about it, its probably on youtube called something like “rising damp – no such thing”. Mike is a horrendously over qualified building scientist ……EDIT found the vuideo is called ” Renovation Rising Damp ? No such thing”

BRE (Building research establishment) – Publish updated guidance notes on “rising damp” in their BRE digest. They make continued reference to PROPERLY determining rising damp by taking moisture tests from carbide tests / lab tests etc etc.

Jeff Howell – Southbank university – left bricks in water for 3 years and couldnt replicate rising damp under lab conditions

English Heritage – ” Surveying your Property ” makes mention of rising damp and condems injected and non water permable renders etc.

Tim Hutton – Building conservation – Rising damp – a very good overview of what rising damp is and how it is so commonly misdiagnosed.

All of the above available on the web ! Read up.

Richard

Member

Hi Richard,

I agree that rising damp is often misdiagnosed but it is a reflection on those companies involved not the industry as a whole.

There are many respected people and organisations that question the extent and very existence of rising damp. Equally, there are many respected people and organisations who disagree. For example, The Building Regulations require damp proof course to be installed in new houses and extensions (the only purpose of a damp proof course is to control rising damp), British Standards Institution (they have a code of practice for installing chemical damp proof courses BS6576:2005), Building Research Establishment (they have published a number of digests on rising damp) and Portsmouth University who researched the subject trying to answer the question once and for all.

I personally agree with your comments regarding cavity drain waterproofing systems. I have been installing these systems for over 15 years.

David

Member
amac says:
4 April 2013

David,

Thanks very much for your advice. From my inexperienced position, it seems like whether or not rising damp exists, it is unlikely in a cavity wall..? The small area of damp that is visible (a couple of very small patches of bubbling paint and one raised, sort of swollen patch about the size of the palm of your hand) is around a foot above the skirting and there is no staining or mould. I can try and get the skirting off but it is the original skirting with a sloping edge on top so the years of painting over mean that will be difficult and messy! The outside wall has been repainted at some point and the paint has been flaking off in places. We have had cracked areas re-rendered in patches by a local builder who tapped the wall and fixed the hollow bits. I think the original repainting wasn’t done very well and water may be getting in some cracks and this also makes me think that the insulation was probably done on the cheap as well so who knows what’s in the cavity.

What kind of company/organisation should I be looking for to help diagnose this?

Member
Pete Ward says:
5 April 2013

It’s interesting that other countries, including Holland – who build houses with their feet in water, do NOT use damp courses. The Dutch have now concluded that damp courses actually introduce a weak point in houses that allows them to rotate, and will not use them. They focus instead on the golden rule – BREATHABILITY.

Member
Heritageanddesign says:
4 April 2013

And another thing….. I had lunch with two friend the other day, one who moved from her basement flat 2 years ago and one who is trying to sell a ground floor flat. Both had ‘damp proofing’ works done by a ‘specialist’ (they couldn’t tell me if they were PCA members), both of which failed, however they were BOTH told that in 20 years of treatments, their company had had NO failures! Can you guess what’s coming next? It turned out to be the SAME company and the SAME salesman – maybe he just has a problem with is short-term memory.

Patrick, could I ask why some of my previous posts have yet to appear? They are all factual and polite like you asked.

John

Member

Hello Heritageanddesign, unfortunately we have had to temporarily take down some comments. We hope to get them back up soon. Please be patient with us 🙂 Just to note, I am very happy with the way you have made latter comments.

Member

Hello Patrick,
In response to your remarks to Heritage and Design I’m intrigued to know what you mean when you say you’ve had to take down some comments and hope to get that back soon? They all seem to be running out of order now. I notice some of my comments and observations now have ‘waiting for approval’ across them. Why is this? I certainly hope that it is considered in some way that they don’t adhere to the terms and conditions of the Which? site. Which?, and particularly this very valuable forum is designed to provide helpful information to the consumer. As everyone knows the damp proofing industry is a minefield populated by all sorts of good and bad operators. I spend most of my time attempting to provide good honest advice to people and where I can protect them from the unscrupulous sharks in the industry. I meet people every week that are trying to buy a house and borrow even more money at the last minute to have unnecessary and inappropriate treatments carried out which is I am sure you will agree is utterly despicable. These ‘sharks’ come from every direction, not just from one organisation. Much needs to be done to clean up this industry and David Prince has agreed with me on this. People like myself and others who have pride in our experience, expertise,and reputations, will, and should, continue to provide valuable insights into the industry that will hopefully limit the degree of cruel and callous exploitation the consumer is exposed to. As a consumer organisation I’m sure you would endorse this.

Member

The matter has escalated slightly. Only some of the comments that have been temporarily been taken down will require attention, however we have to take down all replies to those comments also as that’s the way the system works. I’ve even had to take down some of my own comments! I can understand the frustration – we hope to get them up again ASAP. Thank you for your patience.