Choosing the right damp proofer
Reading time: 8 minutes
When choosing the right damp proofing specialist, there are some key issues you need to think about. In this article, we’ll take you through them step by step.
- Arm yourself with some basic knowledge before meeting tradesmen
- Choose someone with lots of specific experience
- Ask about relationships with product manufacturers
- Be present at the survey
- Check that each report contains certain key information
- Use these easy checks to avoid being ripped off
- Find out about the nature of any guarantee offered
- Find out about qualifications, training and membership
Let’s look at each of these in a bit more depth.
Arm yourself with some basic knowledge before meeting tradesmen
Before you get any tradesmen round to examine or quote on your job, try to do some basic research yourself.
The most common types of damp in UK homes are rising damp, penetrating damp and condensation - and they need to be treated very differently. Understanding how to identify each one will help you avoid being ripped off by any unscrupulous tradesmen trying to sell you a more expensive solution than you need.
Choose someone with lots of specific experience
Look for a tradesman who has plenty of experience of doing similar jobs to yours, and who specialises in diagnosing and working with damp on a day-to-day basis.
David Woodward of ABS Propertycare has been a damp surveyor for 30 years - and has a fantastic customer feedback rating on MyBuilder. He explains why, in his view, it’s important to hire a specialist:
When it comes to damp proofing, I think qualifications - or at least a good background knowledge of the subject - are really important. I find that people often look for general builders to sort damp penetration jobs, damp in the ceiling at so on. Whereas I’m a specialist - I specialise in rising damp, basement waterproofing, woodworm, wet rot and dry rot. So I don’t deal with things like guttering.
General builders can do a good job of fixing guttering, repairing roofing and so on - once the cause of the damp has been correctly diagnosed. But the advantage of choosing a damp specialist to begin with is that they should be able to get to the root of the problem - work out what the issue is in the first place. They can tell you whether it’s rising damp, condensation, penetrative damp, hydrostatic damp or whatever. And then you can get it treated accordingly.
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As well as reading a tradesman’s MyBuilder feedback, don’t be afraid to ask to see photos of previous jobs, and even to ask to speak to one or two of their previous customers, for whom they did similar work.
This will help you understand what they’re like to work with on a day-to-day basis. For example - were they punctual and polite? Did they clean up properly after themselves? And has there been any recurrence of damp since the job was completed?
Ask about relationships with product manufacturers
Damp specialists in the UK typically fall into one of three categories:
- Those who work for large damp proofing companies (which also sell damp proofing products);
- Those who aren’t employed by product companies - but who have come to commercial agreements with one or more of them, to use their products;
- Those who operate on a totally independent basis.
It’s worth asking each tradesman whether they have any affiliations or commercial relationships with particular damp proofing product manufacturers.
I don’t - but some people do sign up to use certain products from certain companies. Then you have to be a bit wary, as they might be more keen to convince you to get work done using that product - rather than acknowledging that there isn’t really a problem.
So, if you’re considering hiring a tradesman to diagnose or treat an issue relating to damp, ask them whether they are affiliated to any particular product manufacturer or whether they are completely independent.
It’s worth getting at least three specialists to visit your property, diagnose the problem as they see it, and quote on your job.
Some independent damp surveyors will charge for their initial inspection and report. Not all do, however - David says he always gives a free survey and written report - so it’s worth looking around.
Be present at the survey
When you arrange a damp specialist to conduct a survey - for example on a property you’re thinking of buying - be present at that survey if at all possible.
This will help you get an idea of how thorough they are in their examination (in comparison to any other tradesmen you’re considering).
It will also allow you to ask questions about any issues as they find them. Try to ask the same questions of every tradesman who visits, so you can compare their responses like-for-like.
During a thorough survey, a damp specialist will normally take the following steps:
- Inspection of the outside of the property, to establish whether a damp course is present and how the building is constructed (for example - does it have solid or cavity walls? Where are the gutters, external water pipes and drains? Is there any evidence of damage - for example cracked rendering or broken guttering?)
- Discussion with homeowner (if present) to ask about any history of damp, and whether any damp prevention work has already been done.
- Inspection of the inside of the property to look for any signs of damp (for example loose wallpaper, peeling paint or water staining)
- Use of moisture meter so an accurate damp diagnosis can be made
A damp specialist is also likely to make notes and/or take photographs as part of the inspection.
Check that each report contains certain key information
Following their visit to assess your damp issue, a good specialist should provide you with a written report. David highlights the key elements this report should contain:
A homeowner should make sure each report they receive contains the following things:
- The tradesman’s observations about what they’ve found;
- The results of the electronic meter readings they took (to determine moisture levels);
- Their conclusions about what they think the issue is;
- Their recommendations about what the homeowner should do about it;
- A quote for the price of actually doing this work.
Use these easy checks to avoid being ripped off
One thing homeowners should watch out for is the deliberate misdiagnosis of rising damp. Over the years, many UK homeowners have unfortunately been stung by unscrupulous damp proofing companies, convincing them that their properties suffer from rising damp (when they don’t) and then selling them costly and inappropriate solutions to deal with it.
The good news is, there are certain key signs homeowners can look out for to stop them being duped. David explains:
Often it’s not rising damp at all - it could be as simple as condensation, the seal in the front door not working properly, or even a leaking radiator. And there are certain ways a homeowner can tell whether they have or haven’t got rising damp.
The first one is to look for black spot mould: If you have this, it’s not rising damp - it’s almost certainly either condensation or a water leak. So if that’s the situation, and a tradesman tells you you’ve got rising damp - the chances are they’re just trying to sell you an expensive damp proofing product.
Also, you can’t get rising damp at first floor level! It might sound obvious but a lot of people still think that. You only get rising damp on the ground floor - up to a meter high, 1.5 metres at the outside.
The third common mistake is to think wet rot to skirting is always caused by rising damp. It may be rising damp, but it could also be occurring just because the timber is in contact with the masonry. Any timber in contact with masonry is susceptible to fungal decay. So it’s not definitely rising damp; be wary of anyone that tells you this is the only possibility.
Find out about the nature of any guarantee offered
Many damp proofing specialists offer guarantees on the work they do and the materials they provide. While this can give the homeowner peace of mind, David explains, it’s important to find out exactly what the terms of the guarantee are:
We supply a 20 year company guarantee. But we also supply - for an additional cost - an insurance-backed guarantee. That means that even if we were to go out of business, the work we’ve done on your property will still be covered.
If the only guarantee a company issues isn’t insurance-backed - and then the company stops trading - that guarantee isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
Find out about qualifications, training and membership
There are many good damp specialists who don’t have formal qualifications. However, relevant training or professional membership does indicate that a tradesman takes his profession seriously.
When it comes to diagnosing and treating damp, the Property Care Association (PCA) is the leading training provider in the UK. Ask each tradesman you’re considering whether they’ve completed this training course.
If they are a member of the PCA, they will also have to meet certain professional criteria - including the ability to add insurance-backed guarantees, being licensed under the government’s TrustMark scheme, and being part of a deposit protection scheme for damp proofing, timber preservation, structural waterproofing and structural repair works.
This City & Guilds qualification in Insulation and Building Treatments also covers the fundamentals of damp proofing.