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Rising damp is a myth, says former RICS chief

Stephen Boniface, former chairman of the construction arm of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), has told the institute’s 40,000 members that ‘true rising damp’ is a myth and chemically injected damp-proof courses (DPC) are ‘a complete waste of money’.

In response, the RICS has put the term ‘rising damp’ in inverted commas in its latest factsheet – according to Boniface, as a ‘non-subtle hint’ to its members.

‘The most likely causes of damp are moisture penetration and, most commonly, condensation,’ said Boniface in an interview with NBS Learning Channels (click here to view).

In response, Elaine Blackett-Ord, chair of the Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation, has also spoken out against rising damp, saying it was as rare as ‘rocking-horse shit’.

Blackett-Ord said:‘’This self-perpetuating industry is believed to be worth over £200 million per year.’

’Not only are chemically injected DPCs a waste of time, they are ineffective and grossly expensive. [Installing] damaging impermeable cement based internal renders…serve simply to conceal the problem in the wall behind.  For most historic buildings this is extremely damaging and irreversible.’

Jeff Howell, a qualified bricklayer and author of The Rising Damp Myth (2008) said trials in the laboratory confirm the falsehood.

‘If you build a brick pillar and stand it in a tray of water, the bricks in the water will get wet, but the water doesn’t rise by capillary action,’ said Howell. ‘Cement-based and most lime-based mortars will not
allow water to go through.’

However not everyone is convinced. Terry Brown, of GMW Architects, said: ‘It’s right to question the diagnostic skills of commercial damp proofing firms, but to state categorically there is no such thing as rising damp undermines a whole litany of rules of brickwork detailing I’ve adhered to all my professional life.

‘Of course there is no reason why inherited conventional wisdom shouldn’t be challenged.  [But] the challenge has to be scientific and not anecdotal.’  

Readers' comments (30)

  • Good, it's time that the vast damp proofing industry was brought to a halt.

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  • Tell this to my bank who insisted that I procure an injected DPC before they would give me a mortgage on my first house purchase.

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  • Exactly. It's all an expensive con.

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  • In response to:

    "In response, Elaine Blackett-Ord, chair of the Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation, has also spoken out against rising damp, saying it was as rare as ‘rocking-horse shit’."

    I would personally like to challenge this lady PUBLICLY over her statement that rising damp was as "rare as rocking horse shit" (I translate this as it doesn't exist) by putting up £2000 to be paid to a charity of her choice if she can show that it doesn't exist. Of course I would expect her to put up the same amount and pay if she can't prove her case.

    Has she got the bottle to take up this challenge, or is she just publicity seeking?

    Graham Coleman (ex Building Research Establishment, Dept of the Environment, Senior Scientific Officer)

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  • Or is Coleman just seeking publicity for his damp-proofing business? He, and many others, probably make quite a lot out of 'risng damp'.



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  • He's very much inlvolved in the damproofing business. If that was proved to be a massive con, my how many would suffer financially!

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  • His challenge was with reference to rising damp (is it fact or fiction?) - NOT the damp-proofing industry (that is another story!) He is simpy asking the lady to put her money where her mouth is. Who of you would deny a charity of £2000? Quite a simple challenge - no ah but, yes but.

    Interesting to note the following from the above article:

    "Jeff Howell, a qualified bricklayer and author of The Rising Damp Myth (2008) said trials in the laboratory confirm the falsehood.

    ‘If you build a brick pillar and stand it in a tray of water, the bricks in the water will get wet, but the water doesn’t rise by capillary action,’ said Howell. ‘Cement-based and most lime-based mortars will not allow water to go through.’"

    Letter from Jeff Howell to sponser in 1994 and I quote, "In the foreground are two pillars of Ibstock Red Leicester facing bricks (14% porosity) which are nicely wet up to five courses, and starting to show a pattern of efflorescence at the evaporative surface. Behind them two pillars of LBC Flettons, not so damp but, interestingly, the mortar is visibly damp up to the sixth course."

    And the same gentleman wrote in 1995 to the same sponser, ""This wall had been standing in water for eight months, and had some hygroscopic salt contamination. It had rising damp which was visible up to a level of approximately 500 mm (six courses). It therefore represented a typical rising damp complex."

    - Not exactly what was printed in the above article - who is telling porky pies?? These letters and their contents can be fully available (and will be) to anyone.

    By the way, he has and never has had a damp-proofing business - I think this is the very last business he would want!






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  • He is, however, connected with the damp proofing industry.

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  • Can you all please forget about the Damp Proofing Industry, the debate is whether or not rising damp exists.

    As a building practioner (and also a qualified bricklayer!) I want to to see if this lady is up for Mr Colemans challenge or what about Mr Howell who first made this claim.

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  • Anyone who has bothered to read Jeff Howell's book "The Rising Damp Myth" will know that the damp test pillars referred to were built using the special mortar developed at the BRE in order to artificially create rising damp. This mortar was basically chalk and brick dust - unlike any mortar used in real brick walls. He explains in the book how the existence of these special pillars has been deliberately misinterpreted by the damp-proofing industry in a pathetic attempt to discredit his research. You should read the evidence in Jeff Howell's book, and then make up your own mind. Graham Coleman is employed by the damp-proofing industry, and therefore has a big vested interest that he has not declared.

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  • Interesting comment Mr Morris. Are you, in fact the Mr Morris that is promoted by Mr Howell? Do you therefore get a commission to this gentleman from his recommendation, or has he just phoned to ask you to make your comments? Just a question. And, of course, do you believe everything you read in the commercial press (Elvis lives, etc)?

    If I may quote from Mr Howells' 'researches', in his letter of March 1995 to one of his sponsers, "The system was installed in test walls composed of second-hand stock bricks and a sand: LIME: pozzalano mortar as per BBA MOAT no. 39:1998:"

    He further goes on to add, "This wall had been standing in water for eight months, and had some hygroscopic salt contamination. It had rising damp which was visible up to a level of approximately 500 mm (six courses). It therefore represented a typical rising damp complex."

    To be described as a "typical rising damp complex" by Mr Howell he must have experienced rising damp in walls of old buildings to be "typical"!!! So please could someone explain from his comment above how it can be a "falsehood"??

    Also note that quoted from the above article, "lime-based mortars". What did he use in his wall? A L-I-M-E based mortar (dictionary supplied on request).

    Seriously, with the greatest respect to Mr Morris, I wonder how he evaluates, quote, "basically chalk" with lime - perhaps Mr Morris would like to tell us all about his experience in the chemistry of building materials, and of course make public his qualifications - if he dare!!

    Interestingly enough some recent experimental work about to be published by Portsmouth University actually describes water rising up through CEMENT based mortars in brick pillars. The fact that one individual could not get water to rise through such material does NOT indicate that it never will - it simply means that in HIS tests it didn't happen. This does not make it fact - possibly a feature of poor experimental design! If Mr Howell can't run a mile in less than 4 minutes does it mean that no-one can? It is typical of the 'all elephants are grey, therefore if it is grey then it must be an elephant.'

    Have you in fact ever met Mr Coleman, Mr Morris? If not I would really suggest (as an objective and decent person as I am sure you are) you do to identify and confirm your presumtive statement that he is employed by the 'Damp proofing industry' - I am sure that he would give you details from who he received his fees/income. From what I understand most of his litigation work is against the timber/damp industry - not for. So be VERY careful about the accusations you make without substantiation!! Check your facts first!

    By the way, Mr Morris, who actually is 'The 'damp-proofing industry' that supposedly employs him? As I understant he is a 'sole trader' probably like yourself, open to any client.

    If you would like to meet Mr Coleman, Mr Morris, then I am sure he would love to meet you and discuss in a gentlemanly and friendly manner all kinds of your concerns - then perhaps you would like to comment OBJECTIVELY and report back.

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  • Mr Coleman has connections with the damp proofing industry. That industry makes millions from 'diagnosing' rising damp.

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  • Why has Mr Coleman's ire been directed at one person and not RICS? Why is he not challenging RICS?

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  • Hmm. I think that Mr Coleman has "connections" with the legal industry (makes multi-millions of ££'s), local Governement, housing associations, ASA, Trading Standards, the public and anyone else who wishes to use his services. Indeed, probably somewhat similar to Mr Morris, Mr Howell and a lot of readers of this Journal. Also note that the Tobacco industry makes millions from smoking!

    And no, the damp-proofing industry does NOT make millions from "diagnosing rising damp" - it makes millions from 'treating' it!!!!

    At least the latest accusation against him is a step down from "employed by the damp-proofing industry" whatever this specific 'body' may be.

    I understand, by the way, from information that one of the sponsers to Mr Howell's researches was from the 'Damp-proofing industry' - a "connection"?

    Enough of this banter, let's get back to the original challenge which effectively started this thread; his challenge is about the absence or presence of a FACT, not about the activities of the damp-proofing industry. Can't see why the FACT can't be challenged ( the damp-proofing industry is a different matter altogether! )

    He has put up £2000 to a charity so where is the challenge? Stop trying to muddy the waters and just take the challenge - if these people have the nerve. Just produce the evidence that rising damp exists or doesn't - that simple. Perhaps we could all ask the Architects' Journal to be the adjudicator and weigh up any provided evidence?

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  • I thought that a large number of damp proofers tended to 'diagnose' rising damp, then offer services to 'treat' it.

    Are we to assume that Mr Coleman is still posting? Or is this someone else?

    If so, then it's all very amusing, but really, should this little personal spat not be carried out in private?

    And why hasn't he so far challenged RICS? Or is one named person an easier target?

    Of course, it could be that this story is a mish-mash of out of context quotes, with a spot of journalistic leeway thrown in.

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  • http://www.property-care.org/contact-us/technical-panel-members/graham-coleman

    Is this the same Mr Coleman who has taken such umbrage?

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  • Konrad Fischer

    In over 400 home repair jobs as architect I've never found any rising damp, but a lot of home owners, which believed to have it.

    The law of capillarity says there is no capillary transport in masonry from small pores to big pores, what means:

    No capillarity from stone to mortar!

    And the usual mortar has not the ability to transport water over more than a few centimeters / inches highness. Please look to all harbour / pier walls or masonry pillars of bridges in the floods - no rising damp at all.

    More info:
    www.konrad-fischer-info.de/2auffen.htm

    My best regards to the audience

    Konrad
    (Germany)

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  • I have no idea what Mr. Boniface means by 'true rising-damp'.

    I have seen countless instances of elevated moisture penetration into residential buildings local to a damp-proof course that has been bridged or has failed due to structural movement.

    When the dampness extends above external ground level teh term 'rising damp' seems appropriate to me.

    What else could I call this phenomenon, ectomoisture?

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  • A cashcow.

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  • I have followed the spat above with interest and it all seems a little silly to me.

    I would suggest that I am not about to design a buildings and omit a DPC. Is the architect’s journal suggesting that the installation of same is a waste of time and my client’s money? I for one am not that brave or silly enough to trust the word of a qualified bricklayer over the Building Research Establishment.

    Having been involved in a great many refurbishment projects I am certain that damp can rise in masonry walls when the conditions right. I have also seen evidence that a correctly installed chemical DPC can control this damp.
    To suggest that any section of the UK construction industry can be well enough organised to create, perpetuate and get the rest of the building and academic world to believe in an imaginary phenomenon is frankly ridiculous (and yes I have read Mr Howells book).

    The truth lies out there somewhere but my experience suggests that damp will rise in masonry walls, damp proofing companies do tend to over specify, we as clients are reluctant to pay for good diagnostic damp investigations, when pushed the naysayers will concede that rising damp can exists, and the world will keep on turning!

    My suggestion is that we as professionals review the evidence available and decide on the merits of an individual project the works that are necessary to ensure the building is delivered to the client in an acceptably dry state. We should consider that both sides of this spat have a great deal invested in their own cause and are now incapable of rational debate!

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