Aah, my favourite nemesis: Damp. I will refer to it with a capital letter, like it’s a person, throughout this post, and whilst I can see that it’s not grammatically correct, I prefer to talk about it like it’s another human being, with feelings and motives behind its hideous existence.
I honestly believe that Damp can drive a sane person crazy. We have had a long and complex relationship with Damp since buying this house. We knew what we were up against after the first viewing; a double whammy of Damp-y worries with both rising Damp and penetrating Damp doing their thang to our lovely little house.
The penetrating damp was pretty easy, although eye-wateringly pricey, to solve. Basically, the rendering on the rear of the house was there in body but not in spirit if you get my drift… It was completely blown and dotted with holes and cracks which offered no protection to the porous brickwork underneath, from the wet and wild weather of South Wales! We had scaffold covering the back of the house for about 6 weeks, whilst the original render was stripped off (see our ‘Naked House’ and other adventures here) and re-applied. To replace it, we chose a K Rend silicone based render which is self coloured and plastic-y in nature so it will never need to be painted – only cleaned. Fab! A few grand later and the job was done.
The rising damp was more of a long-winded, soul-destroying, 6 month long, saga. I realise now, looking back for evidence, I didn’t really take any pictures which would accompany this post, so it’s going to be rather wordy. I think this is probably for two reasons;
- Pictures of dodgy walls are boring
- I never wanted to be visually reminded of this awful chapter of my life.
So it’s not going to be a particularly pretty post and although, of course, I want the whole world to read it, it might only be interesting if you are;
- Buying a Damp house and want to know how not to deal with things
- A person who likes to laugh at other people’s misery
- The owner of a Damp Treatment company in South Wales who wants to improve customer service.
Sooo, like I said, we knew from the get go that Damp was going to be something that we had to sort out. We got our builders in early and they had previous experience in Damp Treatment, and although weren’t technically “Damp Treatment Specialists”, knew what they needed to do and where to get the gear from. We figured we’d try to help them out and get someone from one of the plethora of Damp Treatment Specialists round to give us an official survey to work from. Our estate agents recommended one which did free home survey, so we got them round ASAP. We got the survey through but it seemed quite vague and when I called him to ask some questions about issues that seemed to be missing from his paperwork, my trust in his judgement completely vanished when he failed to recall the 1.5m wide radiators that were on two of the walls in question that needed treatment. If he didn’t even notice them, what else didn’t he see?!
So, I did some more research and came up with 3 more companies that covered our area and according to their websites (in various neon and CAPITAL LETTERS) offered free home surveys. One particularly frustrating lunch break I had 3 fairly similar conversations which all ended along the lines of;
- Me: Ok great. I’ll just have to confirm with the estate agents that we can get access to the property then but it should be fine. Am I ok to call you back to confirm our appointment?
- Them: Oh you mean you don’t own the property yet?
- Me: Well no, we’re in the process of buying it
- Them: Well in that case, it’s classed as a Home Buyers survey and that has a charge of *insert ridiculous price here*
- Me: But on your website it says you offer free home visits
- Them: Yes we do, but not to people in your circumstances.
I literally cried with frustration. I still think back and think how unfair it is for companies to dump more charges on people who are already spending all the money they have on buying the house that has the damp in the first place! Gah! Needless to say, I didn’t book any further appointments and we decided to go with what we, as fairly practical and logical people with access to Google, knew, what the builders knew, and what the guy who hadn’t noticed the radiators knew.
I’ve built this up for you to expect that everything went wrong and the house fell down in a big wet mess, but actually, most of it worked out fine. The living room and kitchen were sorted first and 18 months on we’re going strong! The dining room was where things got a bit ridiculous, specifically the wall dividing the dining room from the kitchen/side return.
All our walls were treated in the same way, with the existing plaster hacked off, in most places up to a metre high, which is widely observed as the highest point rising damp can affect a wall, but in some places where it was a bit rough anyway, we had the whole wall stripped off. The gunky Damp Treatment gel (technical term!) is then squirted into holes drilled into the lower layer of brickwork, and once that’s dried out, the wall is re-plastered. Job done. Except for this one wall, where it was re-plastered, but the new plaster never dried. We used heaters and dehumidifiers to try to dry it out, but it wouldn’t develop into that lovely light pink dried plaster type colour – it resolutely stayed the murky browny-pink of fresh plaster. We didn’t know what to do, so for a few months, we pretended it was fine. In our state of exhausted naivety, we just decided that maybe, for whatever reason, that bit of plaster is just a different colour to the other stuff and it’s all fine.
Our bubble of denial was rudely burst by a guy we had round to measure up for some hard flooring. He had this damp-meter thing to test out our floor for moisture levels (our floor was completely dry – how does that even work?!?!) but when Husband asked him to poke the wall with the probe and it all lit up red, we knew it was trouble. He told us that it was basically 100% damp. Excellent.
And again, I bet you’re all thinking “Hey, I bet if they’d got one of those people round who they didn’t want to pay for, this wouldn’t have happened!” And to be fair, at this point I was cursing ourselves for being such cheapskates in the beginning, so I called the people back up from before, and now we owned the stupid Damp house, we didn’t have to pay for our FREE HOME SURVEYS! And luckily, it was a few months down the line so I don’t think anyone remembered me, or my slightly miffed tone of voice, from our previous conversations! There’s the silver lining we’ve all been waiting for! However, similarly to guy-who-doesn’t-notice-radiators, these people were useless. And expensive. Out of the two that did actually produce quotes for us, one was double the price of the other for the same work, and technically, I am still waiting for the quote off the other one, 18 months later! They all just wanted to do what we’d already done again, and when we said ” Well no, it wasn’t a Damp Treatment Specialist who did it first time round” they did that typical tradesman thing of a sharp in-take of breath with a slight shake of the head.
So, needless to say, we did not engage any of their services, instead pitting our wits against the world of Damp. And fortunately/brilliantly/annoyingly, it was Husband who came up with the solution!
This may call for a diagram, but I’ll have a go at describing it (and you can also check out an earlier post with an excellently drawn floor plan, here). The wall in question is between our dining room and our kitchen. The kitchen is down a step from the dining room, and there is a door to the left of the wall which opens out to the side return of the garden. The side return was a concrete path leading down to the garden, on a gentle slope, to meet the floor height of the dining room at one end, and the other back door that leads out from the utility room, which again, is down a step from the kitchen, at the other. In side profile, it looks like this;
Husband realised that the surface of the outside path at the point it meets the dining room door (where the wall is) is almost 30cm higher than the floor level in the kitchen. Anyone who has spent a small amount of time Googling ‘reasons for rising damp’ knows that the surface level outside of a house, should always be lower than the damp proof course or interior floor level, otherwise moisture can just seep through the walls from the surrounding external ground. Lightbulb moment indeed! And something which none of the ‘professionals’ we had round had even asked to look at, let alone identified as the cause of our eternally Damp wall!
What happened next:
- Husband bought jack hammer
- Our neighbours dreamt of us moving far, far, away
- Husband and I spent the weekend digging up the side return path, in 2ºC temperatures
- I cried again
- We carried approx 2 tonnes of rubble and soil out of the side return and onto our front yard, and when that filled up, the back garden (pics below to prove it!)
- Plaster was hacked back off the wall – the whole way up to avoid any reason for having to do it again
- The wall, after being left to dry out naturally for 3 weeks, was re-plastered
- THE WALL WAS DRY!!!
Top left – Rubble mountain on front yard. Bottom left – soil mountain on garden. Right – the muddy mess that was our saving grace. The drain cover was the height of the original path, just to give you a sense of scale!
I should also mention, that 2 days before the decision was made that no, it wasn’t fine and we couldn’t ignore it, and yes, we really did have to do all of this, our new kitchen was delivered, and as the biggest room in the house, was stacked up in its boxes, in the dining room, just inches away from where all of this carnage was taking place.
Dark days indeed.