CSRT – Why all the fuss?

 

CSRT? Certificated Surveyor In remedial treatment.

 

Dr Hindlefokker

Don’t be a quack! Being a good damp and timber surveyor means more than buying a moisture meter a web site and passing CSRT

What value is there in the above qualification? Why are some questioning and attacking it’s value?

 

Well, going by recent rants on the interweb, consumers would be forgiven for thinking that there was no value at all in these letters. However, that would be both wrong and counter productive for consumers. That is domestic consumers and lenders, building surveyors and Architects.

 

I am not writing a eulogy for CSRT because, as I’ve written before, it does not make a holder into a general buildings surveyor or even in itself; an accomplished damp and timber surveyor. These things take years of practice and quite a bit of natural talent to get right.

 

Why bother then? Well, the CSRT needs to be seen for what it is and for what it does, both for the damp and timber specialist and his customers.

 

A short history

 

I qualified under the older system, whereby two separate exams were needed – the CTIS (for timber infestations), and the CRDS (for dampness issues). This was back in 1981 and 85 respectively. Conversion of that old qualification was achieved in 2004, when I sat the legal and health and safety exams, which were added when the two former qualifications were brought under one qualification – the CSRT we have now.

 

I think, that my own progress through the system and the initial reasons behind talking these back in the 80’s are as relevant now as ever.

 

Like very many damp and timber specialists I was initially shown the ropes by a combination of existing practitioners and our local damp and timber treatment supplier – in my case Stanhope chemicals and then Safeguard Europe. These guys will of course sell their stuff to anyone who’ll buy them and –  why not?

 

The help of a good supplier, in giving guidance and technical knowledge is crucial when there are no collages or other places to get good training.

 

That is enough for many specialists – once they have the basics they are off and running. Some though, like my Dad (who gave me my first chance in the industry), want better.

 

Getting better is not easy. It takes money and effort to find and attend courses. Of course this is all voluntary. The reason why I bothered was because we wanted have recognition for our dedication and we needed to break away from the ‘cowboy’ elements, which plague all construction sectors.

 

Trade associations across the UK, play an important role, particularly in the specialised sectors of construction. Often these sectors do not attract proper apprenticeship schemes, because they are just too specialised. In the 80’s I had to travel to High Wycombe to get classroom training in timber infestations and damp.

 

Why bother then? Well there was the prospect of being able to join the trade association (BWPA and BCDA at that time – now the PCA). Membership was seen as a class apart from the general damp and timber specialists and membership was restricted, to those who could demonstrate that they were prepared to put the effort in; get their CTIS and CRDS.

PCA members using microscopes to inspect timber CSRT

So that is what timber really looks like….

 

This is why CSRT is still thriving and evolving as I write this. The PCA have something over 300 members. That is a small fraction of the total number of damp and timber specialist firms in the UK. There’s a good reason for that. The main reason is that membership is still set with conditions. These are that staff of a proposed member will have CSRT qualifications; good insurance; correct report writing skills, good basic health and safety practices and meet minimum standards for all their activities.

 

The other reason that membership is small is the fact that the small minority of PCA members carry out a huge chunk of the overall damp/timber and associated work. One-man contractors are very welcome in the PCA, but it is hard to get over all the quality hurdles on your own, whilst earning an honest crust. Slightly bigger firms and the medium and larger firms have the resources and the motive to get membership. This drives quality up for consumers.

 

Are PCA members all brilliant?

 

Does this mean members are all brilliant? Not at all; what it does mean is that consumers and those who specify can at a tick of a box, rule out those specialists who are either so new that they don’t know anything yet, or are not able to reach the minimum required standards.

 

This has been the case for all of my 40 years in the industry. However, in recent years something wonderful has happened – if you’re a PCA member that is.

 

I speak of the success of the currant PCA board and management to get the message home; that if a specialist is to be used – it’s better if that specialist is from a shortlist of PCA members. Now, one of the first questions asked of my staff when they pick up the phone to a client is “Are you a member of the PCA”.

 

Of course as a trade association the PCA are supposed to do this; there’s nothing wrong with promoting members to clients and others. It’s what we members pay our subscriptions for and we are all delighted.

 

What about non-members and other similar trade associations though? Here lies the main issue with CSRT. The CSRT is of course the PCA’s qualification. So if for any reason you do not want to join, can’t join or have another agenda incompatible with PCA membership you cannot be seen to validate the CSRT offering.

 

This is great shame, because it really is super little thing to have. It validates good basic knowledge of the specialist, by examination. He is therefore, not a damp and timber specialist, merely because he has written it on his web site and letterhead. He really has got the T-shirt and has a qualification to show for it.

 

CSRT value

You don’t need CSRT to identify this… you do need it to help consumers choose you to find it.

 

Unforeseen troubles for CSRT and PCA

 

So now, the CSRT and the PCA are considered the blue ribband for damp and timber specialists and here lies the intractable problem.

 

Success has been tinged with unforeseen side-effects. One is that for example, others who are legitimately surveying houses for problems like damp, but are not part of the ‘damp proofing industry’ are finding the PCA’s success annoying at best and damaging for their business and standing at worst.

 

One example is some lenders insisting on PCA members carrying out surveys. This is great news if you’re a member. I don’t care about the non-member contractors – they should join PCA or shut up. However, there are Chartered surveyors, Architects, good general surveyors and dare I say, the odd heritage style practitioners, who are outside the ‘industry’ but have a role and make an honest living, serving the same client base as PCA members, with there own alternative approaches.

 

Being asked to join a trade association for damp proofing contractors or even sit an exam the trade association controls, is an anathema for these guys. I have some sympathy with that.

 

What I don’t have sympathy with though, is the reaction of some of these people and firms. Of course what they should do is immediately set up another  independent body of their own, either with PCA or RICS or both.

 

Instead though, these guys now spend hours on the internet trying to attack the PCA and the CSRT in a vain attempt to devalue or somehow restrict the inevitable growth of both.

 

In doing this they have highlighted a gross misunderstanding of the CSRT. They see it as a competing type of surveying, a sort of counterfeit surveyors qualification. This is not what it is or was ever designed to be. I am being generous when I say misunderstanding; many of them know well, that the CSRT is merely an industry qualification to recognise basic but essential knowledge of a specialist, in a narrow area of construction. In trying to focus on the word ‘surveyor’ they miss the point of CSRT. Of course it’s our own fault in using the word surveyor in the title of the qualification – but what else could it have been? Maybe Certificated Remedial Treatment Practitioner (CRTP) would have been better, who knows?

 

However, I do consider my peer group and myself as surveyors. Not because I have CSRT, but because I have dedicated my entire working career to learning as much as I can about surveying buildings for damp and timber related issues. I could have done all this without CSRT, but then my clients would have no way of comparing say, my report, with one from a chap who was taught about dampness last week, when he bought his franchise and has no knowledge of even the most common insects and rot species.

 

A way forward?

 

To round this post off, I’d say that the defense of CSRT is essential, but should be seen in the context of the commercial pressures non-holders are under. Some of them hate us,  they could learn this stuff and pass CSRT, but are stopped by pride, past utterances or genuine worries about being ‘contaminated’ by association with PCA and the ‘industry’– it’s a great pity, because I have loved every minute of my PCA and industry training.

Maybe the PCA will get together with RICS or SPAB or RIBA and come up with an alternative equivalent to CSRT, which does not carry the associations of ‘contractor’ involvement. That would suite me and of course any such qualification would need PCA involvement as well as others. To those promoting or expecting the demise of CSRT or the PCA, well, both are growing both in popularity and standing – simply throwing mud will not stop that.

 

Working together, aware of our different positions and having some respect for each other, may be to the benefit of all – especially confused consumers.

 

Dry Rot

Why not check out this review of the CSRT process by Mike Dunnett – a chartered surveyor who took the time to take on CSRT and passed.

Comments

  1. Hi Bryan,

    I sat CSRT in 2007, prior to that I’ve been through the education system to BA (Hons) level and you know what, CSRT wasn’t an easy exam, mainly because of the practical aspects which don’t necessarily help you as an academic. It has served as a valuable starting point upon which to build my knowledge.

    The other thing is that parallels can readily be drawn with CSSW, the waterproofing equivalent, in that old industry stalwarts that likely know what they are talking about from a waterproofing perspective, make disparaging remarks about the qualification?! There is no other qualification and neither is any other to my knowledge, working on one.

    A couple of years back I could have questioned the value of PCA as a trade body for structural waterproofing but the industry is looking at what we are doing and taking note, first Premier Guarantees and now NHBC. The product manufacturers are all putting their staff through the qualification.

    I think it’s a case of get on board or get left by the wayside. I like you, think that qualifications and raising industry standards is massively important, especially in waterproofing because in part it is self interest – not being undercut by parties selling poor design/installation, and because consumers (and insurers) need to not be subjected to the problems that they suffer at present.

    How many of these people that make such remarks bother to sit the exams??

    James

  2. Bryan

    As ever a great blog. It makes me proud to have mine. As you say I don’t need those letters after my name or the qualification itself but I do see it as a great achievement for me. The same goes for the CSSW.

  3. Daniel Sidlow says:

    Bryan,
    Nice article. Whenever I make a recommendation for a D&T survey, I always stress the importance of using a PCA member. It doesn’t always happen and I have turned away many a sub standard report from an unqualified individual, who is quoting, rather than surveying. Unfortunately, I have also seen a couple of PCA member reports that left a bit to be desired. This can be disappointing after having made a big speech about why PCA is best, but things are certainly a lot healthier than they were 10 years ago.
    Regards
    Dan

    • Dry Rot says:

      Hi Daniel,

      Thanks for the kind comments. I agree that not all PCA members are perfect. This is true of all trade associations but CEO Steve Hodgson and his team have done a great job on quality and standards over the past ten years. If you do come across any reports from members which are ‘iffy’ please take them to task and if not happy let the PCA management in Huntingdon know – they really are interested and are always keen to follow up these issues.

      The PCA has been attacked by one or two other organisations lately – those who cannot meet the pCA standards tend to kick-off in frustration. The facts are though, that nobody has done even a fraction of the work PCA have, to get standards higher and improve training. The alternative as you know, is a total lottery, because anyone can call themselves a damp specialist – you only have to be able to spell it for your web site. By promoting PCA members you save your clients from that prospect… it’s not a perfect system yet, but it is better than the past and constantly improving.

      I hope to see you at a CPD this year Daniel..

      Cheers

      Bryan

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Copyright © 2010 Preservation Expert. Legal Stuff: All the advice and information in the posts on my blog is made in good faith and is based on my experience and knowledge at the time of writing. However, nobody is infallible and whilst I’m confident that most of what I write about preservation issues is accurate, there’s a good chance there’ll be an error or two somewhere. I do change my mind about stuff, as I gain more experience. In view of this you must make your own decisions on whether to follow any advice I write and think about this; I could be wrong. No responsibility will be accepted by the author for any losses anyone may suffer as a result of any mistake or for the consequence of any action you take as a result of reading this blog. If you do suffer a loss, resulting from anything I’ve written, a verbal heartfelt apology will be your only compensation.