I was asked to have a look at a cottage, just off the A1, near Pontefract last week. Arriving on site, I was greeted by my clients; the owners. A couple in late middle age, with two dogs and a cat.
I thought this was a standard damp survey, which usually means checking for all damp defects. However, in this case, my clients have a specific problem and they want it cured.
“I’ll show you”, says Mrs X and leads me upstairs to look at the bedroom. The walls are pale colours, so the black mould stands out; patches in the lower corners, around the windows and in the wardrobes on the external wall. “I get mould on the clothes in there too, sometimes”.
I have a good look and check out the house, inside and out. The cottage is about 100 years old and was a one room farm labourers cottage in the past. Now it has an extension on one side, which is bigger that the cottage and a large conservatory extends the full width of the rear wall; enclosing the kitchen widows and what would have been the patio doors and rear entrance door.
Sat in the conservatory, sipping my Yorkshire tea, I explain that the property is just too humid, due to poor ventilation “There’s no extraction in the bathroom or cloakroom, the fireplaces are blocked off, there’s restricted natural ventilation due to the modifications and of course; double glazing”.
We chat about moisture generation and I mention that two dogs and a cat also count, when it comes to moisture sources. Mrs X admits that she never closes the bathroom door…..very bohemian.
Anyway, it’s a straight case of a house becoming humid due to a combination of modifications and our modern lifestyles. We agree that an extractor is needed for the bathroom and the cooker hood in the kitchen should be used as an extractor (it is ducted), whenever the kettle is on or pots are being washed – and cooking of course. The bathroom door to be kept closed so the the new fan works efficiently.
I talk about others improvements too, but we agree that the obvious defects should be completed and the situation monitored.
That’s when Mr X reaches for the quotation he has for a brand new ‘green’ damp control system. I read it with mixture of mirth and sadness. It’s not a survey at all: there’s no diagnosis of damp, no advice, no recommendations. Just a statement that the walls are suitable for installation of the system and a quotation. There’s also a money back pledge, which as far as I can tell just says that the moisture content of the walls will be lower 12 months after the system is installed – or your money back.
Clearly this is a total waste of money; from the clients point of view, because it doesn’t address the problems they’re having, which is mould growth in the bedrooms. The moisture content in the walls is nothing to do with it; it’s entirely a surface phenomenon. “Why did you want this installing” I ask.
“Well, we saw the big advert in the paper and rang them up thinking that this would cure the damp”. I ask them what happened when the chap from the ‘green’ damp proofing company arrived.
“He put his meter on the wall and said that one was sodden” exclaims Mrs X, pointing at the wall dividing the lounge from the hall…there’s not a stain or mark on it. “Worst he’s ever seen” she says.
I explain that the quote is just that; a quote, not a survey report or diagnosis. I ask if they thought that the chap was some sort of expert and had diagnosed damp, which his ‘green’ system could cure. Mrs X confirms that he used the meter to show them how damp the house was and recommended the damp proofing, which comprises some sort of ventilation pots installed outside the house, in the walls; though with no direct connection to the internal environment.
So we have a house with an obvious damp problem, comprising of mould, caused by excessive condensation. The client rings up a firm, lured by an advert for a revolutionary cure for damp. The representative arrives and uses a diagnostic tool to demonstrate that there’s damp, which the client never complained of and then issues a quotation for a vast amount of work – without mentioning the diagnosis or the reasoning behind the quote – other than that the quote is issued “at the client’s request”.
Through all this I left my Protimeter (damp meter), in the car; it wasn’t needed. I mention that there could well be some detectable moisture in the cottage walls, but that it is having no effect on the mould. “I can put you the best damp course in the world in this cottage, but unless we improve ventilation, you’ll still have a mouldy wardrobe and if I don’t install a DPC nothing bad will happen either, so what’s the point”?
Mr & Mrs X will not be accepting the quote they ‘requested’ so the man from del monty can go to hell (or call on some more elderley people no doubt).
How Green Damp Proofing really works (for the installer not the buyer).
How many consumers are being caught by this method, which appears to be based on a crude hustle?:
- Sell via advertising in the paper (word of mouth is probably a none-starter);
- Pretend to diagnose; engendering trust;
- Bamboozle with technology;
- Claim ‘green’ credentials so people’s aspirations to be green benefit you;
- Avoid any written diagnosis; ruling out negligence or miss-selling claims and;
- Make sure that the client signs a contract ASKING for the system to be installed;
- AND – avoid any mention of the damp problem which the client complained of in the first place, so that when it’s still there in 12 months time; the contract can be produced with a flourish and the client left short of several thousand pounds and the same damp problem they had twelve months ago.
I have the quote pinned to my noticeboard in my office, if you’d like to see it.
In the mean time my advice is to always get a second opinion on damp issues and always ask for a written survey report, setting out the symptoms, the cause, the investigation and the recommended treatment for it. At least then you have some protection in law if you are miss-sold something.
The Property Care Association insist that all PCA member surveyors carry professional indemnity insurance to cover customers in the event of a mistake being made – ‘green salesmen’ have no such obligations to customers; they’re just selling a product.