Rubbing salt into the wounds

The following is a short article extracted from The RICS journal. I have only made it available on my blog for discussion by the linkedin damp diagnosis group members, following a request by our moderator Phil (we’ll be sharing a cell together if I get into trouble for it;)

I will read it properly over the weekend and then put my two pennies worth in. I have no permission to copy this so if it does evaporate it is due to copyright infingement!

If I see the word holistic in another surveyors report I’ll scream.

Anyway – enjoy.

Rubbing salt in the wounds. M Parrett, BS Journal, July 2011

Dry Rot

This is my reply to the discussion group: I’m told some are having problems downloading the word doc so here it is: I’ve not addressed the science – that’s Graham’s department.

Our group has made lots of progress over the past 18 months and has helped the RICS guys and the specialist guys see the issue from each other’s angle.  I’ve lots of respect for our members and by and large our discussions have been progressive and there’s a convergence of opinion, which will lead to a far better service for clients.

Reading the article, I’m a bit disappointed that there are some who still push the ‘rising damp myth’ line, which is thoroughly debunked.  The title says it all really, I think that the author was traumatised, (wounded and indignant?) by the Lewisham debacle and is clearly so emphatically ‘rising damp myth’ entrenched, that it seems to me, he’s still banging away to try to prove his point at all costs.

I covered this in a recent blog where I stated….”The zealots are not interested; they cannot accept anything we say; we are condemned charlatans and their own credibility is supported by our broken reputation. Repudiating this position would expose them as shallow publicity seekers”…

In saying that, the author could bring lots to the table I think.  He’s clearly dedicated and enthusiastic and I’d love to engage with him; he may teach me something, many others have.

This could have been a really useful article for surveyors (the readership of the journal).  Not enough surveyors take salt contamination into account when they survey houses.  However, the fact that tap water mixed with mortar has trace amounts in is completely irrelevant to them; as surveyors (not scientists….is the author one?).

Where salts are actually causing harm: such as on the face of a chimney; in farm buildings or after a decade’s long rising damp problem, they do need to be addressed. Otherwise the salts themselves, now being so concentrated, will continue to cause their client problems. This is the stuff of basic surveying knowledge.

Excuse the pun but this talk of Fairy liquid and addition of nitrates to the building fabric by tap water is wishy-washy nonsense.  Almost all the rising damp I see, in and around Leeds and Yorkshire, is in lime mortars and as anyone with any trowel knowledge or any decent surveyor knows full well, lime mortars never needed any plasticiser or wetting agent; only the cement mortars demanded these.  Even then, you’re talking a squirt per bucket-full of water.  To suggest that there’s sufficient salt by this route to affect the performance of a conductivity meter is a joke.  It’s derived from the authors pre-stated position, that electrical moisture meters are the devils work; go on; go round your house now and try and get a high reading where there isn’t or hasn’t been previous movement of water to concentrate them. Salts can’t walk, they only move in a solution so there must be a prolonged movement to make the salt band at the evaporation front.

As for pipe leaks in the chimney hearth; chimneys are known moisture sinks; basic surveying again.  What is a chimney? It is thick mass of brick or stone; no DPC, embedded in the ground; sticking through the roof and full of ammonia and sulphates from the burning of fossil fuel.  Now bricked up, they get damp – get over it.  I dare say a leak occurs now and again too, well fix that.

Don’t mention foil backed paper and graphite blocks – only a complete imbecile would mistake these false positives for real rising damp – it’s an insult to competent surveyors, from any background to suggest they do.  Maybe the odd cowboy damp-proofer might; to make a quick buck, but in thirty odd years, I’ve never caught one doing it and believe me if I had, they’d have been publicly shamed by my indignation and reported to West Yorkshire Trading Standards.

I think that much of the content of the article is aimed at proving a negative rather than shedding any new light on the damp diagnosis process – What a missed opportunity for the Journal’s readers.  I wish I could have a couple of pages to help surveyors improve their site technique, many other experienced surveyors (specialist and independent), could have given much better value for that ink too.

It’s time for another article on the subject of ‘Salt Damp’.  Not a scientific one – one for surveyors to help them pick-up problems and fix them – you know?  Like we do every day….

Sorry about the ranting end – only human.


PS – Just noticed Dr Hindlefokker; testing gauging water for nitrates…what’s he like!



  1. Mike Parrett says

    Dear Ranter!

    I have read your rantings with interest and you make some useful points.
    Just for the record this is not about the rising damp myth! OK lets get that straight. This is an article about understanding where the most common sources of chloride and nitrate can come from that can contact with various building elements. It is about whether the BRE could have included more information to aid detection of a source. Surveying a building for dampness is an holistic process that can often require a range of tests to detrmine both the cause and correct remediation.
    Just for the record I have never said that rising damp does not exist -that was Jeff Howell. I am fully aware thyat rising damp exisits, it is what causes the rising dampness is where I am coming from.
    I am certain that BRE Digest 245 both old and new versions would have been a much stronger document for recognising the various sources of chloride and nitrate -surely?

    Kind Regards, Mike Parrett

  2. Dry Rot says


    It’s a good point; salts concentrated in building materials are important. However, the article up for discussion doesn’t add much to that debate or help surveyors diagnose damp issues any better.

    If it is a call for a modification of the BRE standard then fine – but to imply or state that washing-up liquids and tap water contain sufficient amounts to be of concern in diagnosis is wrong and when read by less experienced journal readers, may confuse them.

    It may even lead to these surveyors getting things wrong on-site, if they take what you say as gospel; looking foolish or worse in the process.

    Your opinion is valid of course, as is mine, but when an article is printed in the Journal it may carry more weight and the conclusions in it may be accepted with less scepticism than is really warranted – I think you should know better Mike.

    We’ll debate this in the damp diagnosis group and hopefully reach a consensus – I remain to be converted, if there’s any evidence to back up the article.

    Ranting is a speciality of mine; I’m from Leeds…….

    I’m closing comments on this one because it is really for the LinkedIn group and will be a bit boring for my general readers – and we don’t want to write everything twice….

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