Damp in old houses and damp in new ones too – the Safeguard Conference

UK damp experts meet in London for a conference on the latest dampness news


Julie Hindle of Brick-Tie Ltd

Dry Rot’s wife and company secretary Julie Hindle has a go at the DryZone challenge, whilst David Lambert looks on


Damp in old houses and damp in new houses was on the agenda this week at the Safeguard ‘Dampness in buildings conference’, held at the Science Museum in London.


For those who work in the preservation industry, rising damp, penetrating damp and condensation are not founded on ‘tradition’ or blinkered by it; Houses and people evolve and as a result, dampness problems change, and of course so do the treatments used, as do the approaches to tackling damp, in all of its forms.


Arguably, the leading manufacturer of damp treatment systems in the UK is Safeguard Europe ltd of Horsham Sussex. I wouldn’t argue with that though, as I have been a customer for over 20 years and buy most of the chemical and non-chemical dampness treatments I use in my company, from Safeguard.


So, accepting an invitation to join them in a conference on damp and condensation was a no-brainer.


Apart from that, the speaker list was intriguing also, with presentations from:


  1. Safeguard’s own Dr Eric Rirsch, who is behind so much of Safeguard’s ground-breaking remedial technology and is constantly innovating and investigating dampness in masonry, and the effects of remedial treatments.


  1. Andy Simmonds, CEO of Simmonds Mills Architects and the Association for Environment Conscious Building (AECB), who has been working hard to evaluate the potential effects of retro-fit insulation, where dampness in old houses and newer ones is concerned.


  1. Dr Markus Roos; Senior technical manager at Evonik Industries, who are world leaders in many speciality chemicals, not least the silicones, siloxanes and silanes used in the control of dampness in buildings.



For those who couldn’t attend here’s my short review of the conference, with some tit bits on where dampness in buildings is going and the latest views on damp in old houses and damp in new houses.


Introducing Dampness in Buildings

Safeguard Chairman and founder David Lambert introduced things, with a short history of Safeguard Europe – of course these things can be cheesy, but the truth is that David has dampness control in his blood and his company, founded 30 years ago is testament to that. It’s refreshing when the guy doing the talking about the business, is so engaged by it, rather than being a hot-shot executive, who would be running a t-shirt factory, selling insurance, or a gym franchise if the money on offer was better (there are some of these in the industry).


David really is engrossed and is still a bit infatuated by our industry and it shows. After a short resume of Safeguard’s 30 year progress, and thanks to all who attended it was time for a Presentations by Dr Eric Rirsch.


Dampness in Buildings – Dr Eric Rirsch


reducing salt damage of masonry due to rising damp

Safeguard’s research into reducing salt damage in masonry


Eric’s presentation gave a foundation of dampness with the concentration on the sound scientific fundamentals of rising damp, penetrating damp and condensation. These problems have always been there, but the proportion of these issues varies from house type, construction materials and also social changes over the years.


Penetrating damp is a growing problem with damp in old houses and damp in new houses too. An age old issue, but also an evolving one; as the theme of the conference highlighted.


Whilst penetrating damp was seen uniquely, as a damp in old houses problem, solved by cavity walls, that is changing now, as cavities become filled with insulation. Wind driven rain was really the driving force behind the introduction of cavity walls in the first place. It was never foreseen as useful in energy saving or insulation for comfort – which are both post-war aspirations. In the early 20th century, merely keeping the rain out was justification enough, for the extra expense, time and trouble and builders took, in constructing cavity walls.


Now, a hundred years after the widespread introduction of cavity fill insulation, penetrating damp and its effects are back again, effecting cavity wall houses as well as solid wall properties, especially on the west coast and in exposed locations.


General absorption and diffusion of water through external walls was discussed and Eric demonstrated how his research, within Safeguard’s facilities had shown the mechanism for water penetration through solid walls and the external leaf of cavity walls in old and new houses.


damp in old houses caused by penetrating damp

The additional problems of penetrating damp in old houses


Research via BRE has also shown that at higher wind speeds approaching 26/Ms, 50% of the water striking a wall can pass through the bed-joints, via tiny cracks and pores, concentrated at the mortar/masonry interface. This means half the water striking a wall can get through it – which is a gobsmacking statistic.


To put this in perspective Eric showed us his test rig, contracted in Safeguard’s research lab, using a solid wall and a 100mm pipe with a head of 600mm.


A 95mph wind blows water at a wall with an equivalent pressure of a head of water only 50mm deep. Yet at that speed 50% of the water runs harmlessly down the wall and, 50% is absorbed until the water passes through, or the wall is saturated. Either way that is penetrating damp, saturated insulation and/or awful fuel bills.


Eric demonstrated that with a single coat of Safeguard’s new StormDry water repellent cream, combined with a StormDry additive in the pointing, a head of water 600mm deep could be resisted for hours.


I have to admit that this wasn’t news to me, as I have been lucky enough to witness this on a previous trip to Safeguard’s HQ. However, the effect of a water repellent, based on pore lining technology, rather than pore blocking, with all the benefits that entails, is a revelation and quite an achievement for Safeguard, and their raw materials suppliers.

Condensation and mould growth caused by high humidity and its relationship to heat loss was covered by Eric too – he demonstrated that water repellents like Storm Dry can be a great tool in reducing heat loss, arising through saturated external walls.


An explanatiuon of relative humidity by Eric Rirsch

Eric explains the nature of Relative humidity


mould growth and temerature in damp houses

Eric shows how the rate of mould growth in houses is related to temperature as well as humidity


His presentation included a recap of the latest rising damp treatments and we watched his time-lapse video of rising damp happening over a two month period in a brick wall, built using replicating aged lime mortar, at the Safeguard damp testing lab. It was fascinating to watch the damp rise, slowly and inexorably, through the bed-joints and then eventually leaving a nice salt band at he top – the myth of rising damp was slain by Eric within about 45 seconds or so!

As part of the conference Safeguard had a full demonstration of the StormDry water repellent cream, along with their excellent karsten tube masonry absorption test kit, which I’ve used many times and recommend (see the kit in action here).

image of the Stormdry masonry porosity test kit

The StormDry test kit is a very useful tool for on-site porosity testing.


Dampness in old houses with retro-fitted insulation.


Andy Simmonds and his team have been working hard to evaluate retro-fitted insulation systems, in respect of their effect on dampness in buildings.


Many people have raised the concern, that the rush to retrofit dwellings with insulation, may lead to damp in old houses and mould growth problems.


Andy presented his latest findings, taken from on-site testing, using in-built data logging technology to measure temperature, moisture content and relative humidity, before and after insulation installation.


His talk was fascinating, providing for a lively discussion on the pathways moisture takes, as it moves through buildings and how these may change for the worse, once insulation changes the thermodynamics in the building, particularly in traditionally built houses.


I’ve been a supporter of humidity data logging for some time and it was great to see how others are using this technology, to find out how our changing housing stock and lifestyle, effects damp in old houses, especially those we’ve tried to insulate.


Image showing how specialist chemical can help control damp in old houses.

Andy showed how good moisture control using excellent maintenance and modern correctly applied and specified speciality chemicals, can keep old houses dry


One of the things Andy did highlight very well, was the importance of moisture in conducting heat and contributing to heat/energy loss in our homes. Retro-fit insulation is crucial in reducing this, but equally, care is needed to ensure that moisture is controlled, otherwise all the expense and time involved in retro-fit will be either reduced by heat loss, or worse still, cause unhealthy living conditions, with mould and cold bridging undermining the process.


Andy extolled the importance of ensuring that damp, either rising or penetrating is reduced to as low a level as reasonably possible. The use of chemical DPC’s to control rising damp is part of this process (such as DryZone or DryRod). It reduces heat loss and interstitial condensation at the base of walls. Also good external maintenance combined with excellent water repellent systems like StormDry cream and StormDry pointing additive, are more than justified as part of a holistic approach. His research has clearly shown that the use of these methods, results in lower moisture contents in internal insulation and associated finishes, when the data logged information is analysed – food for thought.


Andy introduced us to ‘Intelligent vapour control layers’, for use between internal finishes and internal insulation, which can act as vapour checks when needed and allow vapour passage at other times. This caused a stir, because whilst the principles of material air-dry capacity is understood, conditions in houses are rarely ideal; control of the internal RH is never certain, so many present were more comfortable with static vapour checks – an area for more discussion I think.


Good practice in treating damp in old houses

Good practice was the order of the day and here Andy gives it straight!


Andy gave a thought provoking and fascinating presentation, which in the spirit of our industry gave birth to lively discussions at the break – well worth the trip to London.


The role of Specialty Chemicals in controlling damp in buildings


Marcus Roos

Dr Marcus Roos gave a detailed and fascinating talk on his company’s depth of knowledge


The final presentation was via Dr Marcu Roos. This was a favourite of mine because I do like to know as much as I can about the how and why of speciality chemicals. It’s one thing recommending ‘this product’ or ‘that’ to a client, but invariably, I get asked…. Why? How?


Marcus explained the progress of the weater repellent chemistry, which has underpinned much of our industry over the past 50 years. It was a special crowd in the science museum library, so I wasn’t the only one who remembered the days when we pumped solvent based silicone resins into bricks at 140psi!


He gave delegates the inside story on why changes were made, how water born Siliconates came into prominence and how silanes and siloxanes we use now achieved ascendance.


controlimng damp in old houses using water repellent chemicals

Water repellents in the role of controlling damp in old houses


Their resistance to UV light, molecular weight (relevant for penetration), Alkoxyfunctionality (highPH stability), and Volatile Organic Compound content (VOC) are all key to product selection and I was in my element, scribbling away.


Silanes have a high VOC, Siloxanes a low VOC, Silicone resin has low penetration due to it’s high molecular weight and is low alkalinity stable. Want to treat hard limestone effectively? Use Siloxanes in a white spirit… yes really and that was on the Sagrad Familia in Barcelona Spain, which has exposed and vulnerable areas treated with Evonik’s remarkable speciality chemicals, preserving the stone for future generations.


image of a slide about water repellents on masonry

A brief guide to the advantages and disadvantages of different water repellents


Image of Evonik in front of Barcelona

Water repellents are suitable for old houses, new houses and even the finest buildings


A good day was had with the great and the good of the damp proofing industry. Time passes, buildings and people change and so do solutions. It was a pleasure to be present and see for myself that Safeguard are working hard to bring in the right solutions for the new and challenging issues causing damp in old houses and damp in new one too. The conference was excellent and Safeguard should be congratulated for all the effort they put in. Fun was had on the DryZone challenge, which involved many delegates trying to be the best at injecting a wall with DryZone. My wife and Brick-Tie Preservation company secretary tried her hand at that and wasn’t last!


Andy Simmonds, Marcus Roos and Eric Rirsch

The three speakers gave delegates a chance to question them after the presentations


One of the best things about an event like this is the chance to meet other professionals and discuss the latest trends and share our success and mishaps. Some of the people I admire the most were there, including Graham Coleman, Ross Charters of Complete Preservation and Peter Macdonald, Jacki and Andrew Shaw of Shaw Preservations, Dean Webster of South East timber and damp and Kerry O’Reilly of RLH Developments, Mark Duckworth and Property Care Association CEO Steve Hodgson and of course Safeguard MD Hudson Lambert. There were many more also, with 80 of the best professionals in the damp proofing industry present – great stuff.


Ross Charters of Complete Preservation

Ross Charters CSRT CSSW in deep discussions…


Peter Macdonald CSRT damp surveyor

Peter Macdonald CSRT enjoys the chance soak-up even more knowledge


My thanks go to Safeguard Europe for their kind invite and for really putting on a great conference – I’m looking forward to the next one.


Dry Rot.


  1. it was a great day Bryan and it really got me thinking, thanks Safeguard …..An excellent presentation by Marcus
    from Evonik, wow he knows his stuff.
    Can’t wait for the next one!

    • Dry Rot says

      Yes Ross – Marcus’s talk was full of good stuff.

      I’m chuffed that Safeguard put in the work to make it so worthwhile. The sharing of this stuff is a growing trend and I fully support that…

      See you soon.

  2. Robert Deary says


    Thank you Bryan. What a great blog and that is not me being biased. I thought I was reading a high quality newspaper!! I am glad it was a great success and that you enjoyed it so much. I also thank the staff who made it happen as the hard work certainly paid off.

    • Dry Rot says

      Thanks Robert,

      That mean a lot. I really enjoyed the conference and am grateful to David and Hudson for putting it on. I was chatting to Ross about it and he would love to come to Horsham with me for a visit to see Eric and the team….
      I think that many people at the conference were surprised at just how much time and effort you guys put into R&D and it must have done you a great deal of good.

      Well done to all

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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.