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Everything you ever wanted to know about old houses - under one roof...
Live in an old house, or thinking of buying one? We've seen and experienced almost everything that can go wrong with one. We work on properties from early medieval stone cottages to Edwardian townhouses. This website is dedicated to helping understand your home, and get the most from it. The survey and advice sections of the site, are run by Peter in Shropshire and Richard in London.
Richard is a Chartered Surveyor - MRICS, and Pete is a long standing Affiliate member of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation - the professional body for those working in the conservation sector.
Our professional survey website is Heritage Consulting Ltd so if you are looking for a survey of your new home, have a look at the survey site and give us a call.
Please note: We are swamped with telephone calls and emails asking for help. We offer a telephone consultation service, of 1 hour, for £150 plus vat. We normally arrange these for mondays. Please don't email or call asking for advice - we just cannot handle the volume of enquiries! Most commonly asked questions are covered within the site - it's why we update the site with information to help you.
We conduct Building Surveys on any old house - whether Listed Grade 1, Grade 2* or Grade 2, or just a lovely old Victorian town house. We are the scourge of the Timber and Damp industry - we do Timber and Damp surveys which turn the myth of rising damp on its head. We'll tell you if your house really IS damp, and why - we tell you how to deal with it, how to maintain it, and what it'll cost.
What IS an old house? It's very simple - an 'old house' is a structure built with solid walls (stone, brick, timber frame) using breathable materials. Most problems with old houses result from inappropriate use of modern building materials which prevent your house from 'breathing' - things like cement and gypsum plaster, emulsion paints and waterproofing.
Everything within this site relates to old buildings. The techniques and materials are essential to old houses, but they equally can be applied to new ones. You Cannot apply new house techniques to old houses! The Golden Mantra - BREATHABILITY!
If you don't believe me - have a look at the Historic Scotland climate change blog: Traditional Buildings are Cool
Is damp a problem? Flaking plaster, hollow render, paint bubbling and flaking off walls, mouldy wallpaper, leaky or rotting timber frame, stonework deteriorating, things just getting creaky and rotten? These are typical problems with old houses. We help with sensible solutions, and show you WHY the problem is happening, and how to prevent it in future.
If you are having problems with damp, or a building survey says you need a Property Care Association 'Timber and Damp' survey, watch this video to see how the RICS surveyor, and founder member of the PCA - Peter Cox, misdiagnose rising damp and attempt to sell £2,000 worth of unneccessary damp proofing to the buyer of a perfectly dry old home:
The good news is that the damp industry is struggling. At long last everyone is realising the damage these PCA 'wallies' are doing - chemical manufacturers are apparently laying off staff, things are getting bad out there for them. Property Care Association efforts to re-brand itself as a caring organisation looking after your home just don't seem to be working - oh dear - I wonder why!
This is one of the best Case Histories I have ever seen on Mis-Sold 'rising damp' treatment. Here's my video of the day - I followed Wally Damp Man around the house and tested his ping prong holes to find no evidence of damp. The one place he missed was where it all was. This 'Damp Proofing and Wood Preservation Services Ltd of 37 Saxon Street, Stapenhill, Burton' has been reported to Trading Standards. Don't ever use them.
It's Condensation Season!
The phone is running off the hook with calls about condensation.
If you need help with a 'damp' problem and want advice, you can arrange a 1 hour telephone consulatation with us, costing £150, which we do on mondays. We'll need photos of your problem, with relative humidity readings, and pictures of the house and surrounds. You can email us the information, and we will book a time slot to discuss. Please don't just ask for advice - we are swamped with requests for help as it is! If your problem is more substantial, we may need to do a full building 'damp' survey - costs typically are around £950 plus travel and vat.
First, you need one of these. It's called a thermo hygrometer, and it measures Relative Humidity:
Now we'll explain why...
If the relative humidity (RH) is high in your house, you will get condensation occurring both within the brickwork, and on surfaces. Before you call Wally Damp Man, or ring your local PCA or Property Care Association 'surveyor' to flog you some damp treatment, let's get technical and collect some proper data. If the humidity in your house is around 50 to 55% at normal room temperatures, you ain't going to get dampness anywhere. If it's over 60%, you got problems. At 75%, you will be seeing damp patches in cold weather. Before you rush for snake oil treatments, LOOK FOR THE SOURCE! Mostly it will be things like moisture from cooking or bathrooms. Next, from cellars that aren't well vented. Then, from walls that are solid - stone, brick, whatever - with gypsum on the inside and cement on the outside. Moisture gets trapped, walls get damp - which encourages humidity in your house. So - before you ring us asking for help - help yourself - get one of these gizmos, and put it in different rooms of your house for an hour or two - figure out which rooms are more humid than others, and the temperatures, THEN call us with cold hard information. But DON'T call the damp wally - we know the damp fraudsters have cottoned onto the fact that they can buy cheap ventilation fans from China for a fiver, and sell them to you for £500 installed. They are useless. If you are going to get a condensation control fan, you need to have a proper, scientific fan - good quality, designed for the job, that is controlled by humidity. Wally damp man will flog you one - but his humidity controller is cheap rubbish that won't be constantly sampling the air both inside and outside the house, and working out where best to find dry air for your house. Have a look at the RHL direct equipment on some of these pages - it's professionally built and manufactured in this country - not in some sweat shop in China.
If all this sounds confusing - dont worry - it isnt - we'll put up another page that tells you more - but get the meter and start taking readings and understanding the humidity in your home. See What actually is Rising Damp?
Read our site carefully. Look at the cavity wall insulation pages. Be careful. Don't just insulate because the Green Deal says (or did say!!) you can!
Update: Amber Rudd finally gave up and killed the Green Deal. Finally sense prevailed! Keep a watch for how to insulate your home and deal with damp. There's now a lot of useful research going on to do things properly.
Pete's on BBC Radio 4 now!
Damp houses and failed Cavity Wall Insulation are becoming big news. Pete recently did an interview on BBC Radio 4 - You and Yours - which investigated a case history of failed cavity wall insulation. You and Yours - Cavity Wall Insulation This is only the tip of the iceberg, in which thousands of homes are becoming wet and cold as a result of sopping wet insulation pumped into cavities which are simply not suitable for insulation. Cavity insulation DOES work, but only in properly designed modern brick wall construction. See our pages on Cavity Insulation for more information.
If you have possible failed Cavity Wall Insulation, please contact us with all the details and we will pass this to the BBC, and other interested bodies so that action can be taken.
And the latest from Jeff Howell at the Telegraph: 3 million homes with failed cavity insulation? Government cover up? Oh come on - the Government doesn't do things like that Jeff!
High Technology and Old Houses
Our new Thermal Imaging Camera - which apart from costing a lot of Pete's hard earned money, is helping us to map dampness in old houses. We can now show thermal images which demonstrate where cold areas are encouraging condensation. We are also studying thermal performance of insulation, and working out how to ensure that houses don't lose heat through 'cold bridging' - gaps in insulation, damp walls, and small holes in the building fabric.
More Happy Clients!
Pete did a building survey on a lovely old farmhouse in Shropshire. Clad in cement render, with injection damp proofing everwhere, it was wet and cold. After showing the owner how it wasn't hard to get it breathing again, imagine Pete's surprise when Stuart's blog appeared. Here's an old house restoration, from the owners viewpoint - it is textbook stuff, and shows how easy it can be... Have a look at the October AND November blogs - great progress, and all with a hammer and chisel..
And then there's another Shropshire survey:
Andy bought this place, knowing full well that he was heading into a brave new unknown. We found many horrors during the survey, but as he says - it took away the fear, and he knew what he was geting himself in for. Now he's keeping a blog on the restoration. Just have a look at how quickly they are getting on top of it. I hope Andy doesnt mind me quoting a bit of his blog:
Pete turned up in a well abused Discovery with his bonkers companion Soot the Collie, and set about in a manner akin to a man assessing the temperature of a swimming pool before jumping in wandering around all sides of the property to get a feel for how it sat in its location, and what its purpose in the world was.
Over the following 6 hours, Pete paid more attention to the details of the house, it's original Victorian construction, adaptations, and butchering with modern materials than anyone I've ever seen do any job before. No wall was left un-tapped. No carpet left un-lifted. No rafter left un-checked. And no patch of condensation left without tracing its cause. We went in to the drains, the loft, the cupboards and the chimneys. And at every point Pete took his time to explain WHY each problem was occurring and how it should be remedied. This was so much more than the stark white-paper survey that some modern firms would produce. This was a lesson from a man who knows old properties inside-out, and how modern materials can damage the structure in a fundamental way. In my opinion it was worth every penny of the £600 bill.
And those telephone consultations we do:
“Just had the one hour telephone consultation with Pete and it’s probably the best £75 I’ve ever spent. Pete’s advice and information was clear, matter-of-fact and totally impartial . I now feel confident in moving forward with the sympathetic restoration of my Listed 18th century cottage, armed with a treasure trove of ideas and specifications for materials which will banish the damp for good! It’s probably saved me a fortune too, as I won’t now get ripped off by injection dpc salesmen/dodgy builders with no idea about heritage buildings. Many thanks, Louise.”
And this, which appeared in my inbox just before Christmas, and which made mine ! :
I have just read your web pages and they are truly fantastic. I have been telling people for years not to use modern building materials when repairing older houses. Your website is so informative, you should receive an award for it. It has given me greater confidence to use lime plaster, mortar and paints to renovate my house.
Thanks once again for your wonderful site.
Yours, Robert Harrison
We've been on BBC Restoration Home ....
Restoration Home - and a little timber frame in Abbey Lane, Southam...