PCA and UCL IEDE partnership to investigate dampness in buildings

The Property Care Association (PCA) and one of the UK’s most prestigious universities are joining forces to carry out a comprehensive study into the problem of excess moisture in the built environment.

Dampness and condensation in homes can have a major effect on the structure of properties and the comfort and well-being of inhabitants.

Now, in a bid to tackle the issue, the PCA and UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (UCL IEDE) have formed a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).

Researchers from the UCL IEDE will tap into the expertise of the PCA and its members across the UK to collect, analyse and develop data.

The research will take into account the many variables which can have an impact on a building’s performance, such as the lifestyle of its occupants, the structure’s condition and climate.

With this information on board, the UCL IEDE team – led by building scientist Dr Hector Altamirano – will then work with the PCA to develop a diagnostic tool which will underpin the strategy for the remediation works.

The KTP has been awarded a substantial grant from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, to carry out the programme. The PCA will also be adding funding towards supporting delivery of the programme.

Steve Hodgson, Chief Executive of the PCA, said: “Inappropriate moisture levels in buildings are considered to be the cause of the majority of all building failures.

“Evidence from multiple sources seems to indicate that such failures and problems may be changing and increasing.

“However, there are many complexities and interactions, as well as much uncertainty in regard to the extent of the problem, its effects and causes.

“There is therefore an urgent need for the development of robust assessment protocols and a diagnostic tool to address the problem.”

According to Mr Hodgson, the partnership will have a significant impact on both new build and retrofit markets, as it will be able to be shown how certain common practices cause moisture problems and then set out a framework to tackle the problem.

He added: “There are considerable societal and environmental benefits which will come from this project.

“The issue currently affects both the health of householders and buildings’ durability, appearance and value.

“The setting of benchmarks for acceptable levels of moisture can be used to drive regulation and compliance across the industry; and the longer term understanding of moisture in buildings will have wider effects on policy, guidance and practice in all built environment areas.”

As the lead academic at UCL IEDE for the project, Dr Hector Altamirano brings a wealth of experience.

As well as being a building scientist with a broad research interest in energy, the indoor environment and the operational performance of buildings, Hector is a trained architect with an MA in Energy, Environment and Sustainable Design, and a PhD in Building Science.

Under the project, UCL IEDE will also employ an Associate as a researcher, with a PhD in Building Science and a first degree in Architecture, Engineering or Physics.

The Associate will have a base at UCL and the PCA offices in Huntingdon and will also accompany PCA members in the field as part of collecting data and deepening understanding of the context in which the data is collected.

Dr Altamirano said: “Research in the built environment domain is dominated by modelling and is often not sufficiently centred on real life case studies.

“The partnership with PCA will deliver a totally unique opportunity for UCL IEDE to partner with a professional organisation which can collect real world data from hundreds of occupied homes. PCA members can not only gather the data but have the ability to contextualise this information.

“The PCA understands the basic principles of moisture-related problems in buildings and the methods for addressing them.

“However moisture-related building problems are highly complex and can involve multiple interactions between building elements, services, occupant behaviour, building condition, climate, and a number of other factors over long periods.

“This complexity and the uncertainty surrounding it, is well understood but as yet there are no standardised or industry methods for dealing with it.”

About Innovate UK & the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP)

About the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (UCL IEDE)

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