First International Conference on Moisture in Buildings (ICMB21)

We reported last week that the first International Conference on Moisture in Buildings, arranged by the UK Centre for Moisture in Buildings and University College London took place on 28th and 29th June.

We were pleased to be able to attend the conference and delighted to have been accepted as a speaker.

An international community of experts

The conference attracted something in the region of 150 delegates and speakers with a truly international composition. Hector Altamirano told me that UKCMB were confident that an international community of experts in dampness existed. Their aim was to create a place where this community could come together. I think they were pretty successful.

A significant amount of work that was featured at the conference centred on the creation of computer models that could predict moisture risk and help designers make buildings that are free from moisture problems. The changing climate, energy efficiency and air quality were recurring themes, as were the implications and performance of coatings, claddings and finishes.

Computer simulations are unlikely to be totally reliable

The modelling experiments are extremely clever and many have great value but I struggle a bit when listening to the assertions of very bright people who live behind a keyboard. Many of the presenters work predominantly on simulations and panels of billings constructed in the lab. COVID has robbed them of any possibility of ‘site time’. In my experience people don’t act predictably, buildings are never perfect and things break.

Call me a luddite, but computer simulations though useful, can never account for every eventuality and are unlikely to be totally reliable.

It was nice to hear lectures from Belgian and Denmark talk about rising damp and how they tackle the problem successfully in historic buildings by injecting a DPC. I heard one lecturer describe how they had essentially rediscovered moisture profiling, and learnt how a Portuguese lab has been working on the concept of understanding how wood gets wet when it’s built into damp walls. Go figure!

We had a couple of PCA member companies in the audience, and a paper from Safeguard Europe Ltd, UK industry and our academics had representation.

Dispelling some mould myths

Professor David Hawksworth of Kew Gardens gave an interesting lecture on moulds. He very simply and without fuss dispelled some of the mould myths that we have heard repeated so often. It was also great to hear two presentations from Historic England staff. One repeating their work which found after extensive study, that moisture meters work and even conductivity meters are pretty useful. Another speaker again confirming that significant vapour transfer through solid walls is just not a thing.

On Tuesday we heard three early morning lectures from universities in Australia. Each of them grappling with condensation problems that are becoming common in many homes in the country. We were quite shocked to hear that designing out condensation problems has only been part of their building codes since 2019. We also heard that a survey recently indicated that up to 40% of new build properties develop a mould problem.

An event we will attend in the future

All in all the event was really good. There was lots of diversity and a good deal of stimulating papers, question and debate. It was also good to be able to catch up with a few good contacts, friends and good humoured adversaries. Well worth the time and we will certainly be there if they run the event again.

We understand that there are plans to make recordings of the presentations available to view. We will let you know if and where this happens.

My take home from the conference: The UK is a world leader when it comes to academic research into dampness in buildings and also leads the world when it comes to fixing it too. Furthermore, members of the PCA lead UK industry – “You do the math”!

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