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Surveying dampness in historic & traditional buildings

Historic & traditionally built buildings can be those that are protected by legislation or are considered to have special significance. Historic buildings can be industrial, commercial or domestic in origin and are not limited by location or construction type. 

The expertise, experience and knowledge needed to fully understand the vernacular construction methods that are often evident in historic buildings lends itself to those professionals with specific local knowledge. The disciplines of thoroughness, care and diligence are needed when investigating historic buildings but are common to all inspections where moisture is being investigated. 

Specialist Surveyor training >>

Joint Statement: RICS, Historic England & the PCA >>

Differences between old, historic & new buildings

Older buildings often incorporate locally sourced materials and often adopt construction techniques and products that are functional yet specific to a region. This is known as vernacular building. When investigating dampness in such properties, special considerations for the  materials used, the construction type as well as the architectural characteristics of the building should be evident. This is especially important if the sources and consequences of dampness are to be properly investigated, understood and reported. 

More modern buildings tend to be constructed using processes and materials that are common to a much bigger geographical area or period in time. Though every building is unique, a common form of construction that utilises mass produced components can be more predictable and so defects and the processes that lead to those defects can be more easily anticipated.

Investigation of Moisture Document >> 

Damp Control in Historical Buildings - Professional Guidance - PCA

Additional considerations when surveying damp in historic buildings

When inspecting buildings that are considered to be of historical significance or are protected by legislation, there are considerations around opening up and performing destructive testing that must be given some thought. 

In some circumstances, simply looking at exposed surfaces is not enough to understand the scope and cause of a damp problem. In such circumstances it may be necessary to seek consent before removing plaster, floors boards, joinery timbers or renders to facilitate a thorough investigation. Permissions granted by a local authority conservation officer  to facilitate “destructive” investigation are usually only necessary when buildings are “listed”.  

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Rectifying dampness in historic buildings 

When formulating proposals for the rectification of defects associated with dampness in any building, the defects and its consequences together with the needs of the building, the occupant and the budgets are always important. 

When considering work to buildings that are listed or protected by legislation, considerations must be made to ensure the cultural, architectural and historical significance of the protected elements of the building are preserved.   

In all situations where buildings are considered to be of historical significance, a balance must be  struck between that protection of a historical asset and the continued use and enjoyment of someone's home or property.  

BS 7913:2013 Guide

BS 7913:2013 Guide to the conservation of historic buildings, attempts to describe and define what should be considered both historic and significant. Though interesting it fails to recognize that many of the most affordable buildings are occupied by people who have limited finances. Citizens that, through housed in old property, retain the right to live in warm, dry homes that benefit from all the advantages of modern living. 

It is worth remembering that every Victorian terraced house (and there are hundreds of thousands of them) can be described as having historical “significance”. But every last one is occupied by real people who deserve to live in a home where they are safe and warm. Not every  building that is described as having historical or architectural significance, looks like a rose covered, timber framed chocolate box cover from a quaint village in the New Forest! 

The joint approach to damp in historic & traditional buildings

The PCA, in cooperation with the 'Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)' and Historic England have created a joint statement document that sets out the principles and competencies for the investigation of dampness in traditional buildings. This document outlines skills and processes that surveyors and contractors should adopt to deliver best practice when investigating moisture-related issues in traditional buildings. It goes on to list specific items that surveyors and contractors should have knowledge of and consider at each stage of the diagnostic investigation and repair process.

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Getting it wrong in historic/traditional buildings

The consequence of poor or inaccurate damp diagnostics in any building can be costly and damaging. Missing areas of dampness or misdiagnosing the source or severity of moisture in buildings that are protected or where the consequences of water may affect the structural integrity of the building itself, can be disastrous.  

Though some historic buildings are very resilient to normal moisture cycling, buildings that incorporate traditional materials can fail rapidly if exposed to high levels of water for even modest periods of time. Historic buildings can suffer through lack of maintenance, inappropriate interventions or damage. As a result they can deteriorate rapidly if water gets in. 

It is important then that the professionals that inspect and evaluate such buildings recognise this and understand the long and short term implications of maintenance, sympathetic repair and water ingress.  

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Free training - Dampness related CPD videos

Learn more about investigating damp

For those wanting to learn more about investigating dampness, both within common buildings and traditional/historic buildings, you can always take a look at the variety of damp & construction related training courses we have by using the search tool below or by visiting our training & qualification section.  

Alternatively, get in-touch with our training team on 01480 400000 and chat to them about available training options or contact us online using the form.

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