We understand damp, don't we?

The basic principles of building physics as they relate to moisture are pretty well understood. The action of water in the air, ground and building materials have been studied and documented for centuries. The trouble is, applying theory and scientific truths to the infinite range of building styles, materials and styles of occupation, brings complication, misunderstanding and endless opportunities for the reinterpretation.

This lack of clarity and the absence of a unified single approach to the investigation, interpretation and control of moisture issues is compounded by the lack of precision afforded by the equipment used to measure moisture, differences of philosophy, the needs of clients, time and money.

High levels of skill, knowledge and experience are key

Add to this the fact that moisture control and the science that relates to it is not always simple to grasp. To become an expert in the discipline requires a very high level of skill, knowledge and experience. And while there are many experts in practice there are a great many more who through misplaced confidence, bravado and ignorance believe they are, but aren’t.

Many of those with the finest university education can fall into the trap of believing themselves experts by virtue of a generalist qualification, while having little depth of specialist understanding or site experience, and so berate those who appear less well schooled but are yet far more knowledgeable.

What is clear to me is that something quite important and unstoppable is happening away from the noise of the professional chest puffing and tub-thumping – all too familiar in the world of building preservation, renovation, repair and conservation. The pompous, divisive and prejudiced arguments about who knows best, and who can be trusted to care for the building and its owners is becoming irrelevant. Those who wish to continue the pointless provocations will perhaps soon be as irrelevant and pointless as the argument itself.

Is a technological revolution on its way?

The first evidence of this revolution can be seen in the way we think about moisture held in the air of our buildings. Condensation and mould blights millions of homes. Arguments and inaction over the cause and most appropriate remedy for common forms of damp, are commonplace. The result is people continuing to live miserably and money wasted on pointless or misinformed remedies.

A technological revolution is coming and it will sweep away much of the crud that stands in its way. Processes developed by the PCA in collaboration with University College London (UCL) are today evaluating occupied buildings, identifying moisture imbalance and writing reports free from human input and interpretation. This autonomous evaluation goes further, specifying the correct rectifications.

Partners who are members of the PCA have developed methods of evaluating buildings before they are bought, occupied or let. This innovation allows landlords and property purchasers to understand the ability of a building to manage atmospheric moisture before a sale is completed or a tenancy commences. Most recently we have been speaking with the inventor of an automated process that calculates the appropriateness of ventilation and the quality of the air within the building, before calculating and informing the user of any necessary improvements.

A world of possibility is on the horizon

The thing that that is different about these technologies is that that they measure rather than model, they take complex science and make it accessible and in doing so they remove conjecture. The fact is they work and are far more reliable than people with varying levels of skill armed with metres.

If then the process of evaluating, interpreting and correcting harmful moisture imbalance is automated then this opens up a world of possibility. Arguments over readings on a moisture meter, or the “safe” level of atmospheric moisture can be rapidly dispensed with and the world of atmospheric moisture evaluation becomes a commodity that is reliable, accurate and affordable.

What comes next? Perhaps the next generation of smart home monitoring will be delivered in a box from Amazon. Environmental control systems that constantly monitor moisture and other airborne pollutants can potentially be as easy to monitor and regulate as temperature.

Legislation exists for gas, fire and electrical safety, why not for damp?

The use of remote quantitative monitoring of moisture in masonry and wood has been possible for years, but it is expensive. What are the obstacles to mass production and the adoption of these technologies, to allow the permanent monitoring of structures, to become a matter of routine.

The first step however must be to use the new and emerging technologies to protect people and create healthy, safe living conditions. For me a wider question comes to mind – can we, or should we, be insisting that landlords and vendors supply purchasers and tenants with moisture safety certificates? Legislation exists for gas, fire and electrical safety, so why not damp?

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