This week I attended a property in London where the client was suffering from quite significant decorative spoiling, caused by rising damp above the skirting boards in the rear extension. She had only recently purchased the property and given that the rear extension was only around three years old, and works were signed off by her local building control department, understandably, she was a little worried by this.
The extension was of cavity walled construction, with a lightweight concrete block inner and outer leaf of masonry, and an 80mm cavity, fully filled with Rockwool batts. One initial observation showed that the sidewall of the extension was unfinished concrete blockwork, where even the mortar joints had not been pointed up. External ground levels were also significantly too high.
Moisture readings to the hard plaster system were only slightly elevated, but high enough to warrant further testing for moisture at depth using calcium carbide.
We carried out testing for moisture at depth using calcium carbide and found a very high reading of over 20% total moisture content at wall base, and 12% at the next highest level. A rising damp moisture profile, showing that moisture is being sourced from the ground. Of course, you have to contextualise these readings in light of the material being tested, and these highly porous concrete blocks will soak up moisture very quickly. Had these been brick walls, then moisture readings would have been significantly reduced.
How could rising damp affect relatively new construction?
Since we know that ‘Part C’ (Resistance to Moisture) of the building regulations requires the damp proof membrane (DPM) in the floor to form a continuous barrier with the damp proof course (DPC) in the wall, then clearly, if those guideline had been followed, then the property would not be suffering from rising damp. Invasive work was now required to locate the damp proof course in the wall, to firstly ascertain if a DPC was present, and if so, was it linked to the DPM in the floor, and was it possibly bridged?
We started to remove plaster from the wall base and thankfully, located the DPC in the wall, which proved to be bridged by the internal plasterwork. This also showed that the floor DPM was not linked to the DPC, a clear breach of building regulation requirements.
Bridged Wall Cavity?
External observations showed high ground levels and with the render extended down to ground floor level, then clearly any DPC present in the outer leaf of masonry had to be bridged.
This issue should not present a significant issue with regards to moisture transferring to the inner leaf of masonry, so long as the wall cavity is clear of debris, since the cavity will form a ‘moisture break.’
However, with the high moisture content recorded to the inner leaf of masonry, we suspected there was a problem with the cavity and opened the cavity up for inspection. As suspected, we found significant amounts of debris, bridging the cavity at wall base. The debris serves to transfer moisture across from the outer leaf of masonry, to the inner leaf of masonry.
Incidentally, the wall cavity was inspected with a borescope, but full fill insulation prevented a proper view of the wall cavity, which is why I decided to open up the cavity at the door reveal base.
Should we call in the damp proofers?
Had the client called in the damp proofers, it is almost certain that they would have diagnosed rising damp, using a hand held electronic moisture meter, recommended that the walls be injected with a retrofit damp proof course, and re-plastered the internal walls with a waterproof tanking plaster or render. The water proof tanking, may have provided a dry wall surface for a while, but would no doubt have failed in the not too distant future, since the underlying problem had not been addressed.
It will be almost impossible to remedy the lack of bond or connection between the DPM in the floor and the DPC in the wall but addressing the issues that can be easily dealt with should remedy this problem. Key actions to address this problem will include:
- Remove the skirting boards and remove all plaster from the internal wall base to fully expose, and un-bridge the physical damp proof course.
- Opening up the wall cavity to remove all debris, which is transferring moisture from the outer leaf of masonry to the inner leaf of masonry.
- Ideally, reduce external finished floor levels, so that they are a minimum of 150mm below internal finished floor levels.
- Remove external render from the wall base, ensuring that the render is a minimum of 150mm clear of external finished floor levels.
None of this is specialist work, and can be carried out by any reasonably competent builder., as is often the case when it comes to remediation work for damp.