Earlier this year, I purchased a house not far from where I currently rent. The mortgage is within a spitting distance of the rent I was paying (and less than the rent I would pay if I was a new renter to my apartment), the property is what you might refer to as charming, and it’s bigger than the apartment.
A pre-purchase survey didn’t turn up any “run away” flags, but I still offered lower than was being asked, since the asking price was pushing my budget. The offer was accepted, and it turns out to be a good thing that I paid less than asking price. What has started out as a simple “it would be nice to re-commission the fireplace” is turning in to a “strip back the walls in the living room”, “there might be asbestos in the flue”, “the gas pipe for the boiler is too small”, and more.
Amazingly, I’ve managed to retain a builder who wasn’t booked out until the end of the year, and so far has been competent and whose suggestions about investigation and solving issues have been good (though it’s very early days in the project).
What is disappointing is that the physical survey of the property didn’t really bring these issues up, though I’m not certain that some of them could have been found by a normal survey anyway. It was only when I had taken possession of the property that I noticed the mould upstairs (which looks to be condensation mould, relatively easy to fix), and called in a pair of damp specialists for cross-checked opinions (despite the pre-purchase survey generally stating that the property was dry).
The first one, from a Ringsend firm, only did a (free) visual inspection of the property, and recommended positive input ventilation to cure the condensation issue.
The second one, from a County Wexford firm, did a (300 EUR) protimiter inspection of the property – both probe-less and probes into the wall. This investigation showed significant damp in the party wall of the property, and the resulting report recommended an electro-osmosis system be installed to act as an electronic damp barrier that would force the water back down into the ground below the house, as well as tanking the walls up to 1.2 metres with a waterproof tanking product like Hey’di K11. The phrase “rising damp” is prevalent in the report.
It also concluded that the PIV option was something to be sorted out, along with better extraction fans in the bathrooms.
Cue a lot of searching on the ‘net, and the discovery that there’s a lot of marketing material for E-O systems, and a company called Heritage House Consulting that thinks it’s a waste of time and money in virtually all cases.
Granite and cement
What Heritage House and others state, is that older rubble walls are put together with lime mortar, and were used to build houses that breathe. The lime mortar and lime render that were traditionally used would absorb moisture when it rains, and then “exhale” it back out when the relative humidity dropped again. The windows and doors in older properties also didn’t seal anywhere near as well as modern uPVC frames do, and the paints used didn’t seal the wood surfaces completely.
Add in, in this climate, the heavy use of a fireplace to keep the property warm, and mould wasn’t really an issue, nor was “rising damp”. Ventilation fixes a lot of things.
Apparently, coating a granite wall in cement is pretty bad for the wall construction, because the moisture gets trapped behind a material that doesn’t permit the passage of the moisture (as a gas).
The other thing that Heritage House point out is that quite frequently there are underlying causes that have nothing to do with “rising damp”; a leaking pipe, the soil around the property being higher than the floors, a hole in the roof, and so on. With a builder retained, it’s time to see what needs fixing.