Our damp surveyor was out in Finchingfield last month at a quaint rural village near Great Bardfield, lying in North Essex. He was surveying (on first glance) a delightful 300 year-old cottage. Picture postcard stuff is Finchingfield, so imagine his sadness to walk into the living room of this lovely thatch cottage and note the odour of damp and worse still a noteable mushroomy odour.
Further inspections yielded the cause. Dry rot mycelium was found to be creeping out from the timber floor and onto the fireplace brickwork. No operable fireplace, and an exposed outside chimneystack was found to be contributing to the spread of dry rot (Serpula lacrymans) mycelium. A survey of the moisture content of the air yielded a high relative humidity of 70%RH and an inspection of the secondary glazed windows, with windowsills covered in ornaments confirmed that ventilation was not a priority for this couple! This humid condition was the reason for the dry rot mycelium having a fluffy cotton wool like appearance. The odour detectable, was also a giveaway that dry rot with it’s distinctive musty-mouldy odour was present in the sub-floor. This was particularly of concern given the timber frame of the property and dry rot’s uncanny ability to travel through non-organic building materials.
Outside our surveyor noted, that the original lime render had at some time been replaced with a cement based render, with a conservatory downpipe discharging onto an impermeable concrete slab, adjacent to the soleplate at the living room end of the house. So as usual, we gave verbal advice, generated a report detailing our findings and recommending the remedial measures necessary, with consideration given to ensuring remedial treatments wouldn’t detract from the age, style or build materials of the property.
Over Easter our surveyor sat in a pub, enjoying some Easter lamb and a pint of Maldon Gold watching a fire burn in the hearth and was reflecting on the cottage. We’re well used to seeing damp in properties that have solid wall construction, typically pre-1930’s and have been modernised. Aside from the usual penetrating and rising damp defects. Condensation in these homes is often prevalent. There’s a whole host of factors, such as solid walls not having the thermal qualities of cavity wall, double-glazing hermetically sealing windows, where once timber sash or crittal glazing would have enabled air floor and impervious cement renders blocking the buildings ability to breathe. But there’s also one other obvious change. Fire! ‘Obvious when you think about it’, our clients often say, as our damp surveyor, Stuart talks through his findings. Well obvious or not, we still highlight it. When these houses were constructed there was no electric storage heaters or gas/oil fired wet central heating systems. There also wasn’t any microwaves, 5 burner gas hobs or range ovens! Therefore Fire was crucial, to heat and cook upon, with fires being lit twice daily. With the fires lit, convection would draw moist air out of the property up the chimney and out of the home, with fresh air drawn in through window and door apertures. Consequently, whilst mod cons have made houses more efficient to heat and certainly sped up food cooking times! They’ve also increased problems with condensation