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Free surveys? Somebody always pays

There are a number of specialist companies out there who still offer a "free survey". Everyone understands why - they'll do the survey for free in the hope of ultimately getting a lucrative remedial work job. Whilst, in principle, this can be a legitimate practice and can save a customer the initial outlay - there is an obvious downside which I've ranted about at length before but have summarised here.

In simple terms - "you get nothing for nothing". For example - How likely is it that someone who has travelled to your property to investigate dampness is going to tell you that you have a minor condensation problem that can be dealt with by initiating a few practical steps instead of expensive, disruptive and unnecessary damp-proofing works?

Also consider that not every "free survey" does result in a contract, therefore, who pays for all the unsuccessful surveys? The person who does decide to accept remedial works not only has to cover the cost of  their initial survey (quite rightly) but also a proportion of all the other free surveys that contractor has carried out.

I recently undertook a survey at a property which highlighted another more remote, but no less costly, downside of relying on a free survey. The new purchaser's asked me to inspect their property for dampness as a Category 2 repair had been intimated on the Home Report and further advice was recommended. Whilst I did obtain some high moisture meter readings, these were a consequence of the property being unoccupied and unheated and not any underlying rising damp issue. The Estate Agent (on behalf of the vendor) had instructed a free survey from a contractor who had prepared a one page report identifying "possible" rising damp to the "solid walls" and an estimate in the region of £5000 for damp-proofing works. With this information presented to them the purchaser made an offer of £5000 below Home Report value which was accepted. Now the obvious winner here is the purchaser but even they felt a bid bad for the vendor! The advice of the Estate Agent (who probably told the vendor they were saving them money by not having to pay a survey fee) has led to them accepting much less for their property than it was worth. As I said "somebody always pays!"

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Fool-proof damp or damp-proof fool?


What are these idiots up to? The not uncommon site of a chemical damp-proof course having been injected on the outside of a sandstone wall.

These are some recent photographs where we have been called out to investigate why the damp-proofing by a "specialist " contractor has not worked. I won't go into detail as to why these measures were unlikely to work against rising damp anyway but, in most cases, rising damp was not even the issue!

These are attempts to deal with condensation, bridging debris behind wall linings and even salt contamination to a chimney breast (I'm not joking).
Even where rising damp may have been a contributory factor it would have been necessary to strip walls internally to provide a comprehensive specification - then the chemical damp-proof course could have been injected from the inside face and there would be no unsightly scarring of stonework externally. In addition, pointing holes with cement is likely to cause a reaction with the sandstone and cause further problems which could lead to penetrating dampness. Never mind that the "cure" does not even fix the original problem - it can, in fact, make things worse.

It would be being kind to say that these contractors don't know what they are doing but some of them are just rip-off merchants and betraying the trust of the customer who is relying on their "expertise" and advice. It's always nice for the customer to hear that their damp problems can be remedied without causing any internal disruption, however, this is rarely the case and the result is usually an expensive and pointless row of "bullet-holes" on the façade of their building.

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Helping you with the right advice

Of all the surveys we attend to investigate potential damp and timber issues around 30% of all reports we subsequently issue do not recommend specialist remedial works as being necessary? Our service is to provide our customers with the right advice - not the advice that makes money for contractors who often specify unnecessary specialist works.

Quite often concerns are raised, not only by homeowners and tenants but by property professionals including surveyors and architects over damp and timber defects. After further inspection by ourselves, these concerns can often be alleviated or even removed by offering practical advice or recommending less costly repairs by the right tradesmen for the job. Examples of this include condensation being misdiagnosed as rising damp; woodworm being a species (such as bark borer) which do not require chemical treatment; leaks below floor soaking base of walls; choked rainwater goods, roofing maintenance, etc.

As our surveyors are fully qualified and experienced in our field of expertise, you can be confident that you're getting the right advice and not advice that will serve to generate revenue. In addition to unscrupulous contractors (who prey on the "distressed purchase" scenario and the layperson relying on their "expert" knowledge) there are just those who don't know any better!

Although we have no vested interest in finding issues within properties (in order to generate revenue by undertaking further works), we do have a duty of care to identify issues and specify the most appropriate specialist works where necessary. That why when you choose to obtain our advice you'll receive the right advice!

Should you have any concerns or queries on an issue you may have please do not hesitate to contact us - we can often give advice on certain issues over the phone and will only recommend a survey if we feel it is necessary or point you in the right direction to someone better placed to help.

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“I need a damp proof course!”

Owner occupiers, landlords and commercial property owners often contact us as they have been advised that they need a damp proof course installed to their buildings. The problem of rising damp is not as common as we are led to believe and quite often unnecessary damp proofing works are undertaken which do not address the issue at hand.


We recently carried out a survey the where the owner had been quoted in excess of £3,000 for a damp proof course following a “free” survey by a specialist damp-proofing contractor.


Black-spot mould, symptomatic of condensation, was noted around the window and to external walls in the Bedroom. Condensation was streaming off the window pane of the ancient double glazed window.


We provided the owner and tenant with practical advice in alleviating condensation issues (particularly moving the bed away from the external wall).


In addition to practical measures we recommend that the window is replaced with a more efficient unit incorporating ventilation and that the existing fan in the adjacent en-suite is replaced with a more efficient humidistat controlled fan.


We also advised that should problems persist, it would be prudent for them to consider the installation of mechanical condensation control i.e. positive input ventilation and that we could assist further with regard to a suitable installation should they opt for this.


Moisture ingress was also occurring around the front door due to gaps in seal around door frame and we recommended that a reasonable drying out period be allowed after this had been rectified before assessing the extent of any minor remedial plasterwork.


It was also noted that the gutter along the front elevation is choked and allowing moisture to spill down the front of the building. This should be rectified without delay to guard against issues of potential moisture ingress and subsequent risk of decay.


None of these items were commented upon by the specialist damp-proofing contractor.


Oh, and …. visual and instrumental inspection did not provide any indication of the presence of rising damp (see photos showing damp readings and mould to surface of the wall only but relatively dry substrate behind).


We, therefore, made no recommendations for a specialist damp proof course!

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Latest Results – Customer Service

We consistently monitor our service to customers and outsource feedback via our marketing partners Listen Up. This has helped us improve our systems and procedures to better meet the demands of our customers and tailor our service to their expectations. This is borne out by the high level of customer satisfaction measured against all aspects of our service including communication, value for money, helpfulness, etc. In addition to measurable results we are also delighted with the positive comments, thanks and testimonials that we receive.

More details on the scope of our survey, results and some customer comments can be found here.

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Dry rot – what advice is appropriate for you?

We offer our customers the most appropriate dry rot advice - and sometimes that advice leads the customer to "walk away".

Below are two recent scenarios where our advice was sought on what the customer was told were minor dampness issues. In both cases we were contacted by prospective purchasers who had made offers for properties which had been accepted and their mortgage lenders had requested further clarification on the extent of possible specialist remedial works.

The first picture shows a sporophore or fruiting body (effectively a mushroom) of dry rot fungus growing on the carpet at the bay window of a first floor tenement flat. This had not been apparent when the customer viewed the property.



Although this looks fairly innocuous, by the time this sporophore appears, extensive damage will have occurred to the concealed structure and fabric of the building. Whilst guaranteed repair is possible, and a specification for such was prepared, extensive exposure to both this property and the commercial premises below and significant structural beam and floor joist repairs would be necessary. The significant upheaval, the prospect of trying to negotiate a discount from the purchase price to cover the share of the cost and the hassle of having to deal with the landlord of the property below, coupled with a likely retention being held by the lender for the full cost of the works, was too much for our customer to bear.

In this case the customer, a first time buyer, decided to withdraw their offer and look for something else.


The second picture is again a tenement flat, this time at ground floor, where the prospective purchaser's lender had  asked them to arrange for a report on possible rising damp to lower walls. The customer was a property developer and was not phased by the prospect of having to undertake damp-proofing works and had factored this into his budget. What he hadn't noticed was the dry rot sporophore to the ceiling of the back bedroom.

Dry rot is the most serious wood destroying fungi. It is malignant and will spread even through thick masonry in search of timber to attack. The extent of the outbreak must be fully eradicated and the building fabric sterilised to prevent re-infestation occurring. Although the only visible evidence of an issue was the sporophore, due to the location not only is it  more than likely that problems will extend upwards to affect the flat above it is also likely to be affecting the adjacent ground floor property on the other side of the party wall and the flat above that as well!


In this case we advised the developer that unless permission was granted and access could be gained to undertake exposure to each individual property. then even the assessment of the problem could not be considered accurate and subject to change should remedial works be commenced. The prospect of dealing with the several owners and factor lead the developer to make the decision to withdraw their offer and move on.


There are unscroupulous contractors out there who may play down the extent of a problem such as these and underspecify remedial works in order to secure a job and only once work has started on site would make you aware of the additional work and costs involved. There are also others, whilst not being underhand, will not appreciate the nature of dry rot and their lack of knowledge and experience may also mean they initially underspecify works.

We are surveyors and charge a fee for our service and are not contractors who derive their income from undertaking remedial works.

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Rot survey provides view from the top


Earlier this week we carried out a rot survey to the roof voids of the former Kilmarnock Academy. Out on top of the parapet tower we had a great view of the new college on the old Johnnie Walkers' site (top right), railway station (just in front), green dome of the old Royal Bank and on the far left (second dormer from the right) our office - you can just about make out Sharon waving!

This disruptive rot survey was requested by the architect prior to work stating on this refurbishment project in order to establish any concealed defects to the roof structure which could have a financial and programme impact on the overall scheme.

Over the years water ingress had occurred from the roof and evidence of this was noted to several areas, particularly at valley gutters of this quite complex roof structure. As these areas are generally concealed by coombed ceilings it was necessary to undertake exposure to lath and plaster in order to establish the condition of structural roof timbers to these areas. Perhaps surprisingly, this revealed these areas to be reasonably sound. Using our judgement and experience, however, we also opened up further areas where we suspected decay may have occurred (taking into account factors such as building design, method of construction and some other indicators of potential concealed decay e.g. heavy water staining, vegetation/ algae growth externally). This did, in fact, reveal substantial dry rot and wet rot to various areas which, if left untreated, could cause serious structural damage and although remedial work will have to be programmed in to the larger refurbishment scheme, this would be much more expensive and disruptive if not discovered until after refurbishment was complete.

We have been able to prepare a detailed specification with the most appropriate solution for rot eradication. We have also provided a competitive cost for this work to be undertaken by one of our Approved Specialist Contractors to ensure remedial work is carried out in strict accordance with our specification and covered with a long-term guarantee protecting this landmark building for the future.

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Holey moley! The effects of woodworm

Woodworm is the generic term for a number of species of wood-boring insects. The insects lay their eggs on timber and their larvae bore through the wood thus damaging and weakening the structure. The larvae then pupate before emerging as adult beetles and flying off to lay eggs on fresh timber.

It is the emerging adult which leaves the tell-tale flight holes and bore-dust (often the first signs of infestation). The most common wood-boring insect infesting structural timbers in buildings in this country is the Common Furniture Beetle (Anobium punctatum).

Early identification of woodworm infestation often means that a surface treatment with water-based insecticide will kill-off any active infestation and have the residual effect of preventing any re-infestation. Any heavily infested and unsound timber may have to be replaced using structural repair methods.

There are also instances where chemical treatment is not necessary such as where infestation is by bark borer (Ernobius mollis) as this insect only feeds upon bark and outer sap rings and infestation dies out when bark is removed. Correct identification can, therefore, save property owners hundreds if not thousands of pounds in unnecessary treatments.


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Dry rot – what are the tell tale signs?


Dry rot can cause extensive damage to the structure and fabric of a building and correct diagnosis and treatments are essential to ensure eradication.

The True Dry Rot fungus (Serpula lacrymans) is malignant and will even spread through masonry to find timber to attack. The term itself is a misnomer, however, it stems from the fungus  requiring a relatively low moisture content in timber to survive. Strands develop to form mycelial growth and fruiting bodies give off millions of spores of red dust (often the first sign of a concealed dry rot outbreak). The fungus itself will thrive in concealed areas and will usually start to appear on exposed surfaces when it has already caused extensive damage behind. Prior to mycelium (fern-like growths) and fruiting bodies (mushroom-like growths) appearing, more subtle signs such as warping of timber surfaces can be detected or, indeed, evidence of the damage already caused to structures such as cracking to walls and ceilings or excessive movement to floors.


Dry rot eradication involves removal and replacement of infected timber and sterilisation of surrounding structure with with biocide (as the fungus can lie dormant in masonry and attack fresh timber). remedial work can require significant disruption and exposure  and often incurs significant expense. This can be reduced by identifying the problem early, however, serious damage is still likely to have occurred. Where appropriate, the use of timber engineering epoxy resin repairs can limit disturbance and reduce costs. This method of repair is particularly beneficial where decayed bearing-ends of large section beams can be renewed insitu (the alternative being complete replacement of the entire beam).

It is essential that defects allowing the original source of moisture are addressed and the building is then maintained to guard against future moisture ingress.

Our surveyors are experts in dry rot diagnosis and our  reports will specify in detail the correct eradication measures to provide the most cost-effective solutions.





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Would you trust this man to carry out your rising damp survey?

Rising damp is not as common as you may imagine and is frequently misdiagnosed for other problems (usually condensation or rainwater ingress). Unnecessary remedial works are often carried out by inexperienced/ unscrupulous contractors (characters not unlike Mr Rigsby below!)
Rising damp is a particular phenomenon where surface tension in the pores of masonry allows moisture to rise by capillary action (imagine dipping the bottom half of a sponge in water and watching the water soak up in to the top half). Rising damp rarely rises to a level above 1m due to the effects of evaporation and gravity. Rising damp can also put timber floor joists and wallplate at greater risk of attack by fungal decay and this will also be considered by the surveyor when assessing the property.
The most effective and economic solution to the problem of  is the installation of a silicone based chemical damp proof course by either low pressure injection or silane diffusion via holes drilled into the masonry structure.
Rising damp also carries hygroscopic salts from the ground and these have the ability to absorb atmospheric moisture, meaning, even if the  issue itself is addressed by installation of a remedial damp-proof course, residual problems can still occur (such as crumbling plaster, staining to decoration, peeling wallpaper and possibly an unsightly "tide mark". Where these salts contaminate plaster the plaster must be removed and re-instated with either a salt retardant base coat or lathed membrane prior to the finishing coat being applied in order to provide a completely dry rising damp solution. This part of the solution is also frequently excluded by some contractors in order to successfully bid for a job, however, it is even more costly and disruptive to undertake after the event.
Our expert surveyors will undertake a damp survey and prepare an appropriate specification for rising damp treatment in their damp report.


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“Is time of the essence? Do you require an urgent timber and damp survey?”

Are you facing a closing date deadline for the house of your dreams? Don’t be rushed in to making a hasty decision or walking away from a house with potential damp or timber decay issues
Rowallan Specialist Surveys will undertake a prompt, efficient and professional timber and damp survey by a fully qualified CSRT surveyor to determine the nature, extent and cause of any problems picked up in the Home Report. This can often be the same or next day should urgency be a factor.

Upon instruction a damp survey, dry rot survey, damp survey or a combination of all will be carried out with direction taken from the Home Report section “Dampness, Rot and Infestation”. Quite often our report can allow the Home Report surveyor to downgrade suspect areas from a “dreaded” Category 3 repair or if remedial work is required you will have the confidence of knowing how extensive/ expensive remedial works are likely to be.

A detailed written timber and damp survey report will be prepared stating all observations and recommendations together with a specification for any remedial works required and a cost assessment for any specialist treatment which may be required. This allows customers to make informed decisions and factor costs into their budget.

Purchasing a property can be a fantastic investment, and even an asset, if you look after it properly. Our expert advice will help you protect and maximise your returns from it. When one of our fully qualified surveyors conducts a thorough inspection you can trust that the professional report we provide you with will detail the most appropriate advice and cost effective solutions to maintain or enhance your property's value.

Many people tend to view our services as an unnecessary cost and seek unqualified, often “free” advice from contractor who can often underestimate or overestimate the amount of remedial work necessary.

We are experts in damp-proofing, rot eradication and woodworm infestation control so you can be sure that you are getting the right advice prior to purchase.

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Steamy Windows – not the only effect of condensation


Condensation is largely the consequence of today’s improved standards of insulation and draught proofing, particularly when older properties have been upgraded. Lack of adequate ventilation allied to modern occupancy lifestyles in terms of cooking, washing and bathing can lead to a build-up of excessive humidity and moisture.

This leads to condensation forming on cooler surfaces, particularly in areas with little air circulation. The result can be peeling decorations, unhealthy living conditions, unsightly mould growth and damage to fabrics and clothing.

The ability of air to hold water vapour increases with temperature. Condensation arises when the air is fully saturated and 100% relative humidity (dew point) is reached. Then any air in contact with colder surfaces will cool and release moisture in the form of water droplets.

Air with a high moisture content will have a high vapour pressure. Water vapour does not always condense in the room of it’s source and as a gas will move through the property seeking pressure equalisation with the colder air outside.

Building materials vary in their heat conduction capabilities and so their capacity to stop surface condensation forming.

Various general measures can be adopted to help alleviate the problem of condensation, including:

 Reduce sources of excess moisture (eg. drying clothes indoors, keeping lids on saucepans, venting tumble driers, etc).
 Improve ventilation and air circulation (eg. open windows, utilise kitchen and bathroom extractor fans, keep furniture and clothing clear of external walls, etc).
 Improve heating and maintain constant levels.
 Improve levels of insulation and, therefore, increase surface temperatures.

Should condensation problems persist, it may be necessary to consider the installation of a mechanical condensation control - ranging from extract ventilation to bathrooms to full house positive input ventilation systems. Our surveyors can advise on the most appropriate solutions which vary from property to property.

Condensation is often misdiagnosed as rising damp or water penetration by inexperienced/ unscrupulous contractors and extensive unnecessary remedial works recommended.


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timber decay

It’s a rotten job, but someone’s got to do it! What if remedial work is required?

At Rowallan Specialist Surveys our service is to provide the customer with the most appropriate advice in relation to problems of dampness and timber decay. We provide an honest assessment of any property we inspect and specialist remedial work is not always required.Read more

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Filed under D for Dry Rot. Carrying out dry rot eradication.

Up in Aberdeen today at pre-start meeting for Insula Preserve one of our Approved Specialist Contractors who are undertaking dry rot eradication works.Read more

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