Home: How do you solve a problem like damp and dry rot?


When we last visited the story of our house, we had just uncovered soft, wet, mouldy floorboards in the dining room. Remember?

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I cannot begin to tell you how utterly sick I felt when I saw this. From the day we walked into the house, I felt horribly overwhelmed. I like to be in control of my situation, and I like to feel like I know at least enough to get by about whatever it is I'm doing. What did I know about houses?! Nothing. Especially not when houses go bad. All I could think was 'this is going to cost more money than I'll ever have in my whole life'. We uncovered this problem on a Sunday, there was nothing we could do. Except probably cry a bit. The house has made me cry so often that its barely even worth noting!

In our survey, damp had been detected in various parts of the house. A national timber and damp-proofing company were recommended as the next point of contact. They offered a free survey. Great! I thought. Lets get them in to see what the damage is. We'd found some woodworm upstairs in the second bedroom when the carpets were up. Although Im not much of a woodworm expert, it looked old to me. Some timbers had been replaced in the second bedroom when the fireplace had been taken out, and these newer timbers were absolutely clear of woodworm holes, so I assumed that whatever had been living in the timbers wasn't living there any longer. But still, the company could take a look at that, too.

Out came someone who poked the walls with meters and bit and peered at the squishy green floorboards. At one point it was wet rot, then it was dry rot. More or less the entire ground floor of the house was deemed to be damp and in need of treatment in the walls. The national company (no naming and shaming, but their name is the same as a well known manufacturer of kitchen gadgets, such as a K-Mix...) said they wanted to send in someone else to have a closer look another day. Out came another fella who lifted a couple of the nasty floorboards, had a peer about, then put them back. After a day or two, we received our report. With a quote. For fifteen thousand pounds. My Much Beloved turned a curious shade of grey. I laughed. Because, when faced with a quote for fifteen thousand pounds when you are literally down to pennies in your bank account, what else can you do except laugh?

The quote was, well, it was quite something. It suggested concreting the entire ground floor, damp proofing every single ground floor wall, including all party walls and internal walls, and treating everywhere for woodworm. But, what did we know? Nothing!

We approached another company for another quote, but it was quite conflicting, although cheaper. In the end, after me googling frantically (and finding that quite a lot of people had had similar quote experiences from this major company) and wondering if there was any way we could just stick the laminate flooring back down, do a bit of painting and sell it on very, very fast, we opted for a better solution.

We paid for an independent timber and damp expert to come out to the house and produce a specialist report. It cost around £200, but in the long run, saved us somewhere in the region of £11K, so was worth every single penny! Our damp surveyor, Jason, doesn't work for anyone except himself. So, he told us what was really wrong with the house and what recommended fixes would be. It was then down to us to get quotes, but we could get quotes based on our report. He said he is often instructed to survey a house when a damp company such as the national company that came out refuse to do work under a guarantee, he will come out and prove that a treatment has ben ineffective which will make them come out to fix it for free. It sounded like people asked him to do that a lot.

Jason's report said we had damp problems in a lot of areas of the ground floor, and at the back of the house this was due to two things: 1) our house sits slightly below ground level, as you can see when you stand in the kitchen and look out into the garden 2) the joists in the dining room were sitting on the earth, there was no gap to allow air to circulate and therefore, moisture was soaking straight into them and this had encouraged dry rot. At the front of the house, it was likely due to the bay window being rotten, encouraging penetrating damp, the front door being useless and leaking into the chimney. When I showed him the quote we'd had, he said that what had been proposed was a fix, but it was like using a wrecking ball to hammer a nail into a wall.

Armed with this report, we felt a bit less terrified. A close friend had said that whenever she's needed work doing on her flat, she's used My Builder to get tradesmen. Having used the site to find a plumber to sort our boiler and our bathroom, we put an advert out with the details of our damp report. And, thankfully, we managed to get a great timber and damp-proofing specialist out to fix our problems for less than a third of the cost of the original survey.

If I can teach you anything from this, it would be that there is no such thing as a free survey. Our independent report was woth every penny we paid, and left us confident in what they problems were and what to look for in the treatment of them. We then lucked out with a great contractor to fix the problems for us. Our contractor really helped me get over how bad I thought the issue was. He understood why I was freaking out but promptly told me that it wasn't a patch on some of the places he's been and some of the work he's had to do. he pointed out that our joists looked original and whilst the floor had collapsed in a big heap, the joists hadn't (although they were wet and needed cutting back and replacing). He pointed out that the house had been standing for over a hundred years and hadn't fallen down, so it wasn't likely to now.

Next time, I'll share some more of the damp-proofing process!

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