There is a considerable amount of confusion online about the topic of rising damp. Some say it does exists, others say it's very rare, while some others categorically deny its existence.
If you have been doing research on how to tackle dampness in old buildings, you probably run into Peter Ward from Heritage House dot org, ending up upset, in disbelief or alarmed by some of his statements and conclusions.
Heritage House - A Web of Lies
The information contained on his sites is the personal opinion of ONE man only who depicts a very sinister story of the UK building and conservation industry.
His whole ideology and website is built upon two fundamental statements - both of them lies. These two statements are: (click on the arrows / toggles for more info)
1. Rising damp, as a phenomenon, doesn't exist.
He says: "Rising damp doesn't exist, except in the mind of surveyors trying to sell you injection damp proofing. (...) They are treating something that doesn't exist."
2. Rising damp has been invented in 1962 by the damp proofing industry with the sole purpose to scam and defraud the general public.
He says: "Rising damp has been invented by the chemical industry. In a particular chemical industry boardroom in 1962 actually. (...) I know because I've spoken to a man who was in that meeting."
Let's look at some of the facts about both of these statements.
Statement #1: Rising Damp Doesn't Exist
After an extensive research of the scientific literature, here are some of the many research papers from all over the world, all of them confirming the existence of rising damp, while also highlighting some of the damages it can create in old buildings.
Click on the arrows / toggles below to view more details about each paper.
Old House Journal, USA, 1994
Old-House Journal is a USA magazine devoted to restoring and preserving old houses. Since its establishment in 1973, the magazine has published many articles on rising damp, the 1994 May-June edition being one of the more comprehensive ones, covering its mechanism, its manifestations and most common remedies to overcome it.
The Journal says:
"Rising damp is most common in low-lying, high-watertable coastal regions such as Charleston, South Carolina, Galveston, Texas and New Orleans - the proverbial land of rising damp. (...)
The symptoms caused by rising damp have been recognized for centuries, and its general action has been understood for close to 150 years. (...) In the "Architecture of Country Houses" (1850) A. J. Downing how foundation walls laid with lime mortar absorb moisture from the soil, particularly damp soil."
Research Paper - The Royal Society UK, 2007
Rising damp: capillary rise dynamics in walls, 2007
This UK research paper published by the Royal Society in 2007 not only acknowledges the existence of rising damp, saying that it is an important cause of wetness in buildings...
...but also discusses in detail the various factors influencing rising damp. The paper provides the necessary formulas for the calculation of various rising damp parameters (rising damp height, quantity of water inside the walls etc.) for walls of different thickness.
Research Paper - University of Bologna, Italy, 2006
An operative protocol for reliable measurements of moisture in porous materials of ancient buildings, 2006
This scientific paper published by the University of Bologna, Italy in 2005, states at the very beginning that capillary rising damp (along with other types of moisture) is one of the main problems in old buildings.
The paper discusses the various moisture measurement methods, while also presenting a methodology to relatively easily recreate rising damp under laboratory conditions.
Research Paper - University of Porto, Portugal, 2012
Treatment of rising damp in historical buildings
This paper is part of a series of research papers on rising damp published by a research team at the University of Porto, who have analyzed in detail the mechanics of rising damp, the effect of various wall structures and finishes, and they proposed and analyzed in lab and in-situ a new wall-base ventilation system, as a means to reduce the effects of rising damp.
"Humidity is one of the main causes of decay in buildings, particularly rising damp. (...)
In historical buildings, rising damp is particularly difficult to treat due to the thickness and heterogeneity of the walls.
Traditional methods have proved somewhat ineffective. There is therefore a need to study new systems."
Rising damp has also been reproduced and studied under lab conditions.
Research Paper - University of Bologna, Italy, 2013
Rising moisture, salts and electrokinetic effects in ancient masonries: from laboratory testing to on-site monitoring, 2013
This research paper on rising damp from 2013 studies rising damp and its effects under both laboratory conditions and in real buildings. The paper acknowledges that rising damp is a complex phenomenon influenced by a multitude of factors, which leads to the decay of both ancient and modern building materials.
Results of rising damp recreated in the laboratory after 6 months are also presented.
German Professional Textbook, 2017
Building Dehydration - From Basics to Practical Applications, 2017
This 270-page Austrian technical reference book discusses in great detail every aspect of moisture movement and building Physics.
It describes in detail the development of rising damp through its various phases; one interim phase being interstitial condensation. The book makes a clear distinction between rising damp and condensation, which are two different phenomena.
The stages of dehydration and various mechanisms that contribute to the dehydration of the building fabric are also presented in a logical and structured way.
Research Paper - School of Architecture, China, 2019
Rising damp in two traditional clay-brick masonry walls and influence on heat transfer performance, 2019
This 2019 research paper from China studied the effect of rising damp on the heat loss of the building and they found that "the presence of capillary water has a direct impact on the heat transfer coefficient of the wall." - the damper the walls the more heat loss occurs.
Many more technical papers are listed on our scientific research papers page.
Statement #2: Rising Damp has been invented in 1962 by the damp proofing industry with the purpose to defraud the general public
Spending a few hours digging through Google's old books digitization project, I found some very interesting and relevant historical references dating between 1840 to 1910 which not only consistently mention rising damp, damp proof courses and various period damp treatment methods, but show a clear track of development of period damp proof course technologies.
Click on the arrows / toggles below to learn more.
The Builder (architectural journal), Vol. II - 1844
The Builder was a journal of architecture published between 1843 and 1966. Issues from year 2 (1844) mention dampness rising from the ground due to capillary attraction. As a solution, it recommends the use of slate inside the walls, to prevent the ascent of moisture up the walls.
The Builder's Guide: A Practical Manual (book) - 1851
This professional textbook from 1851 is a practical manual written for architectural students, engineers, contractors and builders.
Dedicating a whole chapter to dampness, including to the prevention of rising damp, stressing the importance of separating the foundations from the rest of the wall with a damp proof course, to stop the upward migration of dampness.
"... to intercept entirely all communication between the foundation below and the walls above, no damp, as far as we have observed, can possibly find its way upward; and however damp the work below the asphalte (DPC) may become, that above will remain perfectly dry and unaffected."
French architects, independently, came to the same conclusion. Even if the footing of a building is always underwater (e.g. in a lake), using less than half an inch thick asphalt DPC keeps the walls completely dry.
Papers of the Royal Institute of British Architects - 1863
This paper read on 12 Jan 1863 at the General Meeting of the RIBA, discusses the sanitary aspects of rising damp in old buildings, and various damp proof course options as a natural remedy to the problem - about 20 years ahead of global UK sanitary reforms,
"The great evils, in a sanitary point of view, are doubtless caused by damp rising up the walls by capillary attraction. (...) Our remedies for this have generally been a layer of asphalte throughout the thickness of the walls, "sheets of lead", a course of slates bedded in cement, and sometimes compounds of gas-tar, pitch, sand etc."
A new damp proof course is also presented to the attending architects - a layer of perforated bricks, laid as a row of ordinary bricks, to prevent the rise of moisture, while also improving underfloor ventilation.
Some of the architects' comments about this new damp proof course technology included:
- Many inventions are adopted with difficulty, including damp proof courses.
- Some concerns about their additional cost. Damp proof courses have often been skipped to save on material and labor costs.
- They should be better tested, although in buildings used (e.g. the great Artillery barracks at Colchester) they were very efficient.
- Their aesthetic look is a positive.
- Architects were in agreement that damp proof courses were the best method of keeping damp down.
The British Medical Journal - 1873
A report of the British Medical Journal dating 20 Dec 1873 discusses various sanitary aspects of rising dampness in houses, hospitals and public institutions.
Various damp proof course technologies used by architects are mentioned in the paper, including double course slates, Welsh slate bedded in cement, sheets of lead, hot asphalt DPCs, glazed bricks and vitrified stone-ware tiles.
The paper also advises the retrofitting of a damp proof course into old buildings, which turned uninhabitable buildings into perfectly healthy ones.
Notes on Building Construction (book) - 1876
This 3-volume publication from 1876 was the official syllabus of a three-part advanced building construction course. A whole chapter is dedicated to the problem of dampness and how to efficiently overcome it, including rising damp, penetrating damp and falling damp from the roof or gutters.
Various damp proof course technologies are also discussed, making reference to the fact that slate DPCs embedded in cement are liable to crack and thus fail.
Glazed pottery slab damp proof course built into the wall:
Last, according to an official report from the 1867 Paris Exhibition, some interesting technical facts from the book on how much water saturated brickwork can hold:
- In England, common bricks can absorb as much as a pint or pound of water
- An ordinary cottage consisting of 12,000 bricks, can hold about 6.5 tons of water when saturated
- Porous sandstone fit for building purposes may contain about half a gallon of water per cubic foot. (about 80 liters / m³)
Helps to Health - 1885
Realizing the effect of damp walls onto the health and well-being of inhabitants, between the 1870s - 1890s a number of health bills have been passed throughout UK, all of them recommending damp proof courses as a means to combat capillary rising damp.
"We must now turn our attention to the walls, which is equally necessary to protect from rising damp. If you plant a brick or stone wall o ground which is capable of retaining moisture, it will inevitably happen that unless you take means to stop its progress, the moisture will climb up the walls in obedience to the law of capillary attraction."
Solution to the problem is a vitrified (glass-like) layer of bricks or two layers of slate.
The book also provides technical advice with drawings, presenting the wrong way of laying a slate damp proof course, if gaps are left between them.
Some Obvious Questions...
The facts presented above are all independent information published by reputable third parties (books, research papers, historical documents).
With so much obvious information about rising damp in the public domain you should probably ask yourself some of these questions:
- Why is Peter Ward trying so hard to deny the existence of rising damp? Why is he obsessively propagating and maintaining a technical falsehood despite all historic evidence?
- Why is he fanatically discrediting any rising damp solution and DPC technology, regardless of its performance or nature?
- Is all this just an "innocent" mistake or a crafty underhanded strategy? (e.g. "every damp company is a con", except him - creating fear and panic, thus selling his £1,000 surveys)
- Why is he obsessively undermining the character and professional reputation of anyone advocating rising damp, even resorting to ethnic and religious discrimination?
- Why so much hatred against us, who
- never crossed path with him before
- never did chemical injections
- never used cheap pin-type resistance meters for diagnosis
- always advocated lime and breathable materials / technologies
- always investigated dampness from a holistic point of view, not just rising damp
- went to great lengths to keep the peace and deal with him professionally
- Is he desperately trying to suppress the truth about rising damp because he built up a lucrative business promoting fear and technical falsehoods, and truth would terminate him - his income, his business and his professional reputation? Hence he is on a delusional fight against the whole industry.
Badmouthing His Own Customers
His offensive and unprofessional attitude is not only towards other professionals he is disagreeing with. but he is publicly badmouthing on social media some of his own paying customers he has disagreement with. You're welcome to draw your own conclusions.
- His thoughts about a customer who disagreed with him on the price
- Throwing nails onto his customer's driveway - a way to "settle" some personal disagreement
- Retaining the customer's deposit because he decided to go with another local tradesman
Peter Ward’s nefarious activity has the following negative consequences for the British conservation and construction industry:
- Littered the field of building conservation with a multitude of incorrect technical information
- Promoted incorrect / inefficient technical solutions which long-term damaged old buildings
- Undermined the reputation of an industry based on a self-invented "conspiracy theory"
- Eroded the trust between old building owners and building professionals dealing with dampness
- Hindered innovation and progress in this field
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