If you are an old building owner and decide to do an independent research on rising damp, your decision is going to be only as good as your information. If the information you are basing your decision is correct and truthful, you are going to make a correct decision. However if your input is misleading or false, your decision is going to be incorrect, however logical it might seem.
To make an informed decision on rising damp, you must be aware of the following important points. Just searching Google for "rising damp" will NOT give you truthful information on the subject, for the following reasons:
- Knowledge gap: if you ask a building professional about what rising damp is, all they are going to tell you that it's "capillary action" or "the surface tension of water". That barely scratches the surface, there is a lot more to it - so even in professional circles there is significant "knowledge gap" on technical aspects, which relates to the next point below (no .2).
- Key research data exists in other technical fields: quite interestingly, there is more scientific and technical data on the mechanisms of rising damp in other technical fields (e.g. Biology, Medicine, Chemistry etc.) than in the building sector itself. In fact, in many regards, the building sector is stuck with "old" and outdated information on rising damp - the reasons for this are explained below.
- Scientists are the true authorities of this subject: contrary to common belief, the real experts of this field are not the builders or tradesman but scientists and research organizations.
- Research data vs. opinions: rising damp is a builder's term, not a professional term, so most results on this phrase is non-scientific information. In addition, there is also a significant amount of misinformation on the subject which further complicates things.
Let's look at these points in a bit more detail.
1. Knowledge Gap on Rising Damp
Generally speaking, on the topic of rising damp you will find the following 2 categories of information:
- Low level, almost “anecdotal” data originating from damp treatment companies, surveyors, tradesmen and builders. This information is often conflicting and confusing, as various companies often recommend for the same problem very different approaches, without providing the necessary explanation or information to the reader so they can make an informed decision.
Most scientific explanation on rising damp stops at the point that it's "capillary action" or it has to do with "the surface tension of water"; while others keep spreading totally false information, such as "rising damp doesn't exist" - which significantly adds to the chaos.
- High level scientific & research data originating from research publications, white papers, conference papers etc. Although such information exists, they are often too difficult to be found or too complicated to understood, as a result, many people automatically fall back onto the easier to understand anecdotal data - thus confusion is rampant in this industry.
Reliable, professional, research-backed data that's published in plain English, and it's easy to understand by anyone with a bit of education, is scarce. So there is a knowledge gap on the market.
We try to fill this gap on these pages.
2. Key Research Data from Other Technical Fields
We have found that most theoretical aspects describing the basics of rising damp can’t even be found in the building or conservation sector, but in other – at first glance totally unrelated technical fields, which include Biology, Medicine, Electrochemistry and also Electronics.
A lot of research in these fields on various materials bear a lot of similarities to our old walls – e.g. we have some solid objects (capillaries or cell membranes) through which a liquid (usually water) flows, carrying with it various diluted solid objects (minerals, salts etc.). Due to their growth potential receive, these technological fields spend countless billions on research, significantly more than the old fashioned, boring building industry. So, in these technological fields research and results occur at a much faster pace than in the building sector.
For example, one important piece of the rising damp puzzle, the key pumping mechanism (electro-osmotic pumping) that really drives water up inside the capillaries (creating massive damages along the way) what is commonly known as “capillary action”, was particularly difficult to locate – it took me about 2 months to just find it in the scientific literature. This is a phenomenon that has really been discovered recently, less than 10 years ago by a research team at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). So, the mechanism is barely known, plus the research data comes, again, from a completely unrelated field to buildings - electric car battery technology which uses solid-liquid interaction for charging, discharging and the storage of energy. This field, however, has a lot of similarity to our capillary walls – saline water moving in tiny porous capillaries acts as small-scale batteries of which electrical potential – of the order of tens of mV – we can easily measure with special wall electrodes.
A very intense research is also ongoing in the field of Medicine where the mixing of various chemicals or liquids at micro- or nano scale (nano-scale mixers) is of particular interest for drug research. This data describes the basic mechanisms of fluid propagation in micro- or nano-channels and the drivers behind it, data which can be directly applied to old buildings as the underlying phenomena – a migration of water inside tiny capillaries – is virtually the same. The understanding of all these phenomena opens the door not only to a better understanding of the mechanism of rising damp, but also to exciting new technologies that can revolutionize the way we handle it – ideally in a completely non-invasive way.
3. Who are the True Authorities of this Field? Whom Should You Listen to or Trust?
You need to understand that there are several levels of professional competence out there. It is obvious, that someone who spent 20-30 years researching a particular subject or field has more in-depth knowledge about it, than someone who just completed a course or casually read something about this on the internet.
In the building sector we have identified the following four categories of professional opinion leader groups or sources of professional knowledge. Use this segmentation as a generic guideline.
- Research organizations, universities: at the very top we find the researchers who spend most of their lives specializing and researching a certain narrow field, attempting to learn about it as much as humanly possible. As a result, here we have the highest concentration of knowledge.
- Architects, chartered surveyors: cutting edge research is then taught at universities which provide a wide balanced knowledge about many building matters. Further specialization in any chosen field can make one a true professional.
- Builders, tradesmen, plasterers: they are highly practical people dealing with buildings hands-on. Mainly focused on practical application rather than theoretical or academic knowledge, which might be somewhat lacking.
- Non-professionals, the general public: building owners who are looking to improve their houses by seeking advice from the professionals.
The higher on this scale, the more reliable and trustworthy the information is, thus scientific or research papers carry the most reliable information, which are less likely to be biased or driven by commercial interests.
On the other hand, towards the other side of the scale, on the non or semi-professional end, the information is often littered with inaccuracies, opinions and biased information, making it much less reliable or often untrustworthy.
What these groups say about rising damp?
- Researchers: the existence of rising damp is a known fact and it's not contested. Its damages caused in old buildings are very real, and solutions are actively looked for to mitigate or overcome them. The idea of "rising damp does not exist" is met with laughs.
- Architects, surveyors: most professionals are aware and agree that rising damp does exist and something needs to be done about it. Opinions, however, on what is the best solution to overcome it, are divided. In recent years more and more professionals are aware that sealing the moisture into the building fabric is not a good approach.
- Builders, tradesmen, plasterers: in terms of numbers this is the most numerous and most readily accessible group. On rising damp their viewpoint is divided (at least in the UK).
- Non-professionals, the general public: they very often seek the advice of other professionals, hence on rising damp their viewpoint depends on the advice they receive from others - often from group #3 - as well as the outcome of their own research.
The internet, although a great source of information, containing data from all of the 4 groups: from solid research data to opinions and gossip, and the data encountered can be very conflicting. So WHAT to search for and WHERE becomes very important if you want to get reliable information.
4. Where to Find Good Quality, Relevant Information?
Rising damp is a colloquial "builder's term". It's not a scientific phrase or a "researcher's phrase". As a result most of your google search results are going to come from various builders or damp proofing companies and you are going to be caught up in the discussion about the validity of rising damp - which can be very confusing.
You need to go above the "noise" and builders' chatter to get unbiased data from universities or independent research organizations - the highest level of authorities.
An easy and simple way to search for scientific data is using Researchgate.net, a professional network for scientists and researchers. It is a research portal containing over 118 million scientific articles and research papers from 15 million researchers worldwide from every field of science. The site also has a social media element, allowing researchers all over the world to interact, discuss and share their research.
Here are some relevant phrases you can search ResearchGate for rising damp:
- dampness in historic buildings (click to show results)
- capillary rising damp
- capillary rise dynamics
- salt crystallization in porous media
- electrical double layer
Just browse through some of the search results and you will get an idea whether rising damp exists or not.
Some research papers are not freely available to the general public but has to be requested from the authors. Even in this case a free abstract (summary) highlighting the key topics of the paper is freely available. In addition, many full research papers are are freely available for reading and download, even without a Researchgate membership - more than enough to give you a good understanding of the subject.
Some research papers can be difficult to understand due to its complex math. If you just want to get an idea about their content, just read the initial introduction section (often called "Abstract") or the final "Conclusion" section which summarizes the key points of the paper.
If you use Google, in order to increase the relevance of your results, try to add the word "PDF" to the end of your search phrase, this will bring up PDF files which are more likely to be research related. E.g.
- capillary rise dynamics pdf (click to show results)
Hope this information will help you to cut through the "noise" of the internet and give you some unbiased and reliable information on the existence of rising damp or whatever you are searching for.
The key message: educate yourself.
- Don't fall for the builders' talk or anecdotal "data"
- Rising damp DOES exists and there is tons of scientific evidence about it
- Scientific data coming from research papers is much more reliable than anecdotal information
- Use ResearchGate rather then Google as a source of scientific information
- Learn about the most common rising damp myths
- Learn about rising damp as phenomenon, it's much more complex than most people think