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Case Study: Edwardian Cottage Burst Pipe in Roof Space

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One of the Surrey building surveyors carried out a building survey for an Edwardian cottage, in which there was an extensive amount of dampness. They  tested for damp (which they do in all building surveys) assessed the repair property. There was also another significant defect in rotten timber windows in which there was evidence of wood-boring insects.


Dampness in Edwardian Cottage


They noted extensive areas of significant dampness to the Edwardian cottage’s internal spaces at the time of our inspection. They are informed that this is due to a leak in the roof void. They could not confirm this when this was obscured and blocked by the water tanks at the time of assessment. However, they can ensure that the damp is unlikely to leak to the roof as there is a sarking felt, which would prevent most damp penetration. Although not in excellent condition, the roof is not in bad enough shape to allow for this moisture ingress amount.

On the ground floor, extensive damp was found in the entrance hallway, the sitting room (most notably around the chimney and the front elevation external wall) of the Edwardian cottage. Extensive damp was found in the second and third bedrooms, in the cupboard in the first bedroom, and in the landing from the closet to the end of the hallway. In these areas, the majority of walls and ceilings were damp. The finishes in these areas were in bad condition at the time of inspection. However, the true extent of the damage will only be cleared once the damp has dried.

Usually, the rule of thumb when it comes to drying out a building is that it takes a month for each inch (25mm) in the wall’s width that needs to be dried. With a 240mm wall, this would take 9.6 months to dry out entirely if it is fully saturated. This does not mean that it cannot be inhabited, just that damp problems may reoccur for this period. Damp will remain within the building fabric, even if it is dry on the surface.

There usually are two methods of drying out a building, such as this Edwardian cottage. These are using the heating system, fans, and heating. This relies on adequate ventilation (opening all the windows) and heating to evaporate the building fabric’s moisture. The other method, which could be seen in this Edwardian cottage, is using dehumidifiers. When using this method, it’s essential to seal the house. Otherwise, you tend to extract moisture from air entering the house from the outside rather than building fabric.

The existing plaster may be left in place until the drying is complete, as salts from water may collect on the plaster. The more the walls are dried, the more salts will accumulate. Any new plaster will get these salts and potentially be damp for a more extended period. If this is not possible, it is recommended that a permeable plaster is used rather than gypsum. The best option would be a cement-lime-sand plaster, which would allow the wall to breathe.

Particular attention during the drying out process should be given to the timbers. Wet timbers are prone to rot and insect attack. Wet rot tends to affect timbers with a moisture content of 50%. Particular attention should be given to checking for dry rot with effects timbers with 20-30% content and has been found after leaks have occurred during the drying process. All timbers should be checked for rot by a reputable damp and timber specialist. When wood dries, it can also warp and distort and may need to be replaced when the drying process has been completed.

Surrey Building Surveyor Spots Timber Rot and Insect Attack


There was evidence of both wood rot and insect attack in some of the Edwardian cottage window frames. This was most notably found in double glazed fixed pane windows in the kitchen.

There are two main types of rot, dry rot, and wet rot. Wet rot is a blanket definition for several different fungi. The primary way they can be told from dry rot is the timber’s moisture content; wet rots only grow in saturated conditions.

Dry rot wood will become dry and crumbly and tends to like still damp air, areas where it is in Contact with damp brickwork and inadequate ventilation. The Fungus mycelium can be identified by cotton wool, bright lemon patches, or a thin leathery skin may appear. These strands can move over masonry and older plaster, which has lost its alkalinity, effectively breaching party walls. The wood will become dry and crumbly, there will be cuboid cracking, a leathery appearance.

When identifying the type of insect attack, it is essential to look at the insects’ frass (excretions), the size of the boreholes, and the condition and type of wood that has been affected.

As seen above, the bore diameter was around 1-2mm in the windows, and the frass was of a brown powdery type. However, they can only confirm the presence of insect attacks if they find the actual insects. Due to the life cycle of insects, this is very difficult to ascertain. They would also have to remove the wood to see what is inside it. As our surveys are non-invasive, they could not do this.

This shows the importance of keeping wooden framed windows well-decorated at all times. The decoration cost is small compared to the cost and disruption caused by replacing the windows, especially with like-for-like. Replacements will have to be redecorated anyway unless uPVC is used, which has a shorter lifespan and shouldn’t (sometimes can’t) be used in period properties such as these. If decorated well and often wooden windows can last more than 100 years. Some Victorian windows that have been well looked after are still in good condition. The windows above are substantially newer and have been left undecorated, meaning that wood-boring insects and rot could get into the wood.

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