A client of mine rang up this week. ‘You did a survey on my house in 2001 and we have found some recent wetness on the carpet in the hallway at the base of the stairs. ‘
OMG. Had I missed something? I did not think so as I maintain a pretty tight QA system in my inspections and comprehensive note taking and photographs. Nobody was pointing the finger at me but I defy any building surveyor not to feel slight loosening of the lower digestive track when he or she hears those words.
Well 8 years is a long time for conditions to change in a property and the client could not satisfactorily describe his problem over the phone, so I arranged to make a visit to see if I could help. Fortunately the property was only local to the office so off I went.
The property is a modern traditionally built house built around 1998 with cavity walls and solid concrete floors. There is an estate full of them. And quite pleasant too.
Well the hall carpet was indeed wet at the bottom of the stairs. I peeled the carpet back and the black asphalt below was visibly wet. The stair base and adjacent timber skirting was discoloured having absorbed dampness. I looked further around the hallway and found the door frame bases to the cloakroom and kitchen doors discoloured and showing signs of swelling. The doorways are set in the usual lightweight modern partitions common in modern speculative house construction. The client’s wife was naturally upset and had quite rightly suggested in no uncertain terms her husband had better get it sorted.
Well I set about and looked for the usual suspects. Were there any outside defects? Any signs of flooding or rainwater runoff, bridged damp proof course, piled earth, raised paving levels leaking waste or rainwater pipes. No, nothing, not a thing out of order.
So back to the inside. Anything amiss? Were there any leaking radiators or adjacent central heating pipes. No. What about hot and cold water service pipework in the bulkhead cupboard upstairs; had water tracked down inside the partition? I had a panel off upstairs. No ,dry as a bone. Could not get into base of stairs as builder had partitioned off base of stairs to create a cupboard off kitchen. ( which was helpful!)
What about condensation? Mmm,so why just locally and to the inner warm part of the house?
Any leaking pipes in the cloakroom? No. Curious. A leaking dog? No.
Expanded the inspection to adjacent kitchen. What have we got here? A sink, a built in washing machine. Any immediate signs of leakage? Well none to the sink position. Then I noticed some swelling to a kitchen unit plinth base.
‘Do you mind if I pull this off?’ ‘No’ said desperate client fearing the wife’s vocal retribution if it matters were not sorted .
‘Bingo’ said I. ( enigmatically with some smug superiority)
Under the fitted kitchen units I found a lake of standing water as the picture shows ( well a big puddle actually). The washing machine had been seriously incontinent for some time and water had flowed all round the kitchen under the units. Upon close inspection you could just see seepage under the plinth board onto the floor tiling to base of the units. Turns out the client had been wiping up the dampness thinking it was spillage by wife, kids etc or condensation. You know how it is in a busy household. I am always kicking the dog’s water bowl over in mine.
But how was it spreading internally across 2 to 3 metres without leaving a track? Well the kitchen has a ceramic tiled finish and the hall a carpet on gripper rod edges. The reason for spread? Capillary action. Water in the kitchen base cupboard was leaking into cracks and gaps to the edges of the black asphalt and was being drawn by capillary action in the gap between asphalt and concrete floor slab; asphalt screeds are not not generally bonded but are separated by glass fibre membrane. Well water spreads below the asphalt and then becomes manifest at any break in the membrane; the edges , adjacent partitions and walls and nail or screw fixings ie the carpet gripper rods and carpet door strips. ( Always insist on adhesive fixing for this reason. There are some pretty sticky adhesives available to carpet fitters these days)
What to do? Seems like an insurance claim to me. Curing the leak is no problem but repairing and replacing and damp isolation will be hellish difficult. Water and dampness will remain trapped in perpetuity ( forever!) unless the screed is removed and floor surface allowed to dry.
Anyway that’s another story and hopefully not mine. I would not fancy suggesting full fitment strip out and break up of screed and finishes and partition base renewals to the client’s wife!
Turns out the client is an insurance broker! Handy.
Job done, defect diagnosed. The charge for these services? None, but if the Client ever reads this and feels so disposed a donation to the Local Hospice might be appropriate. An hour of professional time has got to be worth something these days.
The inestimable investigative skills and deductive reasoning of the expert Chartered Building Surveyor win again.
Sadly Andy Murray in the semis at Wimbledon the next day did not. Still ‘£212500 compensation aint bad boy.’
WOW (Words of wisdom)
Household appliances including washing machines and dishwashers can leak. Check them regularly and always investigate unexplained dampness or puddles.