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Hot Topic Highlight – RICS Joint Position Statement Investigation of Moisture

Updated: Oct 29, 2023



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What is today's blog about?


Firstly, thank you to our fantastic consultant, Keith Jagger MBA FRICS MCMI, for his contribution to this blog. Keith has been a Chartered Surveyor for 47 years, 37 of them as a Fellow. He is an RICS APC Assessor, Counsellor and Chair, and has served on both National and Local Committees of the RICS.

In this week’s blog, we look at the RICS Joint Position Statement Investigation of Moisture and its Effects on Traditional Buildings. This was published in September 2022, as the first edition.


The Joint Position Statement (JPS) makes a useful and very welcome addition to publications on the subject. It gives a high-level view of a complex subject, which will be particularly useful to students and RICS APC & AssocRICS candidates who are pursuing the Inspection or Building Pathology competencies.


It will also act as an aide memoir to qualified surveyors, and makes it abundantly clear what the public should expect from a report on dampness by a surveyor. It has applications in both the residential or commercial spheres.


You can download the full Joint Position Statement here.


Who jointly wrote the Position Statement?


The Joint Position Statement was written by RICS, Historic England and the PCA. It has also been adopted by the following organisations:


 A list of organisations who wrote the JPS; Cadw, IHBC, SPAB, Historic Environment Scotland and the Historic Environment Division.

Watch the video below to find out what the Property Care Association say about the JPS:


What is the aim of the Joint Position Statement?


The Joint Position Statement aims to provide best practice guidelines for surveyors and contractors in relation to the investigation of moisture-related issues in traditional buildings.


What is a traditional building defined as?


A traditional building is defined as a building with;


‘solid walls built from permeable materials such as brick, stone, earth, timber and lime-based mortars, plasters and renders’.

In traditional buildings, moisture enters and exits the building fabric as conditions become wetter or dryer, in contrast to modern materials where impermeable barriers prevent moisture from entering altogether.


What are surveyors required to know?


The Joint Position Statement recommends that surveyors understand the following steps in the investigation of moisture. These will be discussed in further detail within this blog.


The Joint Position Statement recommends that surveyors understand these steps in the investigation of moisture.

Understanding the building


Understanding the building is the first key step in the investigation of moisture. This includes understanding:

  • Construction date

  • Construction materials and techniques, including identifying the differences between traditional and modern construction, detailing and performance in terms of moisture

  • Setting in the local environment and climate

  • Alterations and additions

  • Use and occupation, which can influence moisture levels in the building

  • Current condition

  • Heritage significance, e.g., Listed Building or located in a conservation area


Understanding moisture


Understanding moisture in buildings is a complex area of practice and requires skills and competence to be built through experience over a period of time.


The Joint Position Statement sets out 19 clear points to understand and we recommend reading these in detail.


Surveyors need to understand the relationship between ‘temperature, relative humidity, vapour pressure and the equilibrium moisture content of building materials’. This includes understanding sources of moisture in buildings and how heating and ventilation are related to moisture.


Other key issues to understand include permeability, porosity, hygroscopicity and thermal gradients.


Surveyors will have a variety of both non-invasive and invasive tools and equipment at their disposal to investigate moisture-related issues.


These include, amongst others:

  • Gravimetric moisture analysis

  • Gas carbide meters

  • Electrical resistance meters

  • Thermal imaging

  • Hygrometers

  • Atmospheric data loggers


The results of any testing or investigations need to be reported in an easy to understand format to the client. This includes communicating an understanding of the issue and any limitations of the testing protocol to the client.


Understanding moisture-related defects


There are a variety of causes of moisture-related defects, including:=

  • Porous materials

  • Freeze and thaw cycles

  • Wetting and drying cycles

  • Hygroscopic salts

  • Organic growth, including mould

  • Non-porous materials

  • Metal corrosion

  • Insect infestation of timber, including whether this is active or not

  • Decay of timber, e.g., wet and dry rot

  • Environment, e.g., heating, ventilation and insulating properties of the building


You can read more about these in our various articles on dampness in buildings (more coming soon, with Part 1 available now!).


Condition assessment


Surveyors need to apply their understanding of the building, moisture and related defects in an overall assessment of the building’s condition.


This will include understanding any concerns of the client and recognising that defects can be both a result of the original construction and subsequent alterations or additions. This will need to be reported in the context of the appropriate survey level and scope of investigation, and may include guidance on future planned preventative maintenance.


For residential surveys, you can read more about this in the Home Survey Standard.


Diagnosis and recommendations


The extent of diagnosis will again be directed by the survey level and scope of investigation. Surveyors need to consider diagnosis of moisture-related issues in a holistic manner, following the trail where appropriate to consider all potential causes.


Damp is often multi-factorial and occurs in a staged process. This may require a considered and logical approach to remedial works, including dealing with the obvious defects first, monitoring the issue and then reassessing before advising on additional actions.


Further investigations may be required, such as sampling or opening up, to diagnose the most likely cause (and rule out others). Some works or investigations may need to be considered in the context of any heritage or regulatory constraints, e.g., Listed Building Consent.


Legal requirements


There are many legislative and regulatory requirements that surveyors may need to consider, linking the Joint Position Statement well into the RICS APC Legal & Regulatory Compliance competency.


These include:

  • Party Wall etc. Act 1996

  • Health & Safety at Work Act 1974

  • Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015

  • Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012

  • BS 7913: Guide to the conservation of historic buildings

  • Additional industry guidance and best practice


Reporting


The final stage of the investigation process is reporting to the client.


This will define the scope of investigation and any exclusions, as well as:

  • A summary of the observations, including an Assessment of Significance

  • The importance of regular maintenance

  • Impartial diagnosis of the moisture-related issue

  • Recommendations for repair or remedial action, if within the scope of work. This should include alternative options, advantages, disadvantages, monitoring or staged interventions and time and cost implications (noting the scope of what may be included within each Home Survey Standard survey level)

  • Risk analysis, including the impact on the lending or purchase decision (if appropriate)

  • Conflicts of interest


How might the JPS feature in my RICS APC interview?


An RICS spokesperson highlighted the potential of the JPS to be a game changer for owners, buyers, surveyors and trades who have any need to consider moisture in traditional buildings. They also gave some guidance on how the JPS may be questioned in RICS APC assessments. Keith's reflections and tips are highlighted in yellow below.


Level 1


The candidate should be aware of the Joint Position Statement, its contents, and the importance of providing high levels of professional standards that consider ALL elements of moisture in a traditional building.


The emphasis on all is significant as I have experienced many responses from candidates whose answers when questioned give a standard answer based on what appears to be an obvious cause, but don’t appear to have considered their response in the context of the whole building - and unfortunately not just in respect of dampness.

Level 2


The candidate should be able to demonstrate practical use of the Joint Position Statement when carrying out an inspection or any works to any traditional building. This goes beyond making a quick judgement without considering the whole building context. It is important that a candidate can demonstrate an understanding of the various sources of moisture and its potential consequences, not simply the basic observation of the moisture.


Wise advice, that can equally be applied to other questioning on other competencies such as building construction or inspection e.g., cracking describing a crack, its direction, and how it fits into the categories of BRE Digest 251 is not sufficient. You need to consider the crack in relation to the building as a whole, including its age and environment, and whether the crack is old i.e., is it dirty or clean, possibly, progressive, all possible/likely causes etc.

Level 3


The candidate should be able to demonstrate examples of having provided thorough in-depth advice to a client on issues related to moisture in traditional buildings. The requirement for justification of decisions made should be explored and the candidate. Should be expected to explain the specific reasons for the advice given and also the potential consequences had alternative advice been given. In line with the RICS Home Survey Standard Professional Statement, referrals to a third party should be an exception and not standard practice.


Again, this approach to reasoned advice on all level 3 questioning should be expected by candidates on all competencies. I have seen many examples in submissions, where undertaking a Level 2 residential inspection under either past or current iterations of the HomeBuyer Report, where finding dampness and instructing the client to obtain a report from a reputable Timber and Damp Proofing company was said to be a Level 3 example. This does not meet the criteria for Level 3. Given the limitations of the inspection the answer meant further inspection/opening up works were required this should be stated and the reasoning and potential consequences explained clearly. A similar approach is likely to be adopted when questioning a candidate on structural movement at Level 3.

Concluding thoughts from Keith


I think candidates will find the clarification of what RICS APC assessors will be looking for, coupled with the standard of service a client can expect from a Chartered Surveyor, particularly welcome.


Although the JPS does not provide candidates with all the answers, it does direct them to areas where they need to have knowledge and understanding. They should not be alarmed by the wide remit of the JPS, and the specialist equipment used for some investigations and specialised historic buildings, as the questioning by assessors should be based on their declared competencies, experience and examples. It is only when they have not given examples at the appropriate level that assessors will try to find a way to assess the candidate’s knowledge in a wider sense.


How can we help?

Stay tuned for our next blog post to help build a better you.


N.b. Nothing in this article constitutes legal, professional or financial advice.

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