Peter Cox damp proofing - a massive fraud.

We constantly see examples of the blatant fraud that Property Care Association member Peter Cox Ltd attempts to pull on the unsuspecting public.  This example is one of the worst I've seen, and needs to be shouted from the rooftops.  These criminals need to be stopped from conning the public once and for all. This was a report prepared by a con artist named Andy Clark, working out of the Lincoln office of Peter Cox. His 'report' is covered in Property Care Association logos.  I love their strapline: "Raising Standards in Property Preservation".  The best standards of fraudulent trickery and con jobs I've ever seen...

I was asked to examine a wonderful 17th Century stone farmhouse, after the sale fell through.  The valuation surveyor wanted a 'timber and damp' report - so 2 damp proofing wallies provided free 'reports' which both said the house had rampant 'rising damp' and needed all the internal plaster hacking off and replacing with cement and gypsum.  One even wanted to pour tanking slurry all over an original Georgian encaustic tiled floor, claiming it was wet.  Both wanted to spray all the timbers with toxic cocktails of chemicals, despite there being no evidence of ANY rot or beetle.  The 'quotes' were around £12,000 for what would have been utter and complete fraud.  Luckily the owners realised what was happening and asked us to investigate.

It is Grade 2 Listed.  The building is in extraordinary condition - almost perfect.  It has had none of the usual modern materials applied, and is bone dry.  It is well ventilated, and beautifully maintained using traditional materials. Of particular interest is the very rare early cavity construction - all the external walls have a timber frame internally, over which is thick lath and plaster, with heavily haired lime plaster.  It insulates the external walls, and provides a ventilated cavity to keep them dry.  It is these walls that Peter Cox wanted to strip and replace with cement.  They claimed 'rising damp' was rampant.  Every wall is bone dry.  We even carbide tested the stonework behind the lath screening and it was bone dry.  Stripping plaster would have destroyed the magnificent timber skirtings and plinth blocks.  It would have destroyed a pristine Grade 2 Listed interior.

The walls are so original that the outside has the thickest coating of limewash I have ever seen.  I'll show photos of it here - it is extraordinary.  It has also kept the building in perfect condition by allowing it to breathe - preventing ANY build up of interstitial condensation - which the con artists refer to as 'rising damp'.  The cellar was said by Peter Cox to have 'woodworm' and other problems.  It is bone dry - and apart from a few flight holes in a piece of wood that would have been there when it was placed there, no beetle was found - nor could be - the timber is all bone dry, and beetle don't live in dry timber.

What I find staggering is that it is still possible for Peter Cox Ltd to engage in brazen fraud, proudly displaying their Property Care Association membership as a badge of honour - attempting to take £12,000 of homeowners money for something that was not needed.  The house has been dry and free of both damp and beetle for over 250 years.

In this case there is a more sinister issue.  Peter Cox Ltd are well aware that this was Grade 2 Listed.  To propose that they rip off historically significant lath and plaster formwork, and then drill hundreds of holes in delicate stone and brickwork which would physically damage it,  is criminal.  It is a criminal offense to damage a Listed Building.  Peter Cox Ltd proposed to criminally damage a Grade 2 Listed building, and as a result place the owners in danger of being taken to court for criminal damage as well. They knowingly led these owners into a criminal act.  This is not the first time I have seen this happen when owners of Listed Buildings are forced to have 'damp surveys' done by Peter Cox Ltd.

Peter Cox Ltd are nothing other than bare faced, brazen criminals.

I'll list a few of the standard paragraphs that they use - if you get a 'quote' with any of these, you know you are being conned:

Install a chemical damp proof course incorporating our Peter Cox Diffusion Process to those walls indicated on the sketch.

At the time of our inspection visible signs of dampness, supported by moisture profile readings obtained with an electronic moisture meter, indicated the presence of rising dampness to those walls indicated for treatment on the attached sketch.  The rising dampness appears to be due to the apparent absence of an effective damp proof course.

(There was NO sign of ANY dampness in ANY of the walls! Resistance meter readings are off the scale everywhere because the walls are conductive with organic materials in the plaster)

Rising dampness is a common (Is it? In 10 years and thousands of surveys we've never once seen it) naturally occurring phenomenon caused by moisture rising via capillary action into the building fabric. (Actually, any moisture is there because its been trapped by impermeable materials - it got there by diffusion, and condensed in masonry below the dew point - capillary action just does not happen) Most masonry building materials can be subject to rising dampness (no - condensation) and without suitable protection (no - take all your fraudulent rubbish OFF the walls and they stay magically dry) your property can suffer from the problem...

Our method of installing a new damp proof course will control rising dampness above the level of the newly installed damp proof course.. (Well I suppose it will really, seeing as though rising damp doesnt exist - the wall will look dry because it always was!).

Our survey report

A 'timber and damp' survey was commissioned from Peter Cox Ltd, and written by a Mr Andy Clark, I am given to understand who claims 'qualifications' of CSRT and CSSW.

The survey claims that “visible signs of dampness were observed to a left elevation wall in the kitchen, and fireplace in reception room, supported by 'moisture profile' readings taken with an electronic moisture meter.” These apparently indicate penetrating damp. We inspected these areas and found no sign of any moisture visible, and could find no evidence of any moisture in the walls. Even when a resistance meter was used, no readings were obtained. It is claimed that high ground levels are to blame – we found no evidence of any ground levels that are excessively high – some are close to the level of internal floor levels, but external ground is well drained and sloping, and will not retain moisture.

Electronic moisture meters do not measure moisture. They are more correctly referred to as resistance meters. They measure conductivity, which is heavily influenced by conductive materials such as naturally occurring salts in brick and stone, and organic materials such as ash used in lime plaster and mortar. The manufacturers all clearly state they should not be used to measure building materials and that they are made to measure moisture content of uncontaminated green timber.

Three British Standards, BS:5250, 6576, and 7913 all clearly state that moisture meters are inappropriate for measuring dampness in building materials and that chemical methods (carbide testing) are the only way to establish if any moisture is present.

The report claims that “visible signs of dampness, supported by moisture profile readings from the resistance meter indicated the presence of 'rising dampness' in all of the walls indicated in the attached sketch”. For the purpose of this report, the sketch referred to every wall of the house barring those which were obviously timber. It further concludes that this “appears to be due to the apparent absence of an effective damp proof course”. The house was built in around 1740. Damp courses were not used then, and the house has been warm and dry for 250 years since then without the assistance of a damp course. The report then goes on to state that rising dampness is a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by capillary rise of moisture. It is not – in thousands of surveys I have never once seen it. It further states that areas of plasterwork were in generally poor condition and breaking down due to salt action. Not a single square inch of plaster was breaking down. The report is full of intentionally misleading statements which are scientifically and factually incorrect.

These claims are fraudulent misrepresentation – they misrepresent the fact that the house is 'damp', and are fraudulent in that they form the basis for a very substantial 'quotation' for totally unnecessary work. They would also leave the owner of the building liable to criminal prosecution for damage to a Grade 2 Listed Building due to the removal of historic fabric and mechanical damage to brick and stone. Such works as those proposed would never be authorised. The paragraphs in italics are standard paragraphs which we see in EVERY Peter Cox survey 'report'. They are fraud. They are untrue. They are not supported by ANY scientifically valid information.

The external walls to the house are all covered internally with timber framing, on which is very early lath and plasterwork. The plaster is in perfect condition, and there is no evidence of any deterioration or salt action as claimed in the Peter Cox report. The 'diagnosis' of rising damp in timber framed lath and plasterwork is incompetent, fraudulent, and criminal. In order to support our observations, we took chemical tests of the walls in areas indicated as having 'rising damp' and needing 'treatment'. 10mm drillholes were bored into the walls after carefully lifting wallpaper. A resistance meter was probed into the wall, which went off the scale – indicating the presence of naturally occurring salts and organic material (ash, animal hair etc). The holes were drilled and dust samples analysed by carbide meter for moisture content. Both samples were less than 3% total moisture content, expressed as weight percent of the total wet sample weight.

Published BRE figures for average natural moisture content of building materials (Charles Stirling, BRE) indicate from zero to 5% as perfectly acceptable depending on seasonal conditions. The dry dust samples all made the 'moisture meter' register around 75% - a completely meaningless figure, but one used all the time by damp companies to fraudulently sell unnecessary damp proofing. I have left a dry sample, as taken from the wall, with our clients as evidence of this for use in any court action brought against Peter Cox Ltd. Any resistance meter inserted to this dry sample will register as 'very wet' or red, or 'alarm' or whatever other meaningless reading the instrument decides to give.

The Cox report then goes on to state that the cellar was inspected, and that evidence of beetle infestation was found. It claims that timbers are in contact with damp masonry.

The cellar is dry, and well ventilated. Thermo hygrometer readings were in line with those found in the rest of the house – 15 degrees C, 50% RH and 7 g/m3. One of the driest cellars I have seen for years. All the walls are coated with thick layers of limewash. The timbers are bone dry, the walls bone dry. One piece of timber was seen with historic beetle flight holes – which had most likely left the timber before it was even placed in the cellar. Beetle are only ever found where timber is damp – in excess of 17% total moisture content – which is close to the moisture content of freshly felled timber. BS:7913 clearly states that chemical timber treatment is rarely if ever needed, and the best way to prevent any problem with timber is to keep it dry. Ridout (English Heritage – Timber Decay in Buildings) states that chemical treatment is almost never needed, and that dry timber will not suffer decay. The timbers in 20, Church Street are without exception bone dry – both in the cellar, house and roof space. Any claim by Cox that treatment is needed, or that there is active beetle, is fraudulent misrepresentation of the true situation. There is one wall of the cellar which has lost its limewash – this is because of salt action – salts from the fireplace above, have reacted with the lime and broken it down. The wall is dry.

Legal status of damp proofing Listed Buildings

This 'report' and quotation for fraudulent works is legally significant in that it suggests wholesale removal of all plasterwork to a metre high. In this house, most of the plasterwork is significantly rare timber frame support, which holds early Georgian lath and plaster finishes – in effect an early cavity wall construction. Fixed to this are superb, original timber skirtings and architraves, with stop blocks to doors. The skirtings I suspect are made from at least two mouldings jointed together by the Georgian joiners. The report also suggests wholesale drilling of delicate Georgian brickwork, which shatters the masonry – and injecting with some form of chemical which it is claimed will prevent a fictitious problem of 'rising damp' from occurring. All this, notwithstanding the fact that it is totally impossible to drill or inject a damp course into rubble stone walls a metre thick!

No mention is made in the 'report' that the house is Grade 2 Listed and that such works would be illegal, and Listed Building Consent would never be given for removal of significant plasterwork and joinery, or wholesale butchery of brickwork. This especially considering they are all bone dry and such works are totally unnecessary. If such work were to be carried out, both contractor and owner would be subject to proceedings by the Local Authority for criminal damage of a Listed Building.

Peter Cox Ltd need to be reported to both Historic England, the Local Authority Conservation Officer, and to Trading Standards and the Police for their fraudulent attempt to sell substantive building work which is not required, and which would land you, the building owner, in a position of criminal liability for illegal works to a Listed Building.

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