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Expert, reporting for duty

Even experts are challenged on their qualifications. Richard Renouf relates a story in which his expertise was – unsuccessfully – put to the test.

FEEDBACK is always welcome, although the protocol independent experts must work to can restrict how much (if at all) we can correspond directly with a third party. Mr W’s email set out what he felt the role of an expert was and he seemed to understand how experts worked, but direct communication was one aspect he seemed to want to disregard. His email set out some leading questions.

I’d been out to look at some SPC flooring Mr W had fitted some time ago as part of a refurbishment project. The house dated back to the ‘50s and the homeowner showed me what structural work had been done and explained the difference between ‘before and after’.

The flooring was badly cupped and the high moisture readings from the flooring and exposed areas of the subfloor showed relatively high moisture levels. This is typical in older properties which were built before it was mandatory to incorporate a structural damp-proof membrane between the ground and the floor. It’s also typical in garage conversions, and part of this home had once been the garage.

Mr W felt there were ‘errors and omissions’ in my report. He emphasised that he had 37 years’ experience and that he’d trained ‘hundreds of operatives in the use of moisture measuring instruments’. His CV, if true, was very impressive.

There are three ways to challenge an independent report. The first is to challenge the credibility of the expert. Is he or she qualified to comment on the issues? Do they have a track record and good standing in their field? These are questions to bear in mind before you choose any consultant as their opinion will only be considered valid if it’s backed by relevant experience. Mr W seemed to accept my CV, but felt it lacked specific building qualifications.

The second way to challenge is to try and chip away at the credibility of what has been said, and this was the main focus of Mr W’s comments: Why did my meter not show the correct date? How many moisture readings had I taken, and exactly whereabouts on the floor? Was my meter calibrated? What was the margin of error of the readings? Did I do check measures using a hygrometer? What was the exact make-up of the subfloor? How could I have checked the expansion gaps without removing the skirting boards? And so his email went on.

The third way, and the one most likely to succeed, is to produce evidence that counters the expert’s opinion. Mr W failed on this count. What was missing from Mr W’s emails – he sent a second one after my first brief response – was moisture readings of his own.

If he’d taken readings before the flooring was laid he would, I hope, have produced these to prove that he’d at least done his job in line with BS 8203: 2017 and that the moisture must have appeared after the fitting was complete. Alternatively, had he taken more recent readings using an indicative meter that gave instant readings like mine, or a hygrometer box or sleeve to give an accurate relative humidity reading, I would have had to reconsider.
But there was nothing.

I looked back at my report and the notes from my inspection. The readings were clear and I took lots of them across the flooring and directly from the subfloor. The meter had been calibrated within a month of the inspection, and the inspections I did before and afterwards showed the meter was consistent. I sent my response to the company which had engaged me for them to forward if they wished.

In the past three months I’ve only once been supplied with detailed moisture measurements taken before flooring was laid. Moisture readings on site identified a leak within the structure of the newly-built property and the contractor’s original readings confirmed this was a new leak and the matter was able to be dealt with. But the flooring standards, and manufacturer’s instructions, make moisture testing a mandatory part of any resilient or wood-based flooring installation, so readings should be taken and recorded every time. It stops moisture problems arising, and helps identify the cause if they do.

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