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Up the creek with updraught soiling

Richard inspects a job with a good standard of workmanship and where, if no steps had been taken to prevent updraught soiling, the story would have had a very different ending for the contractor.

THE stakes were unusually high. After many years of supplying and fitting flooring for a property developer, the contractor had been commissioned to do the flooring for the developer’s own home. It wasn’t a freebie, in fact it was a very luxurious and expensive carpet and some LVT. A job the contractor would have been delighted to book, whoever the customer had been. But dark coloured stains were appearing around the edges of several rooms.

It would be easy to jump to conclusions: obviously this was ‘updraught soiling’ – the term used to describe the result of dust carried on draughts that escape under skirting boards or through gaps in floorboards. But the developer was adamant: ‘Nothing wrong with my properties!’ he told the contractor. ‘So don’t try to tell me it’s caused by draughts. But you have to find out what it is before I’ll agree to have another carpet from you!’

And the contractor wasn’t sure, either. ‘My boys did everything they could have done because this was such a critical job. They put ply down everywhere and sealed the skirting boards, so this can’t be happening.’

I pulled into the small but prestigious new cul de sac. The house was the first on the left, with large iron gates which were open. I paused to assess the best place to park and the homeowner saw me and beckoned me to park alongside his Bentley. He greeted me warmly and showed me round his grand home. He also gave me his account of recent events that had resulted in him moving there, something neither he nor his wife had anticipated when the development was started.

All the houses in the cul de sac were new – except his. He had bought it for the land that came with it and when he’d cleared all the necessary planning permission hurdles and laid the foundations for all the new homes, he’d also set one of his teams on the task of refurbishing this one ready for sale. But then he’d been made an offer for the place he was living in, and as this house was nearest to his golf course it was the obvious alternative.

Listening to stories like this has at least two benefits. The customer relaxes and feels you are taking an interest, and you glean information that could be useful later.

The worst of the problems seemed to be in the bedrooms and dressing rooms. The markings were blotchy, probably due to the use of a knee kicker with the pins over-extended. But when I moved a side table to look more closely, the circular base left a dark ring and lighter patch which showed the issue was not just close to the edges.

I took up the carpet in several places and examined the subfloor. Plywood had been laid right up to the skirting boards with the gripper nailed through it. Acrylic sealant had been run around the edge to seal everything. Although I was concerned that the underlay had been excessively stapled and the joins had not been taped (which, it turns out, would have made a significant difference here), this was an excellent job.

But dust doesn’t penetrate plywood, so the cause of the marks on the carpet was still a mystery. Until I realised that the acrylic sealant had cracked along the join between the ply and the skirting boards, leaving gaps that allowed draughts to seep through.

The developer had left me to do my investigation, but had asked me to let him know what I found, and the contractor had given me permission to use my discretion with his client to avoid any appearance of secretiveness. I called him upstairs and we looked at the problem together. ‘Movement,’ he said immediately, ‘It happens in buildings all the time.’

I took the opportunity while he was looking by the skirting boards to see the wider picture. The sealant along the tops of all the skirting boards showed signs of movement and there were settlement cracks in some of the new plaster around one of the doors nearby.

As an older property, the structure had, no doubt, been in a pretty stable condition until the refurbishment work began. Then the increased moisture levels owing to the use of wet materials such as plaster had caused lots of expansion as the moisture was taken up into the walls, floors and ceilings. The developer’s experiences of this over many years enabled him to see that the floor layers had done all they could, and the problem was owing to issues they couldn’t control.

Once the client had received my report and we had discussed how the issue could be resolved, both parties were happy and there was no long term impact on their business relationship.

It was good to see the standard of workmanship on this job which was much better than most of the jobs I see. If no steps had been taken to prevent updraught soiling, the story would have had a very different ending, with the contractor footing the bill for a complete replacement of the carpet.

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