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Building Mycology: Management of Decay and Health in Buildings

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  1. Building Mycology | Management of Decay and Health in Buildings | Taylor & Francis Group.
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With a clear, symptom-based format, this is Special attention is therefore required to minimise defects, blockage and leaks. This will require regular inspection and maintenance. Measures that will help safe and easy access to the important parts of the roof drainage system are, therefore, well worthwhile, especially when time and money are restricted. Temporary repairs to roof drainage systems need not be difficult or expensive. However, in some cases it is cost effective to by-pass blocked or defective systems.

The ultimate measure of this type is the installation of complete temporary roof structures. Less drastic measures are the installation of overflow spouts from gutters and the by-passing of blocked hopper heads or down-pipes by spouts draining water clear of the building. Such measures can be especially useful, as the effect of most roof drainage systems is to concentrate water and hence, multiply the size of the potential problem when a leak occurs. It should not be forgotten that all such temporary roof and roof drainage measures will require the same attention to inspection and maintenance as the main systems.

Similarly, balconies and the roofs over bay windows and porches require the same consideration. Water penetration at ground level should also be minimised.

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This is made far easier and cheaper if all rubbish and vegetation can be cleared from around the base of the walls and external ground levels can be reduced to below internal floor levels. Ultimately, if drains are inadequate or cannot be entirely kept clear, the digging of temporary surface water drains is worthwhile.

It is important that water overflowing from roof drainage is prevented from splashing back onto the walls. This may be done using temporary spouts and gutters as described above. Obviously, the most economical way of minimising moisture sources inside the building is to turn off and drain any plumbing or heating systems that are not required. Those that are still in use will require inspection and maintenance.

‎Building Mycology on Apple Books

A number of the factors that favour timber decay organisms act as moisture reservoirs, providing a long term and continuous supply of moisture for their growth. If such moisture reservoirs are identified measures can be taken to isolate them from valuable structures and to allow them to be dried out in the long term. This will usually only involve minor exposure work and attention to ventilation, though in some cases more active measures are useful. As a first step, if building rubbish, furnishings, or other movable items have become wet and are acting as a moisture reservoir, they should be removed from the building.

Building materials such as insulation material, plaster, pugging or other infill material can be similarly disposed of if they become wet. This is the especially useful if they are in sealed cavities as is case with the masses of building rubbish that can be found in most sub-floor spaces.

In a building under reduced occupancy and maintenance, it has to be accepted that there will be some moisture sources and even occasional catastrophic water penetration into the structure. Given this situation, it is necessary to arrange adequate moisture sinks for all foreseeable moisture sources or moisture reservoirs. Ideally these should be passive, should require minimal intervention or maintenance, and be self correcting. As water tends to percolate downwards through a structure the provision of good drainage for the foundations is useful. As described above, the physical removal of wet materials from the building is also cost effective.

Mechanical dehumidifiers can sometimes be useful and may be cost effective in some circumstances. However, the most important moisture sink is provided by ventilation.


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  • All structures and cavities should be provided with adequate through ventilation and anything that tends to restrict this should be removed. A through flow of fresh air not only acts as a moisture sink but also has a direct effect in limiting the growth of decay organisms. The dry rot fungus Serpula lacrymans particularly, is unable to grow in these conditions and is the major cause of structural decay in neglected buildings 6.

    As a first step, all windows can be fixed slightly open and any protective boarding perforated or spaced away from the window frames. Similarly, all internal door hatches or cupboards should be fixed open. It is most important to allow adequate ventilation into the top and bottom floor of the building. Any fireplaces or chimneys should be opened up to allow through ventilation of the structures involved. This also takes advantage of the stack effect to ventilate the rooms they serve. Any furniture, rubbish, or other stored goods can restrict ventilation and is best removed.

    This is especially important with fitted floor coverings. The next step is to carry out minor exposure work to allow through ventilation of any sealed cavities. Such works need to be carefully carried out and supervised in order to prevent damage and to maximise their effect. Examples of such measure are the raising of floorboards overlying joist ends in external walls, and the opening up of window soffits, shutters or reveal boards. Where moisture sources or moisture reservoirs are found, extra ventilation may be introduced. For example, by the cutting of vents in lath and plaster to allow a through flow of air behind, or by the stripping of plaster overlying built-in timbers.

    It is important that any of these works are carried out carefully so as to preserve any materials removed that may be used on renovation. For example, floorboards and window shutters should be carefully identified and stored. If timbers removed in this way are damp or partially decayed, they should be stored so as to allow adequate ventilation and drying of the individual elements.

    In this way, considerable savings of historically important materials can be made and the cost of renovation significantly reduced. In some cases, it is cost effective to continue heating an unoccupied building. Ideally, this should employ low level structural heating techniques to increase the movement of moisture from the structure into the air. A similar effect can be achieved by careful use of pre-existing heating systems run continually at a low setting. However, intermittent heating, air heating systems or heating without proper structural ventilation is to be avoided.

    These tend to promote condensation and may even increase the rate of growth of some decay organisms. They are thus, at best, a waste of money and may be counterproductive. Monitoring and maintenance can be the most important and the most problematical part of conserving a neglected building. This is not just because of financial constraints but is due to the difficulty in organising appropriate small scale inspections and works. For this reason, a specialist consultant and contractor team are required.

    This ensures that information is not lost, that continuity of policy is maintained and that fixed costs are minimised. The most cost effective interval between inspections will vary with the complexity of the building and its state of decay. Once the environment has been stabilised by appropriate measures, less frequent inspection may be required, but in all cases there should be at least two thorough inspections per year. Inspections should access all the relevant factors described above and be followed by appropriate maintenance.

    Any measures that can be taken to help this process can be very cost effective. For example, the provision of ladders and temporary access hatches to facilitate access are especially important.