By David Gibbon
-RICS Conservation Accredited Building Surveyor
I’ve been banging on about climate change for years. I’ve even given a couple of talks to RICS conferences drawing attention to the connection between climate change and flooding, particularly as it affects surveyors and the land and buildings we advise on. Now flooding, flood damage and leaky buildings are subjects that are right up at the top of the agenda.
Wherever there is damage to property there tends to be two competing ideologies. There’s always a rush of commercial operators with guaranteed solutions. Radical surgery and highly toxic chemicals is the industry’s response to Dry Rot. Cement was the favoured answer to a multitude of construction problems for over a century. Pumping foam into cavities is another craze and “maintenance free” plastic windows another. In every case I ask myself: is there an environmentally friendlier approach? Are we being railroaded by commercial interests?
We are so taken in. A couple of decades ago there was a great fashion in the building industry for component “systems” backed by elaborate warranties. There were cleverly marketed, comprehensively guaranteed and scientifically engineered rainscreens and wonderfully complex roof glazing systems. They’ve all got buckets under them now.
We ain’t seen nothing yet
Flooding has produced droves of “experts”. They are the “dredging” brigade. They can talk nonsense from morning to night without drawing breath. The truth is that flooding has two parts to it: 1) it is getting much much worse due to human generated climate change of which we ain’t seen nothing yet and 2) it is made immeasurably worse by stupid land management that seeks to suppress nature rather than work with it. And by suppressed nature I mean hillsides bare of woodland and kept in that state by subsidised sheep, deer allowed to get completely out of control and grouse moors managed on behalf of reclusive plutocrats. I mean rivers and streams converted into agricultural drainage channels. I mean all the things that George Mombiot, quite correctly, rages about in the Guardian.
Meandering rivers with riparian edges reinforced by coppiced tree roots and lots of obstructions to slow and absorb the flow can, of course, be created to mitigate flash floods and there are some great examples where huge sums have been expended to achieve very positive results by this means. But they can be had for free along with the cascade of resulting biodiversity, of agricultural pollution filtration and breakdown, of drought reduction and the enrichment of rivers to the benefit of fish by the simple measure of reintroducing the keystone species that did all this from the last Ice Age until a few generations ago: Castor Fiber – the European beaver.
We are beset with them. The climate changed weather systems we now face are driving water straight through the walls of many of our traditional buildings and newer ones too. They now often leak like sieves. Finding answers is a painstaking process. Almost every day we discover something new, a new problem and hopefully a new solution.