How can I tackle white fluffy growth on wall?

Your property queries answered

Q I wonder could you give me some guidance about the problem that I have in my front hall. The house is over 100 years old and was totally rebuilt in 1986. The only remaining original wall is at the front of the house. This was dry lined and insulated at the time.

Over the past few years a small fungal growth has started to appear on the wall adjacent to the front door. I have tried to treat it with a variety of paints but to no avail.

A few years ago this section of wall was covered (foolishly) with fireboard and plastered, and now the growth is coming out of the side of the fireboard.

If, as I say, you could give me some guidance or information I would greatly appreciate it. I am assuming the growth is not dangerous to one’s health.


PS: The outside of the wall is rough pebbledash and I wonder if using something like polybond to seal it might help.

A For starters, the white fluffy growth shown in your photograph is not a fungus. It is in fact a bloom of individual grains of salt caused by a process known as salt efflorescence. You can taste them if you wish or dare!

Salt efflorescence occurs when soluble salts, found in some gypsum or cement- based plasters and mortars, dissolve in water to form a saline solution. This solution has the ability to pass through porous materials such as plaster, brick and stone. Once it reaches the surface of the wall, the water in the solution evaporates and the salts recrystallise and form a fluffy growth.

The bloom itself is relatively harmless, causing cosmetic rather than structural damage, and should be brushed away regularly. It isn’t harmful to your health, although I wouldn’t sprinkle it on your chips!

Salt efflorescence is generally caused by damp conditions. In your case, this appears to be localised, with moisture passing into the wall at a joint around the front door. It would be worthwhile to check the seals around the outside of the door – perhaps some caulking or mortar has fallen away and needs renewal and filling. The use of paints to disguise the problem will not provide a lasting solution. Similarly, the use of a product such as polybond will probably only make matters worse by trapping moisture within the old solid front wall.

While the salts aren’t particularly harmful, damp conditions behind the plasterboard may be concealing problems with fungal growth, mould and condensation. If there is a damp musky smell or if black mould is starting to grow on wall and ceiling surfaces, it would be advisable to seek specialist impartial advice from a building surveyor.

If ignored, these conditions could lead to more significant problems with wood rot and deterioration of the plasterboard, while black mould or mildew can he harmful to occupants with respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

Frank Keohane, is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland,

Building dispute

Q My company has employed a building contractor to construct a commercial property which contains an industrial warehouse and a number of offices. We are halfway through the build and the builder is requesting a significantly higher drawdown of funds than usual.

The reason provided is that there were slight changes to the internal design and layout of the offices which is resluting in a significant rise in costs of labour and materials.

We dispute this claim and have reached a point where relations between ourselves and the builder are reaching boiling point.

Can you please suggest an appropriate way forward to break this deadlock so as to reach a fair conclusion?

A It would appear from the manner in which the question is phrased that there is no formal contract in place between the “employer” and the building contractor, or at least that there is no contract administrator on the project advising on contract/cost matters.

The prevailing forms of building contract in this country contain mechanisms for the valuation of extra works (“variations”) and procedures in the event of dispute between both parties to the contract.

It is recommended that a formal contract is always drawn up between the parties to building contracts, based on a clear, unambiguous scope of works, whether that be outlined in drawings and/or specifications or some other form of agreed schedule of the works. It is imperative the consumer is 100 per cent clear on what “he is buying” and the contractor is 100 per cent clear on “what he is selling”.

It appears in this instance that there is not a clear understanding of the content of the contract or how to value changes to the agreed scope of work. Not surprisingly relations between both parties have deteriorated.

It is imperative that both parties move promptly to resolve this impasse as if the dispute is allowed to fester, it could lead to legal disputes and an incomplete building project. In this respect it is encouraging that the writer is seeking to reach a “fair conclusion”.

As the dispute appears to relate to costs as opposed to quality or workmanship issues, we would recommend that a chartered quantity surveyor is engaged to conduct an independent review of the dispute(s) and associated costs.

Ideally the appointment of this person could be agreed by both parties and agreement reached for both parties to share the cost of associated fees.

In the event that this approach is not acceptable to both parties it may be necessary to refer the dispute to mediation or conciliation which are both forms of “alternate dispute resolution” in lieu of reverting to the legal process.

Micheál Mahon is chair of the SCSI quantity surveying professional group

Leasing farm land

Q I am managing the letting of my parents' agricultural land and am considering renting it out to a tenant on a long lease. How can I be assured that the lease does not grant any rights such as rights of renewal to the tenant?

A Long-term agricultural leases were first encouraged by the Department of Agriculture and Finance in the late 1980s, in place of con-acre/short-term licences, when the Oireachtas reformed the old Land Commission Acts. The main policy objective was to increase land mobility and the productive use of land. Measures to assist the grant of long-term leases were seen as a way to encourage this.

Tax incentives to farm land owners have since been introduced to encourage long-term leasing. There are maximum annual tax-free limits over five to seven years of €18,000, seven to 10 years of €22,500 and over 10 years of €30,000. The benefit from the farm tenant’s perspective includes security of tenure, ensuring their investment in the land can be maximised over a reasonably long term.

When the lease is for land only, no right of renewal will arise, since it does not fall under the definition of a “tenement” as set out in landlord and tenant legislation. In order for the farmer tenant to obtain a new lease, he must prove that the lease qualifies as a tenement and that the use of the premises qualifies as a business. Accordingly, if your farm comprises both buildings and lands, you should ensure that the farmer tenant signs a deed of renunciation of any rights they have to a renewal when signing the new lease. Both parties should obtain independent legal advice in advance of signing any documentation.

A lease is a contract between two parties and it is important for the protection of the landowner and the tenant that it reflects the agreement between the parties on matters such as improvements and capital works such as the erection of structures/buildings, rent reviews, routine maintenance and reinstatement of the land on expiry.

Crucially, the lease should contain a dispute resolution mechanism, particularly as many lettings occur between family members and neighbours. The IFA has developed a master lease which is useful to the parties to identify potential issues that might arise, including how the land will be farmed and managed.

If the landowner dies, the land can be sold with the benefit of the lease. The farmer tenant may also need to consider what should happen in the event of his or her death. The parties may need to consider a break clause allowing them to terminate the lease in the event of death. You should always check the tax position with your accountant in advance of any agreement.

John Dawson is a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland