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Mike Parrett
Featured Profile: 
At A Glance
Licensed Body: 
South East
Building Pathologist
Works For: 
Damp Diagnosis Consultancy
Burning Ambition: 
To improve housing conditions
Big Picture
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? 
Buildings have always been a first love. I come from a father who was a builder and a family love of buildings
What do you love about your job and being a “scientist”? 
When I do my surveys what I then feel I have an overwhelming duty to explain the science to people in an easy to understand manner and demonstrate to them why it is important. Mike Parrett can lie through his teeth, but the science won’t lie. What are acceptable levels of dryness levels in buildings materials? If the results are over that then it’s not your fault – it’s a failure of the building. I see science as bastion of truth. We’re merely the messengers, custodians of that
What qualifications did you take at school? 
I did GCSEs in Maths and Geology and A’levels in English literature and sociology. I had a very reasonable appetite for science and history. It was a strict time in education in the 50s and 60s
Why did you choose your first degree subject? 
I didn’t go to university. It was out to work, dictated by the economic circumstances and I was the eldest child. I’m not so sure I would have done as well as I have if I’d followed the mainstream, status quo route. Would I have fallen foul? Would I just be in the club? My family are so proud that the boy from nowhere, from the Projects, has against all odds gone from rags to riches, put his head above the parapet and been successful
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? 
I live this question quite often. Often I’m introduced for what I do, which then begs all sorts of questions. What the devil is a building pathologist? I tell people I dissect buildings and understand why and how they fail. There’s a parallel to a pathologist dissecting a human body. I have a background as a building surveyor, but there’s a big difference between that and what I do now. I usually give people this quote: “Somebody once said that surveying buildings is an art, but verifying building failure is a science.” And that really to me is what separates a building surveyor from a pathologist. I’m often referred to as the property doctor. Surveying normally stops at the symptoms, and that’s where pathology starts
What is ‘cutting-edge’ about your work? 
On a typical day I would either have a single building of some size to look at or a couple of social housing homes. We’re engaged to look into a problem which has hitherto gone undiagnosed, or where remedial work has been put in place and the dampness has persisted. Our job is to go in and do fairly disruptive testing of the building elements, involving pathology, using a range of techniques and cutting-edge instruments. We try to minimize the extent of the invasion using keyhole techniques. We use the application of optical borendoscopes (a medical instrument) so we can investigate parts of the building that are relevant to our trail of inquiry into where the dampness is originating from as well as its root cause. We use hydrometers for measuring the moisture content in the air, and we also employ longer term measurements by leaving the instruments in the building for a length of time. Floor hydrometers give us the moisture profiles of floors over time, and we use temperature probes and thermistor thermometers so we can understand internal air temperatures. We look at the water vapor content of the internal air and we calculate the dew point. There are various chemical tests we do for getting precise moisture contents which help determine the precise cause of damp and its location. We can then work out whether we have a failure of the building, a problem with the building design, or a contribution to the problem from the occupant…or any combination of the three. Once we’ve determined causation we can then move forward to specify remedial measures. We follow the carpenter’s maxim: “measure twice, cut once”. Previously the status quo was to go in, take the bare minimum of measurements and just treat the symptoms without identifying the cause
What are the biggest implications your work will/could have in the future? 
The biggest impact it’s starting to have is a massive reduction in unnecessary remediation which provides a massive cost saving for property owners and people who have an interest in buildings, particularly in the social housing sector. I hope the momentum will continue. My work is also improving the nation’s health where people are living in mould and damp ridden houses. Some moulds are toxic and can affect the mental and physical health of people living in the building. So my work uses the application of scientific principles, driven by independence, to improve health and save huge sums of money
Describe some of the highlights of your average day. 
A highlight for me was when the results of my work started to speak for themselves. In Lewisham, the tenants were happier with the homes they were living in. Pat Fordham, the head of the tenant and residence association, is on film saying what a difference my work made and the amount of money it saved. David Sullivan, the former mayor of Lewisham, is also on film stating quite clearly the impact and savings that my work has produced in Lewisham. I was the first recipient of the “Pride of Lewisham” award. These bits of recognition have helped to validate and recognize that the work I’m doing is of some validity and importance. Another highlight: In 1997, Lewisham’s Communication department secretly nominated me for the British Building Maintenance Awards. The selection committee picked my work proving the rarity of rising damp using calcium carbonite as the outright winner. This got reported on in newspapers and then the BBC picked up the story. They decided to dedicate an entire programme of their “Raising the Roof” series to my work, which was televised in January 1999 despite legal challenges by the damp industry. Suddenly I’d come onto the national stage
Describe briefly how your career has progressed to date. 
I entered social housing with a view/ethos of trying to provide decent homes for people to live in. I worked first in housing management and then moved into building surveying because I’d had some training from a course I’d done at Hackney Building College. In housing management, all I seemed to be dealing with was people’s complaints about the buildings in which they lived. This prompted me to move into surveying to understand what these conditions were – physical deterioration, poor building use or design, or just poor maintenance. What I actually found when I moved into a surveying unit was the enormous quantity of properties that were just being diagnosed with one cause – rising damp. I became suspicious of this practice. I started to do research into various techniques available to be able to analyze buildings more thoroughly. This took me to the National Physical Lab at Teddington, and other specialist research bodies. I identified techniques, the use of calcium carbine for example, that became the central plank of my investigative processes. I convinced the people who controlled the purse strings in Lewisham to afford me equipment – whirling hydrometers, wet and dry bulb hydrometers, psychometric charts for the calculation of dew point, humidity and air temperature etc. With the use of the calcium carbine test I started to analyze buildings more thoroughly and I couldn’t find a single case of a physical damp proof course failure in the walls. As time went on I started to gather more and more information documenting my findings while meeting with a great deal of resistance from my colleagues in the surveying department who basically laughed at my results and saw them as a challenge to their work. I investigated every report of a damp property personally, and in each one I found every other cause of dampness except the stated failure of the physical horizontal damp proof course. I started to look at buildings outside Lewisham, but I still couldn’t find this phenomenon which had acquired the household name of “rising damp”. Yet surveyors kept diagnosing this and referring people to expensive damp proof specialists. The nub of my life’s work has been to change that ideology and practice. It’s been an uphill battle. In the Jan/Feb 2009 issue of the RICS building surveying journal I wrote an article entitled “Stop the Rot. Why the practice of passing clients to salespeople from damp proofing companies must end”. I talked about how we can’t continue this practice and we’re failing in our duty of care. It got a very positive response. People phoned me up from all over the country. Applying the science and sticking to the scientific principles is what has given me the confidence to pursue what I believe and have proven to be the truth. After the BBC programme “Raising the Roof” gave my work national attention, I expanded my consultancy work and took early retirement from Lewisham. I continued to expand my work around the country and even abroad in the U.S. and Hong Kong. I co-wrote the definitive book on the subject, “Diagnosing Damp”, published in 2003, which sold around the world. I then wrote and produced “Mike Parrett’s Guide to Building Pathology” (6 DVDs, 9 hours). Now I’m collaborating with other leading people in their fields – for example, Frank Lesh of the American Society of Home Inspectors, Knut Ivar Edvardsson of the Norwegian Building Control, Ettore Vio (architect in charge of St Mark's Basilica in Venice), and Guido Biscontine (world renowned chemist from Foscari University in Venice). By collaborating with all these leading people and putting my diagnosis to the test, I’ve finally been able to prove myself and put my mind at rest. It’s been a long hard road
What’s the biggest achievement of your career so far? 
Of all the mould cases we’ve looked at in the last 30 years, it was getting the correct diagnosis in Lewisham in all of its 34,000 properties. The surveyors had stopped at the symptoms and had left the next stage to commercial companies who had products to sell. They were going in and putting chemicals in the walls, giving the people the notion they were getting a 30-year damp guarantee. I stopped all the unnecessary chemical injections. Chemicals do not create a complete cut-off to moisture rising. The original diagnosis was incorrect. Dampness in buildings is at best misunderstood and at worst completely diagnosed. The Mayor of Lewisham has thanked me and told me what my work meant to the people there
What do your friends and family think about your job? 
My cockney Mum says: “Oh, you’re off to America love. It’s not for a bit of mould and damp, is it?”
Why did you choose to apply for CSci and what do you value most about being a Chartered Scientist? 
Recognition. Acceptance. Validation. And keeping in touch with the wider community on developments. Also CSci gives me a platform to continue to contribute to and influence change
Advice & Reflection
What words of wisdom would you give someone interested in getting into your field? 
My words of wisdom are if you understand the scientific principles first then you’re on your way to developing an analytical approach and verifying building failure. Each day you’re not doing something about it is a day lost. My father always said to me when I was a child – when you are saddled with the burden of the truth – you either roll over and play dead like a good soldier or you stand up and do something about it
How would you define “professionalism”? 
Truth is very important to me. It means so much to any professional if you’re fully committed to what you do. I draw strong parallels to medical world, the Hippocratic Oath, you do the best you can do for your patient etc
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