SOPHIE Robinson was a typical teenager ... but with a difference. For while she loved music, the teen gossip and music she also spent a lot of time on building sites with her dad.
And the 25-year-old from Netherthong became so fascinated by how buildings were constructed she has turned it into living by becoming the only female damp-proof surveyor in Yorkshire.
She is only one of four nationwide who has qualified in the Certified Surveyor for Structural Waterproofing course run by the Property Care Association and is one of just 18 to hold the Certified Surveying in Remedial Treatment certificate.
The waterproofing course looks at homes where people aim to bring underground rooms such as cellars back into use while the remedial one covers all aspects of damp and timber surveying.
Most of it was on-the-job training with her dad, Terry’s company, Slaithwaite-based Robinsons Property Services, topped off with exams.
From the age of about 14 Sophie would spent school holidays and weekends with Terry on site learning about the building trade.
“I’ve always been interested in construction and architecture,’’ she said.
Late last year Sophie set up her own company, SR Surveyors, as she feels it is best that surveyors are completely independent so they give totally impartial advice.
She said some clients are surprised to find a 25-year-old woman carrying out damp-proof checks around the house.
“I’ve had one or two funny looks’’ she said. “But I think being a woman also means people – especially older women – can be very chatty and want to know all about the problems in their homes.’’
Sophie, who was educated at Colne Valley High School and then Huddersfield New College, said she loves her work going into different homes every day.
“I do between five and 10 surveys a week,’’ she said. “And they can save people money. I went to one house in Huddersfield which was for sale and the buyer had commissioned a survey which claimed the house was damp throughout and needed damp-proofing.
“The seller had been asked to drop the price by a significant amount and so asked me to do a report. The damp was minimal and had been caused by two chimneys due to a leak and could be quickly sorted out and then the walls replastered.’’
But it can go the other way too. Sophie also surveyed a commercial property in Huddersfield that was already under renovation and discovered it was riddled with dry rot. Her report gave the owner the ammunition to ask the contractors why the problem hadn’t been found sooner.
“The dry rot was everywhere,’’ said Sophie. “They had missed quite a lot of it.’’
And dry rot is the worst of all the ‘nasties’ that can lurk around the home.
“It spreads so quickly,’’ said Sophie. “It can grow through walls and across concrete to attack wood and can spread throughout the house. It makes the wood dry and brittle so it just crumbles in your hand.’’
Condensation is another big problem at houses across Huddersfield and can look far worse than it is as it leads to mould.
Yet is one of the easiest to sort out. Much is caused by people drying clothes indoors on radiators and condensation can be solved by improving the temperature, humidity and airflow – even down to such simple things as moving furniture forward to allow more air behind.
Sophie also has to turn detective during her surveys to discover how people have tried to hide damp.
Some are not that ingenious and simply paint over the tell-tale damp patch in the hope a potential buyer won’t notice.
“It may look OK for a couple of weeks but then the damp will show through again,’’ she said.
But Sophie’s even discovered false walls in front of a damp wall and plywood fixed over floorboards to hide damp and even beetle infestations below which is particularly common under bathroom floors.
Not one to stand still for long, Sophie already has ambitions to increase her knowledge by learning about damp-proofing techniques designed for areas at high risk of flooding.
“I’m very interested in flood resilience and prevention,’’ she said.
“This will range from external waterproofing to redirecting the water flow through drainage channels.’’
Sophie’s fiance, Tony Smith, is a plumber and her mum and dad, Terry and Heather Robinson, live in Slaithwaite. She has a 20-year-old brother, Joe, who is an electrician and a 26-year-old sister, Faye, who is a lighting designer.
Here’s Sophie’s guide to the different types of damp
Rising Damp: Can affect both internal and external walls and is caused by moisture from the ground rising up through the capillaries in the mortar beds. In most cases rising damp will only affect up to about 250mm to 300mm from external ground level. Rising damp usually leaves behind a band of salts.
Penetrating Damp: Moisture passing through the construction of a property sometimes where properties have been built into a banking. Penetrative damp will always affect internal rooms that are below ground level such as basements and cellars unless they have been treated.
Condensation:Humidity in the air caused by bathing, washing, cooking and cleaning. When the air in a property hits a cold surface such as a glass window or a cold wall, the air is slowed down and is turns back into moisture.
Condensation can leave behind unsightly black spot mould and creates a fusty smell. When there are only small levels of condensation the problem can be improved by increasing air flow such as moving furniture away from walls and opening windows.