Wrinkly Feet

The phone rang.

“I’ve got wrinkly feet,” he said.

“Try wearing wellies,” I said.

“I do wear wellies,” he said.

“Does it happen when the tide comes in?” I said.

“Yes,” he said, “…..and when the tide goes out.”

“Try standing above the high water mark.”

“I don’t know anything about that, I am three miles away from the sea.”

“Are your feet ever dry?” I said.

“Only when I stand on the table,” he said “upstairs.”

At this point, the cryptic conversation was interrupted by a sort of gurgling noise.

“Sorry,” he said “a bit of water in my facemask.”

”Facemask” I prompted “did I catch you at an aquatic time?”

“Oh no,” he said, “I’m just watching a bit of telly.”

I was rather bemused. “I’ll come around and take a look.”

I jumped in the car and soon arrived in front of a low lying house. Jeremy met me at the gate and invited me in. I donned the diving gear at the top of the front steps and finned my way carefully into the living room where Jeremy’s wife Enid sat knitting on a sofa.

“Have a biscuit,” she said, “sorry but it’s a bit soggy.”

It was the worst case of rising damp I had seen for quite a while.

There are not many houses in Bali that don’t have rising damp. This doesn’t have to be the case, it is not difficult to prevent rising damp.

Many years ago I came across a particularly bad case, serious rising damp that left the house very cold and damp inside. For years the owner had struggled and, with water on the brain and following the highly technical advice of some passing collector of aluminium cans, he had both sides of the walls tiled to a metre above the floor. This had, in fact, made the rising damp worse, the contained water had risen even further and was damaging the walls half a metre above the top of the tiles. In the end, the problem was quickly and easily solved merely by understanding the problem and using a sensible solution.

So what causes rising damp? It all comes down to capillary action, forget the physics all we need to know is that capillary action makes water get sucked into things such as blotting paper (remember that?), sponges, newspapers and biscuits. Capillary action is strong enough to suck water upwards and into very narrow cracks.

Most walls in Indonesia are build using lightweight concrete “batako” blocks or red bricks. Both are very porous and soak up water faster than a thirsty camel. Walls are usually finished with a thin layer of cement “plaster.” Water soaks up through the ground below your house and into the floor or the bottom of the wall. It soaks up through the batako, brick, plaster or any cracks in the wall and usually reaches a height of around half a metre. It probably won’t rise higher than this because it gets to the point where the weight of the water becomes greater than the suction of the capillary action.

Look around your house, if you find areas of blistering or flaking paint and/or dampness along the lower section of your walls you probably have rising damp. If you have dampness higher up the wall this is probably not caused by rising damp.

So how do we prevent rising damp? The standard method is to install a water barrier, commonly known as a “damp proof course,” through the bottom of the walls. This should be done during house construction using a plasticised or bitumen impregnated tape which is installed 50 to 100 centimetres above floor level. Unfortunately, this is very rarely, if ever, done in Indonesia and suitable tape is very difficult to find.

So how do we repair a house with rising damp? We need to cut a slot right through the bottom of the wall and install a water proof barrier. This can be done quickly and is not expensive but beware, as you can appreciate, you are cutting through a wall and this is not something you would trust to your average tukang who learned his inestimable construction skills selling nodding dogs at the traffic lights. This is specialist work and should only be carried out by people who know exactly what they are doing and who are using the correct materials.

Finally, do not tile the wall and do not waterproof the wall, this will not solve the problem although it might put a large sum of money into the pocket of your driver’s neighbour’s uncle’s brother twice removed. The solution is to stop the water getting in while allowing the wall to breathe so that it can dry out.


Phil Wilson

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