How to start up a damp proofing business

Moisture control applied to building walls to prevent moisture from passing into the interior spacesDamp proofers provide services to domestic and commercial clients to remedy problems with damp in their properties. Get the essentials for starting up and running your own damp proofing business in our practical guide.

Research your target market

When you plan your damp treatment business it's important to make an estimate of how much demand there will be. It's also important to find out as much as possible about the competition. Doing some market research will help you with this.

Customers

Think about how many people are likely to use your services. Also think about the types of customer you hope to attract.

Domestic work

Although newer properties are by no means immune to damp and damp-related problems, older houses are likely to be a very important source of work. Many of these will show some or all of the following characteristics:

  • no proper damp proof course
  • an inadequate and/or failed damp proof course
  • a direct-to-earth floor with no damp proof membrane
  • floor levels that are close to, at or even in some cases below the level of the external ground level
  • solid walls with no cavity
  • poor ventilation
  • damaged and failing roof covering and rainwater goods leading to water ingress
  • damp or even flooded cellars
  • problems that have arisen as a result of the above, including failed wall ties, mould growth and rotting structural timbers

Identify areas in your region where there are large numbers of older properties. Take note of the general condition of the properties and the types of people that own and live in them.

Non-domestic properties

Think about other types of property where your services might be required. Shops, restaurants, pubs, schools, churches, shops, offices and so on may all require damp proofing and related services at some point and are all potential customers. Some may require basement conversions to give them extra space for things like toilets and storage.

Once you have identified who your potential customers are, you can direct your advertising efforts at them.

Contract and sub-contract work

Try approaching other businesses that may need your services regularly. You could, for example, leave your details with specialists like roofers, plasterers, decorators and joiners, general building contractors, property developers and architects. Consider approaching your local authority - these are normally major users of construction services and may be prepared to include your business on a list of 'approved contractors'. Housing associations may also be potential clients.

Large organisations who invite firms to tender for contract work may be reluctant to use a newly established business. Also, a young business may have difficulty in funding a large contract, as many things may have to be paid for well before any payment is received. But it may be worth finding out who is responsible for putting damp proofing and timber treatment work out to tender in large organisations such as housing associations, local authorities, the National Trust (particularly if you have experience of doing conservation-related work in heritage buildings) and big construction firms. Try to find out how the tender process works and what you would have to do if you wanted to tender for a contract.

Establishing the level of competition

Once you have decided who your customers might be, you need to find out how well they are already served.

How many other damp proofing contractors are active in your area? A look on Yell.com (try categories 'damp proofing and control', 'condensation control', 'woodworm and dry rot control' and 'waterproofing services') and other similar directories will help to identify some of your competitors. Look out for local branches of national firms like Rentokil. You could also try the 'find a member' feature on specialist trade association specialist websites to search for contractors in your area.

Look at some of your competitors' advertising material, including their website if they have one:

  • what range of services do they offer
  • do they advertise any special features, for example a manufacturer backed or insurance backed guarantee, a freephone telephone number and so on
  • do they belong to the Property Care Association, the Wood Protection Association, or any other associations such as the Guild of Master Craftsmen
  • are they part of a franchise scheme
  • do they advertise any widely recognised quality features, for example TrustMark, BSI Kitemark, British Board of Agreement (BBA) certificate and so on
  • what sort of impression does their advertisement give you (for example, does the firm come across as small and friendly, large and businesslike, good value, high quality)

Bear in mind that you may also face competition from local 'cowboys' who call themselves damp proofing contractors but do poor and unnecessary work and rip their customers off.

Research current trends, plus legal and tax issues

Services offered

There is a range of different services that you might decide to offer. These include damp proofing services, waterproofing and tanking services, preventative timber protection and remedial work to rectify damage caused by both long and short term water ingress. Below are some examples:

Damp proofing and waterproofing

  • installing chemical, injection mortar and electro-osmotic damp proof courses to combat rising damp
  • installing liquid damp proof membranes to floors
  • installing 'environmentally driven' non-chemical damp proofing systems to combat various types of dampness
  • tanking cellars and basements to prevent ground-water seepage - this can include installing sump-pump systems
  • applying protective exterior coatings to combat penetrating damp
  • repairing roofs and rainwater systems to prevent water ingress
  • improving ventilation and/or installing dehumidification equipment to reduce internal condensation
  • tanking shower rooms, swimming pools and other areas where water escape needs to be prevented
  • installing flood protection products and systems in vulnerable properties - for example vent covers, barriers and one-way valves

Remedial and preventative work

  • treating new and existing structural timbers to prevent wet and dry rot and wood-boring insect infestation
  • treating and repairing old timbers that have been attacked by wet rot, dry rot or insect infestation
  • treating masonry and other adjacent surfaces affected by a dry rot attack
  • applying fire retardant treatments
  • replacing corroded and failed cavity wall ties
  • repairing internal surfaces affected by dampness, including hacking off old damaged plaster and then re-plastering
  • drying out and repairing properties affected by flooding (flood recovery, sometimes referred to as flood remediation and repair work)
  • controlling invasive and potentially destructive weeds such as Japanese knotweed

Associated work

In many cases, dampness will have caused considerable cosmetic and even structural damage to a property. Some damp proofing treatments also necessitate a degree of disturbance to surfaces such as plasterwork and external renders. Depending on your skills and equipment, there is a range of renovation and reinstatement work that your business could offer:

  • plastering and rendering
  • roofing work
  • carpentry
  • painting and decorating
  • general building work

Added value services

The damp proofing and timber treatment industry is very competitive and you may decide to offer your customers a range of attractive 'added value' services and features. These might include, for example:

  • free professional surveys by a qualified operative
  • a full professionally prepared report, the cost of which might be refundable if the client chooses your firm to carry out the treatment
  • free estimates and quotations
  • insurance backed or manufacturer backed guarantees
  • membership of a recognised trade association
  • a freephone telephone line
  • a 'no job too small' or 'distance no object' promise

A complete package

Many of your customers may be householders who will want you to provide a complete package of services from start to finish. This might include giving advice on treatments required and their cost, preparing a full report, undertaking all remedial work, making good and disposing of any waste materials.

Price your services

First decide how you will charge for the work you do. There are different ways of charging, often depending on the type of work done. Here are some examples:

  • charging for your services (and those of any employees) on an hourly or daily basis, adding to this the cost of any goods and materials you supply
  • charging for some jobs at a standard rate that you have worked out. For example, you might charge a standard price per running metre for chemical damp courses, per square metre for specialist coatings like tanking and for jobs like plastering, and so on
  • charging for certain jobs on a fixed rate basis for the whole job. For example, you may have worked out a standard price to treat the roof timbers for woodworm in a medium sized semi-detached house

Think about the things that your prices will include, and the things that will be charged for as extras. For example, will you charge your customers for preparing a preliminary report, or will this be a free service? Perhaps you will refund the cost of a report to customers who choose your business to carry out the work.

Clients that are other businesses may expect you to offer them a special 'trade rate'. Large organisations like local authorities that invite firms such as yours to tender for contract work will expect your rates to be very competitive. Insurance companies will also expect very competitive prices.

You may decide to use different methods of costing for different jobs, depending on who the customer is and what type of work you will be doing.

It is very important that you set your charges carefully. You must make sure when deciding on what to charge that, assuming you get enough work, you will earn enough to cover all of your operating costs including your own drawings.

Also consider the following points when setting your charges:

  • what do your competitors charge for similar services? Do they calculate their prices in the same way as you do
  • do you aim to win business away from your competitors with attractive pricing
  • will you vary your rate depending on the type and complexity of the work involved
  • will you make a profit on goods and materials that you supply or will you pass these on 'at cost'? If you decide to add a mark-up, decide how much this will be
  • what will you include in your prices, and what will you charge for as an extra? Make it clear to the customer what your prices do and do not include

You will often be asked to give a quote or an estimate for a particular job. Be clear about which you are giving:

  • if you give a quote for a job, that's a fixed price. Once it's been accepted by the customer the price can't be changed, even if there is a lot more work to do than you realised when you prepared the quote. Your quotes should therefore give precise detail of what is covered and make it quite clear that any variations or extras not covered by the quote will be charged for as extras
  • an estimate is not a fixed price, it is just your best guess of what the job is likely to cost. You are not bound by it. It is perfectly acceptable to provide several estimates, each taking into account different circumstances from best to worst case scenario

Many customers will want to agree a price before a job is started and will expect you to stick to this.

Be aware that many of your clients will get quotes from several firms, so you need to be able to quote accurately and competitively. However, don't cut your own throat. Many clients value good quality workmanship and efficient service and are prepared to pay a realistic price for it. Above all, make sure that you don't end up working at a loss because your quote was too low!

Think about whether you will offer any discounts - for example to pensioners.

Special industry guides are available to help you when pricing all aspects of construction work. They give up to date advice on what rates to charge for particular types of job. Some materials suppliers may also help you to work out what quantities you will need for a particular job, and the cost.

Quality certification

Many would-be customers will want to satisfy themselves that your business is bona fide and does good quality work. One good way of demonstrating your commitment to quality is to gain certification for your workmanship and the materials that you use. This can also help your business to stand out among its competitors.

There are various ways that you can demonstrate your commitment to quality - some widely recognised certification schemes for both the damp proofing and timber industry and the construction industry as a whole are listed below.

Trade body approval schemes

The Property Care Association (PCA) is one of the main trade bodies for this industry. The PCA requires its members to uphold certain quality standards, and permits them to use its logo in their advertising. It offers members access to an insurance-backed guarantee scheme. It also participates in the government-backed TrustMark quality scheme for finding trustworthy trades-people. For more information visit the PCA website.

Certificated Surveyor in Remedial Treatment (CSRT)

For certain categories of membership, the PCA requires its members to hold (or have employees who hold) the CSRT surveying qualification. For more information contact the PCA. Other related PCA qualifications include the Certificated Surveyor in Structural Waterproofing (CSSW).

Manufacturer approval

Most manufacturers of chemical damp proofing chemicals, timber treatment products and tanking systems have 'approved operative' schemes for businesses that use their products. Some also offer their own end-user warranty scheme. To become an approved contractor, you will normally have to demonstrate competence and professional integrity. Some training in the correct use of the products may also be required.

Franchise schemes sometimes also offer quality certification, warranties and contractor training.

CSCS

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) is administered by ConstructionSkills, the skills body for the construction industry. Construction industry workers who join the Scheme are issued with an identity card which reflects their position, their experience and their level of training. Although it is not compulsory, more and more building contractors specify that people working on their sites must hold a valid CSCS card. For more information, visit the CSCS website.

BSI

The British Standards Institution (BSI) administers standards and certification marks relating to a very wide range of goods, materials and systems used in all areas of the construction industry. For example, BS 6576 sets out a code of practice for diagnosing rising damp in walls and installing chemical damp proof courses (and is referred to in the PCA code of practice for remedial damp proof courses in masonry walls).

The BSI also administers the ISO 9000 series of quality management standards. For more information visit the BSI website.

Other trade associations and schemes

There are other trade bodies and quality certification schemes for members of the construction industry. Some examples include:

  • The Guild of Master Craftsmen
  • The Federation of Master Builders
  • The British Board of Agrement (BBA - certifies the quality of building materials, including damp proofing and timber treatment products)
  • the TrustMark quality assurance scheme for the construction industry, including the damp proofing and timber treatment sectors
  • Buy with Confidence - Trading Standards Approved, a vetting scheme for fair and honest businesses that more and more local authorities are signing up to

Before spending any money on joining an organisation or scheme, it's worth taking the time to find out how well known and respected it is.

Warranties

Damp proofing and timber treatments can be expensive investments and many customers will want to be reassured that they are not throwing their money away. Visually, there is often little 'before and after' difference and the proof of the pudding is very definitely in the eating! Customers will want to know that the treatment will be effective for many years - or that it will be rectified if it fails. Furthermore, home owners looking to add value to their property will want to be able to prove to prospective buyers that treatments have been carried out properly.

Providing customers with a written guarantee or certificate can help to satisfy their concerns. But how much is the guarantee actually worth? Even the most honest tradesman can't promise that they will still be around and in business to honour a guarantee in 10, 20 or even 30 years time.

Insurance backed guarantees

An insurance backed guarantee can help to give total peace of mind to your clients. Even if your business is no longer trading, the insurer will honour legitimate warranty claims for the duration of the cover. Many insurance backed warranties last for 30 years.

An insurance backed warranty is normally paid for with a single premium at the time when the work is done. You might decide that your business will pay the premium or you could pass on the cost to the customer, perhaps as an optional extra.

Several insurance companies offer underwritten warranty schemes for businesses in the construction industry. The Property Care Association (PCA) works with Guarantee Protection Insurance (GPI), which offers long term guarantee insurance policies to PCA members. Specialist warranty products are available covering works that include rising damp, timber treatment and flood remediation. You can find out more on the GPI website.

The Federation of Master Builders (FMB) operates the BuildAssure range of warranty and insurance products.

Selling insurance backed warranties - the law

If you offer an insurance backed warranty - even if you make no extra charge for this - then you may be covered by general insurance legislation administered by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Businesses whose activities are covered by the legislation need to be either directly authorised by the FCA or an 'appointed representative' of a principal FCA authorised insurer. GPI, for example, is an authorised and regulated company. Visit the FCA website for more information.

Manufacturer backed guarantees

Some large manufacturers of remedial treatments provide their own backing scheme for businesses that use their products and offer customers a long term guarantee. Like insurance backed schemes, these warranties are effective even if the contractor goes out of business. Many provide cover for a 30 year period. In some cases these schemes are themselves insurance backed.

Advertising and marketing

It is important to advertise your business effectively, to let your potential customers know who you are, where you are and what you can do for them.

Print directories

An entry in local print directories can be an effective way of advertising your business. However, many of your competitors will have done the same. Some firms spend a lot of money on large, eye-catching display advertisements, using names like "A1 1st Call Damp-proofing" to try and ensure that their advertisement appears first in the classification. You will have to decide whether to compete head on with these firms, or to look for a different way of attracting customers. You could, for example:

  • focus on your own 'unique selling point' (USP) in your advertising material. This might be, for example, "30 years experience" or "Family run firm"
  • look into becoming listed by a product manufacturer, trade association, trade directory and insurance companies as an 'approved contractor' (most of these organisations operate a quality screening process and some will only list firms that have been trading for at least two years)

Try to tell people as many of the good things about your business as possible in your advertisements, particularly things that distinguish your business from its competitors.

Marketing online

A good business website is essential. Think about getting listed in online directories, such as Yell.com. You could also consider 'contact an expert' directories run by many trade associations.

Social media can be an effective way of marketing your business and making contact with customers. Think too about using forums and blogs (although be aware that some forum websites ban blatant advertising in posts). You could consider trying to obtain work through job-referral websites like Mybuilder.com and Rated People.

Of course you can pay to advertise online, but this can get expensive so you'll need to be sure that this type of expenditure will pay for itself in additional sales.

Other ways of advertising and marketing

Think about other ways of promoting your business. You could, for example, distribute a brochure, paper flyer, plastic card or sticker with your business name and telephone number on it as part of a mail-shot that you do. You might also consider:

  • advertising in the local newspapers. Some of these may run a regular 'contact the experts' type advertising feature. Most have property sections in which you could advertise
  • sponsoring a local sports club or event
  • networking with local estate agents, surveyors, architects, property developers and building contractors. Some of these might use your services on a regular basis. Others might be prepared to pass on the name of your business to potential clients like house buyers and sellers
  • joining the Property Care Association or the Wood Protection Association. Both provide directories of member contractors and put potential clients in touch with approved contractors in their area. Associate and provisional member status may be available to businesses that don't yet qualify for full membership
  • becoming a recognised local supplier for the National Landlords Association - lettings are often older properties needing remedial work

Remember that your vehicle can be a very effective means of advertising if you have it sign-written and keep it clean and presentable. You might consider having a large sign made that you can display outside places where you are working - but make sure that your customer has no objections before putting it up.

Word of mouth

Word of mouth recommendations are very valuable to your business. Everyone has heard horror stories about 'cowboy' tradesmen who bodge jobs, do unnecessary work and swindle their customers - and they want to be sure that you're not going to do the same to them. You will have to earn your reputation through good, reliable workmanship - but even small things like politeness and considerateness can pay big dividends. Make sure that any staff, including sales staff, you employ are good ambassadors for your business too. You want to be sure that if a neighbour of a site where you were working approached one of your staff with a sales enquiry they would be dealt with politely and helpfully.

You may be able to persuade a satisfied customer to give you a reference or testimonial that you can use in your advertising literature.

Your work rate

Assuming that you get a fairly steady stream of work, the amount you can earn depends partly on the number of days you work and the length of your working day.

You may decide to stick to normal business hours, for example 8.30 am until 5.30 pm Monday to Friday and perhaps Saturdays too. Or you may decide to work longer hours - perhaps an earlier start. Remember that bad weather can sometimes disrupt your work schedules. Perhaps you are prepared to work longer hours when your services are in demand, taking some time off during quieter periods. Bear in mind though that you risk causing a disturbance if you start using power tools very early in the morning or carry on late into the evening.

Some damp proofers offer a 24 hour emergency flood recovery service. If you intend to offer a reliable emergency service you will need to make sure that you can provide cover at all times, particularly during the winter. You might decide to team up with another business to share responsibility for emergency calls.

Work rate

You should have a good idea of how long certain types of jobs will take you. It is very important when quoting for a job that you can make an accurate estimate of how long it will take. It's no good basing your quote on two days work if it ends up taking you four!

The speed at which you work depends on your own skills and experience and on the type and standard of the work that you do. Your charges should reflect all of these things.

Non-productive time

Unfortunately, not all of every working day will be spent earning money. Here are a few examples of reasons why you may sometimes find yourself working hard but earning nothing:

  • visiting sites to cost new work and give quotes (if you make no charge for this service)
  • finishing off jobs that take you longer than you had thought (possibly due to unforeseen problems)
  • re-doing faulty work
  • travelling to and from jobs, or to get tools or materials from a supplier
  • repairing tools or vehicles

Sometimes you may find that you are unable to work at all, because:

  • a vital tool or piece of equipment is broken
  • the weather is too bad to work outside
  • you are waiting for items to be delivered
  • another contractor has fallen behind with his or her part of a project - or done their work incorrectly
  • you are ill

Take all of these factors into account when you are estimating the maximum number of productive hours that you can work each month. Be realistic! Remember that they can apply to your employees as well as to you. When you plan your working schedules, try to minimise the amount of time that will be wasted. For example, you may be able to build a contingency into your work schedule so that you can move straight on to another job if for any reason you are unable to work at the original one.

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