About Geoff Godfrey

Dampness In Old Properties and What You Can Do About It

by Erik Evans

Dampness in residential properties is an issue that attracts a lot of attention in the surveying world. If the problem is severe, it can be highly destructive and can lead to significant damage to a property. The presence of moisture causes degradation to structural materials, particularly timber and other types of structural wood. As such, it's important you go to sites and understand the problem and are able to take steps to prevent it.

Why Does Dampness Occur in Buildings?

Although dampness can occur in any type of building, it is most prevalent in older structures that haven't been renovated to meet current standards. The reason for this lies in the structure's "breathability", a term that describes how easily a building can absorb and remove moisture content in the air.

Modern buildings are designed to comply with state building regulations, which can give stringent guidelines on how to allow for breathability. Typically, these building codes outline how to incorporate a system of barriers in the structure that can stop water from penetrating the material. However, building regulations have become much stricter with time, and older properties were constructed without much guidance on this issue.

For this reason, old properties were constructed with entirely solid walls that did not accommodate barrier systems within the structure. When the buildings were constructed, this didn't cause much of a problem as open fires were commonplace. Open fires rely on oxygenated air, which means they quickly drew in large quantities of air through open doors and windows. This continuous intake of fresh air would have evaporated moisture in the room, meaning condensation wasn't a major problem.

Unfortunately, central heating systems made of multiple electric radiators do not have exhibit this property. As such, moisture content is allowed to remain in the property and when the air cools, can cause condensation to form.

What Are the Underlying Causes of Dampness?

Dampness mainly occurs from condensation; however, this condensation can occur due to a number of reasons:

  • Moisture in the Air – Most old buildings have thick, double-glazed windows that help reduce the release of air and keep the property warm. However, these energy-saving measures also increase the internal humidity of the property, meaning moisture can become trapped in the air very easily.
  • Penetrating Damp – This type of dampness is caused by moisture that is allowed to seep through the structural walls, becoming trapped in the material and attacking from the inside.
  • Rising Damp – As the name suggests, this is dampness that occurs when moisture is allowed to rise through the floors in a property. Modern properties have systems in place to capture this rising damp and release it back into the environment; however, these were not included in old properties and so moisture can rise throughout the property fairly easily.

How Can I Detect Dampness in My Home?

Dampness is a fairly easy problem to spot if you know what to look for. Unfortunately, many homeowners don't know the signs of dampness and may attribute their structural damage to other problems. As such, here's a few tell-tale signs of structural dampness to keep an eye out for:

  • Condensation – Condensation is characterized by water droplets that accumulate on windows, walls or table tops. You may also notice the formation of mold in crevices of the room, which give off a noticeable unpleasant smell.
  • Rising Damp – Rising damp is the easiest problem to spot as the signs are very specific to the condition. If you have damaged floorboards that seem to peel away from one another, then dampness is inevitable. The wallpaper or paint may also be peeling from the wall in tight corners, and the material will look "crumbly".
  • Penetrating Damp – This problem is characterized by dark, damp patches that arise on your walls and ceilings. These damaged patches will have attacked the material around them, so keep an eye out for wallpaper or paint that is peeling away.

Although the above signs are classic symptoms of dampness, it's important to have the problem confirmed by a qualified inspector. Property inspectors are fully trained at spotting dampness symptoms and will be able to offer you guidance on how to stop the problem from continuing.