Stamp Out Damp

Your Granny may have always told you that ‘a stitch in time can save nine’, but believe me it’s never been more true when it comes to combating damp and the problems associated with it from your home. Especially if you live in a property that is prone to damp, then you need to be continually vigilant. Damp isn’t necessarily always associated with creaky, older properties – it can be a real problem in new builds too and it’s one of the most common problems in property in the UK. Ignore it at your peril – it can quickly lead to mould and mould can lead to rot.

Here’s the main types of damp and how you can avoid them:

Rising Damp

As the name suggests, this damp rises from a water source below. The most common cause is a breakdown of the damp proof course – or having none at all. Older properties were often built without a damp proof course, but if the house is allowed to ‘breath’ normally, there should be no issues. Blocked up chimneys, hermetically sealed windows or tight fitting doors are likely to cause problems.

  • Don’t block natural ventilation – especially in older houses.

  • Ensure that drains are kept clear – saturated soil lets water seep back into the house.

  • Make sure there are no large trees within 20m of the property – roots can damage drains and footings.

  • Check all guttering and down pipes for blockages.

  • If you have a cellar, check the condition of the underside of the joists and floorboards.

A long horizontal line of small holes drilled into an exterior wall could indicate that someone has installed a chemical injection damp proof course. These can be effective and usually come with a guarantee.

Penetrating Damp

This damp comes through walls and around windows either horizontally or from above. The most frequent cause is a leaking roof or blocked gutters and downpipes.

The area where the damp appears may be some distance from where the water is coming in. Water may travel down beams, through natural gullies, down electric cables and along joists before it finally makes an appearance on the wall.

To avoid Penetrating Damp:

  • Check all rainwater goods regularly. Look for external damp patches soon after rain, where most of the wall has dried but a damp patch is left.

  • Feel the walls with your hands for damp.

  • Pay attention to ceilings and around windows – especially dormer windows and roof lights.

  • Inspect the loft and check the condition of the under felt (if there is any). Turn the lights off and look to see if daylight comes through. This shows places where water could come in.

  • Use a pair of binoculars to check the condition of the roof. Study the ridge tiles and the area around the base of any chimney stack. Inspect the condition of the cement securing the ridge tiles and any lead flashing.

  • Look for any signs of algae or mould on exterior walls. This can indicate recurring dampness and could lead to problems on corresponding interior walls.

  • Consider investing in a damp proof meter. These can be bought for around £100.

Accidental Damp

This is damp that’s been caused by accidental leakage –a leaking water pipe or tap. Older pipe work is particularly susceptible to leakage from joints, and as pipe work is hidden this can be very difficult to spot. A good plumber should be able to tell you if hidden pipe work is leaking. Another common area for problems to occur is around poorly fitted sanitary ware, shower cubicles and baths.

To avoid Accidental Damp:

  • Always turn the stop cock off if the property is left vacant for any long period of time.

  • Drain the water and central heating systems of any property that is vacant – especially over cold periods. Frozen pipes can cause expensive damage.

  • Look for signs of leakage around all areas where water is used.

  • Get a qualified plumber along to give you an informal assessment of the state of the water and central heating systems. They may spot things you won’t.

Dry Rot

They call Dry Rot the ‘cancer of buildings’. It usually starts as something fairly trivial such as a leaking gutter, and can end up spreading through the entire fabric of the building. It looks like spiders webs with fine roots that spread through wood, bricks and concrete. Any wood that is affected will eventually turn to dust and will need to be replaced. In order to eliminate dry rot, the whole area will need to be treated with specialist chemicals, and all infected wood and stone will need to be removed. This is potentially extremely expensive.

Call in the Specialists

If you suspect wet or dry rot in your home contact a specialist firm that is a member of the Property Care Association. There are products available that help you to Do it Yourself, but it’s really a job for the professionals- and the guarantee that comes with the work will give peace of mind.