Whether you are a house owner or renter, damp problems in your home should always be taken seriously. The ‘head in the sand’ approach does not work as damp problems will never simply go away – in fact they will only get worse. It is important to assess what is causing the damp which could be relatively simple like inadequate ventilation or more serious such as a structural problem.
The good news is that you can successfully treat most damp problems without calling in specialists and by using our advice to become ‘damp aware’ and regularly checking your home, you can avoid any problems in the future.
Do You Have a Problem with Damp?
In a nutshell, dampness is caused by a build up of moisture either inside or outside your home which is either excessive or trapped. The classic sign of dampness in a room is the easily recognisable musty smell when you enter the room. There are other tell tale signs to watch out for too:-
- Are the window frames black with mould? This is caused by bad condensation, usually because of all the steam being created in your home cannot escape.
- Look for any noticeably dark patches on your walls or ceiling. This is a good indicator of rising or penetrating damp. Often damp appears as black speckles on the wall. Other signs can be brown marks running down the side of the chimney breast and similar marks in the corners of exterior walls.
- Check that your flooring is not beginning to lift in places as this can indicate rising damp. Peeling or lifting wall paper can mean there is penetrating damp.
- Check inside cupboards and behind furniture to ensure that no dampness is being hidden.
- Do the walls feel damp in places? Can you feel lumps of salt grain under the wallpaper or is there a salty deposit on painted walls? Rising damp can travel up through the walls from the soil which will cause the walls to feel damp and the salt crystals are a big give away.
- Check the state of your skirting boards. If the wood is soft and crumbling in places, this can be highlighting a dampness problem.
- Have you noticed any mould marks on your soft furnishings? Best to check blinds, curtains or sofas if you suspect a damp problem.
- If the wall near a water pipe has become discoloured or mouldy, check that the water pipe has no cracks – this can often happen in the cold winter months in an unheated room. Check underneath the kitchen sink too to ensure that washing machine and dishwasher pipes are in good order.
Know Your Type of Enemy!
There are three types of damp that can be found in a house and all need prompt action so that they do not get worse:-
- Condensation is the most common type and also the most easily solved! Condensation problems are highlighted by black mouldy window frames and window panes that are streaming with water.
- Rising damp is when moisture travels up from the ground, through floor boards and up into the walls.
- Penetrating damp is when dampness permeates through the wall from the outside and a large darker patch appears on the wall.
How to Effectively Deal with Damp in Your Home
Having ascertained that you have got a problem in your home, it is best to deal with it swiftly, especially as damp can cause health problems for young and old family members. If you are in rented accommodation, contact your landlord who will appreciate that you have raised your concerns promptly.
Damp problems are usually more noticeable in the colder winter months, but can develop at any time – for example whenever a water pipe bursts. Swift action to sort the problem is definitely recommended!
There are a number of good solutions that can be bought in DIY stores and if these do not solve the problem, it will be money well spent to call in some professional help as the problem will only get more serious.
Solving Condensation Problems
The easiest form of damp to deal with is condensation and the easiest cure for condensation is to improve the ventilation in your flat/house. Close bathroom and kitchen doors when you are cooking or showering to ensure that steam does not go into all the rooms. Keep the windows open in these rooms whilst you are producing steam and for 30 minutes afterwards.
Wipe black mould off all window frames with neat bleach as this will slow down its reappearance and towel dry any windows that are running with condensation. There are several products on the market to eliminate black marks left by mould. Effective solutions to condensation problems include de-humidifiers and ventilation systems which can both be easily bought in DIY shops.
Dealing with Rising Damp
Rising damp can be successfully treated by the installation of a damp proof membrane, but if this does not cure the problem, it is best to check if your DPC (damp proof course) is working efficiently otherwise you may to retrofit it. To be effective, a DPC needs to be a good six inches off the ground. Often problems occur because it is not and the solution is to dig a trench around the external walls to reduce the ground level.
Another common problem is when there is ‘bridging’ in the cavity wall – something that is acting as a bridge from the outer to inner wall and helping damp to get through. There are various websites that give instructions on how to check if this is the problem and how to solve it which involves removing whatever has caused the ‘bridge’ (usually rubble) and then injecting water repelling chemicals.
Curing Penetrating Damp
Penetrating damp is usually caused by an outside structural problem such as a length of guttering being filled with leaves, a crack in the wall on the outside or a missing or dis-lodged roof tile. If you find the cause of the problem, these can all be speedily sorted to solve things. Penetrating damp can also be caused by a broken water pipe and replacing the damaged section of pipework will stop the problem, although the wall may take some time to dry out completely.
Does rain get in through any of the window frames? This too can cause damp patches on your walls and could indicate that the window does not fit its frame as snugly as it should do – there are a number of products on the market that can quickly remedy this problem.
Once you have located the cause of the damp and have effectively cured the problem, you need to dry the affected room thoroughly. This will take some time and whilst plenty of ventilation will help, it might be necessary to use a de-humidifier. Once the walls, floor and ceiling are dry, it is best to use a mould removing treatment on the discoloured places. These are very effective, but they do contain bleach so can damage fabrics and painted surfaces. It is essential to wear gloves and eye protection when using these products.
Prevention Is Definitely Quicker Than Cure!
Condensation is the easiest form of dampness to cure. It is produced in every home by washing machines, drying machines, showers and cookers! Many modern houses are built to retain warmth so they can lack adequate ventilation for hot damp air to escape. Ensuring that your home is regularly well ventilated will make a huge difference.
To tackle other damp problems early on, it is good to inspect your property every month to ensure that it is damp free and that you cannot see any of the tell tale signs listed above.
These checks are particularly important during the autumn – spring months when damp problems are most noticeable. If you live in an older property be aware that these are more prone to suffer from penetrating damp. If you suspect you have a problem developing, remember that it is essential to have good ventilation so that moisture laden air can easily escape.
The Golden Rule for the Future?
Even if you don’t have a damp problem, safeguard your home from any possibility with your monthly building check, but also by getting into the habit of ensuring that your home is well ventilated – especially in the winter months as condensation will be at its worst and less likely to find an escape route out of your home.
In the warmer months (in some years these are very short!) give your home a really good daily airing by opening a large window in every room, letting bedding air for a good 30 minutes before making the beds and drying all bath towels in the sunshine. Sleep with at least a small window open in every bedroom as even breathing causes vapour and the added bonus is that experts believe that sleeping with plenty of fresh air in the room the quality of sleep is better.