My property has damp damage - what do I need to know?

  24 FEBRUARY, 2018      INDUSTRY INSIGHTS
Close up of condensation on window

Damp, or ‘rising damp’, is a recurring issue for many of us, and a grey area too. It’s been the blight of many a student accommodation and the bugbear of countless landlords.
 
If not properly addressed, it can go from being a bugbear to seriously harming the health of those living in the property. Those exposed to damp, mouldy environments can suffer a host of respiratory ailments, from asthma to lung infections.
 
Or it may not affect you at all. And herein lies the problem: the health risks are largely dependent on susceptibility, so if you have a history of respiratory illness, then such environments pose a huge health risk.
 
Damp is relatively easy to prevent – the problem is tracking it and eradicating its presence for good. With this in mind, we’ve compiled some pointers to help you banish damp and leave you with a safe property for the future.

Is rising damp a myth?

‘Rising damp’ occurs when moisture beneath a building is soaked up into the brickwork and makes its way upward. It can be particularly dangerous for:

  • Babies and children
  • The elderly
  • Those with skin conditions such as eczema
  • Those who suffer from allergies
  • Those with respiratory problems such as asthma
  • Those with weakened immune systems

The symptoms are diverse and caused by allergens created by the damp spores. These toxic substances cause reactions such as sneezing, irritated skin, a runny nose and red eyes. Asthma attacks are also common in cold, damp air.
 
It’s a much-contested issue, however.

When Stephen Boniface, the former chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), stated that rising damp was a myth in 2009, his assertion went against years of research carried out worldwide on the subject.
 
Since 2009 Boniface has rephrased his statement on the surveying property website, clarifying that:
 
"Whilst I have often been quoted as stating ‘rising damp is a myth’, the only time I have ever said that phrase (or similar) is once when delivering a paper at a conference and then using the intake of breath as a cue to then develop the argument further.
 
“In other words, I used the phrase provocatively (it usually worked). I then went on to state that whilst I accept rising damp (as a term often used by the public and professionals alike) might exist it is indeed extremely rare. I have at other times referred to the myth of rising dampness and explained what I understand without actually stating myself that it is a complete myth."
 
It appears rising damp does indeed exist; however, its cases are few and far between and there is a lack of wider understanding.
 
Its presence is clear-cut and costly, with damp proofing for a typical three-bedroom house costing anywhere between £3,000 and £4,000.
 
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can avoid these kinds of costs by simply identifying the signs.

The three main kinds of damp to look out for

There are three main culprits, and they all affect your property in different ways. Between them, condensation, penetrating damp and rising damp can cause untold damage to a property.

  • Condensation: This is caused by water vapour, generated by activities such as cooking and bathing, condensing on cold surfaces like windows or walls. Condensation becomes a point of concern when mould starts to grow. Remember to dry surfaces in the event of condensation.
  • Penetrating damp: This is when an external source of moisture finds its way indoors. It is caused by faults in the external fabric of a property. Perhaps a pipe has begun to leak, or some guttering has collapsed.
  • Rising damp: This occurs when water from the ground rises up into the walls or floors – structural damp is absorbed into the walls of the building, creating a damp, mouldy environment.

How to tackle damp in your property

First things first: half the battle lies in spotting the signs early, so keep an eye out and do your best to not create a damp environment.
 
According to Max Robinson, Junior Engineer at engineering company Turnbull & Scott, the key is ventilation:
 
“Mould, damp areas and mildew are caused by moist environments, so your priority should be to avoid creating this kind of setting in your home. The easiest way to drastically reduce the chance of mould developing in your home is to assess the ventilation in your home. 
 
“First, check air ducts and windows around your home – are there any vulnerable areas where moisture could be getting into your home? If so, you need to deal with these vulnerable areas quickly. Even if all you do is duct tape the holes, this will often be enough to prevent any issues from arising. 
 
“Secondly, check small areas of your home, like bathrooms, attics and washing rooms. The smaller the room is, the more likely it is that damp will be able to develop, so these rooms will often be the source of issues around your home. Lastly, installing fans around your home, particularly in these smaller rooms, can help to keep the air flowing, which will reduce the chances of the mould being able to grow.”
 
The key to preventing damp in your home is being sure of the signs so identifying the hotspots should be a priority.
 
We spoke to Craig Foster, Managing Director of home insurance experts HomeServe Labs. He says leaks are the leading cause of home damp cases and are particularly relevant to a certain age range:
 
“While leaks can affect people of all ages, our research shows that young people between 18 and 34 years old are the most vulnerable when it comes to the risk of leaks and potential water damage in the home. 
 
What often starts off as a small issue, like a leaking tap or pipe, can quickly turn into a big problem, causing damp around the home or even flooding and damage to personal possessions. This can result in a potentially expensive repair bill for landlords, or in extreme cases even property that is unfit to live in.”
 
A small issue can often turn into something worth worrying about, so it really pays to keep an eye on things. Here are a few tips to spot damp before it’s too late.

How to spot damp in your home

We have separated the parts of your property that are prone to damp damage. Remember that the smaller areas of your property are the most likely to host damp, mouldy environments.


Watch out for your walls

Place your hand against the walls in your house. Are they particularly cold or damp? If it feels strange or the paint has begun to flake and shrivel up, then you may have a potential case of damp on your hands.


Keep an eye on your ceilings

Colour is important when it comes to spotting ceiling damage. If your ceilings are damaged, then they will be discoloured, stained or have brown patches on them. Look out for discolouration near chimney breasts as this can also indicate damp.


What about the windows?

High moisture levels within a property will often result in condensation on windowpanes. This is considered an industry-standard sign of condensation for an internal space.


So, I have damp in my home – whose responsibility is it?

If you’re a homeowner, you should check with your home insurance provider to check if it’s covered under your policy (especially for more serious cases).
 
For renters, things can get a little harder. Hopefully, your landlord is sensitive to your situation and aware of the health risks. Alert them to your situation as soon as possible and make a record of all correspondence and progress.
 
Craig Foster, Managing Director at HomeServe Labs, says: 
 
“Landlords have a duty to keep their properties in good condition for the people they are renting them out to. However, their ability to do so also depends on how aware tenants are of any problems.”
 
To offer some first-hand experience, we gathered a case study. Former university student Cat Abbott experienced damp in her shared house. At its worst, the environment caused fungi to sprout from a bathroom tile. Luckily, her landlord was understanding and responded quickly. 
 
Here is her story:                                                                  
 
“We had a large shared house at university (there were nine of us living there in total) and it was quite an old house, a bit draughty, with high-ceilinged rooms that were hard to keep warm. 
 
“We had a shower room, but as it was on the ground floor we were never really able to leave the window open because of the area we lived in. (The open window was visible from the street, and it was big enough to climb in if you were that keen.)

“After a bit of flooding in the summer of the second year the damp was worse in the winter – add that to the lack of being able to open the window and we had quite damp walls! The mushroom seemed to pretty much appear overnight right next to the shower door sticking out from underneath the tiles. 
 
Our landlord was excellent about it and the bathroom was sorted out and retiled within a week. Luckily, as it was such a big house, we had another bathroom to use while that one was out of action. I think it helped that we were generally good tenants and kept the house in good order, otherwise I think it might have been a bit of hassle to sort out.”


Cat’s bathroom offered the perfect environment for damp to arise – a ground-floor bathroom with minimal ventilation and a history of penetrating damp.
 
Her story is one of a large number, where students have fallen victim to damp environments and a lack of available resources to better inform young adults. With the help of a responsible landlord, however, most cases are dealt with quickly.
 
You can read more about the approach we take at Novus Property Solutions to student accommodation refurbishment here.
 
With the above advice, we hope you’ll be better armed to tackle any damp that arises in your property. Remember, prevention is the key. 

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