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 problem 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 problems are relatively easy to prevent – the issue is tracking it and eradicating it 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.

Rising damp a contested issue

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.


What are the main signs of damp?

There are three main culprits and they all affect your property in different ways. Between them, condensation, penetrating damp and rising damp can cause major 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 leaking pipes are to blame 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 problems in your property

First things first: half the battle lies in spotting the signs of damp 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. 
 
1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 problems in your home is by identifying the hotspots - this should be your first priority.


Leaks are a leading cause of damp

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.

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 problems 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 damp 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.

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.

SEARCH
RECENT POSTS
comfort zone tablet working

JOHN PALFREYMAN ASKS: HAS COVID-19 BEEN A DIGITAL CULTURE KICK?

Novus Non-executive director John Palfreyman muses on the question of organisational change amongst the backdrop of Covid-19. This piece was originally prepared for the Beaumont Bailey ‘workforce efficiency’ webinar in April. A few weeks into this terrible global pandemic, I’m working at home in the locked down UK and I receive the message shown below via LinkedIn. Humour is always good in challenging times, but this got me thinking about what’s actually changed? What’s not changed?  And how can we all change to be more efficient after the lockdown ends? Mobility and Efficiency ’Because we have always done things this way’.  How many times have we heard this reason for not trying new ways of working?  This most common ‘excuse’ for resisting change has certainly been broken by the current crisis.  But will this change be sustainable after the crisis? Or will we revert back to our old ways of working? At the start of the crisis when everyone rushed to work from home, many were worried about the technology infrastructure.   In practice, organisations I’ve worked with find current infrastructures coped very well with remote operations.  This was not too much of a surprise for me - at IBM I often told people I was based in LHR departure lounge!  And my productivity did not suffer. We all worried about video meetings - can we do them? Can we be productive when we are not physically together? In practice, we’ve found that these meetings - if well-structured and facilitated - work (albeit very different) and can be more productive - proving that sharing and collaboration can happen at a distance.  Now we’ve crossed this cultural divide of remote, efficient operations will we (a) maintain this way of working once the crisis is over?  Or (b) resort back to normal operations? Digital Culture kick The key to this is organisational culture. Over 30 years ago, Prof. Carol Dweck became interested in students' attitudes to failure, noticing that some rebounded while others seemed devastated by setbacks. She and her team coined the terms "fixed mindset" and "growth mindset" to describe the underlying beliefs people have about learning and intelligence. This gets even more interesting when extended to business. In her work on Organisational Mindsets, Prof. Dweck observes “it's possible to weave a fixed or growth mind-set into the very fabric of an organisation to create a culture of genius or a culture of development” In his 2018 HBR article "Successful organization change begins with mindset" Reed Deshler observes that “Transformational change starts in the mind. One of the most critical roles leaders play in any change management situation is to build a success mindset throughout the organization.”  Reed explains that this can be really challenging because “change involves taking people out of their comfort zones - the things they are good at - pushing them to do things differently. Comfort Zones Comfort Zones can explain the reaction of an individual to organisational change. Things feel familiar when we are in our comfort zone. We are at ease and feel in control of our environment. When we are asked to do things differently, perhaps by downloading and using an app to record our time each day rather than filling in a paper timesheet each week this can change, moving us outside our comfort zone. This can push us into the fear zone, where we are tempted to make excuses and feel self-conscious - thinking that others can already do this, hence undermining self confidence.  There are two ways to go from here.  Either back to filling in the paper timesheet and complaining about the new app (the comfort zone) or adopting a growth mindset and moving into the learning zone. Covid-19 REMOVED the comfort zone for everyone, at once giving us an unprecedented cultural kick. The key to answering to my initial question: “Now we’ve crossed this cultural divide of remote, efficient operations will we (a) maintain this way of working once the crisis is over?  Or (b) resort back to normal operations?” is to completely understand organisational culture and be proactive in maintaining the ‘shock’ changes that enabled efficient remote working under Covid-19 conditions.  Cultural insight is the first step in this endeavour. Insight through information In their book "Building Digital Culture", Daniel Rowles and Thomas Brown introduce the following framework: This framework can be to assess organisational readiness for digital transformation, and also to fill the gaps needed to make the transformation a success. Gathering information leading to insight into the organisation’s culture and its readiness for ‘being digital’ can give us useful pointers as to how to ensure that the organisation does not resort back to ‘the old ways” after the crisis. Through this approach smart organisations will be able to maintain the efficiency and productivity improvements offered by selective remote, flexible and on-site collaboration in a post-crisis world. Join the conversation We always encourage you to share your own thoughts on any of the articles we share. If you would like to do so, please use the comment section on our LinkedIn or Facebook page.

INFORMATION ABOUT HOW WE USE COOKIES

We use cookies to make our site work. A cookie is a small file that we put on your device. These cookies allow us to distinguish you from other users of our website, which helps us to provide you with a good experience when you browse our website and allows us to improve our site.
OUR COOKIES
Necessary Cookies
Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.
Analytical Cookies
Analytical Cookies help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information about how visitors use our site. This helps us to improve the way our website works, for example by ensuring that users are easily finding what they are looking.
Read more about the individual cookies we use, their duration and how to recognise them in our Cookie Policy.