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What is rising damp, and why treat it?

What is rising damp?

In the most simple terms, rising damp is a condition where moisture from the ground travels up through the pores in the bricks and mortar of a building, much in the same way that oil travels up through the wick of an oil lamp. Once rising damp has become established, this moisture can cause problems such as damp patches on walls, peeling paint / wallpaper and eventually plaster falling away from the wall. In the longer term, it will lead to structural damage to the building, if left unchecked.

The symptoms of rising damp can often be confused with the symptoms of other damp problems such as lateral damp and condensation. These types of dampness require different methods of treatment, so it is essential that an expert be consulted to diagnose the type of dampness to be treated.

Why has rising damp occured in my house?

The problem of rising damp has been known for at least 100 years. Therefore, it has been common building practice for some time to install a damp proof course (DPC) whenever a house is built.  In a typical solid floor construction, the DPC usually consists of an impervious barrier around the whole building, set into the mortar bed just above the floor level. This DPC can become ineffective for a number of reasons:

  1. The original builder forgot to install a DPC.
  2. The original DPC was not positioned correctly.
  3. The original DPC has deteriorated due, for example, to house settlement, vibration, from passing traffic, or general land subsidence.  This is especially common where a Bitumen DPC has been used.
  4. The damp course has been “Bridged” e.g. by earth being piled up against an outside wall.

If the rising damp is to be eliminated, it is essential that the precise cause of the breakdown in the DPC is established. Once again, expert advice should be sought.

Why do I need to treat rising damp?

Rising damp is usually treated for purely cosmetic reasons, i.e. to remove the obvious symptoms that people can see and smell.   However, even when damp is not visible, it would be foolish to ignore its presence, since its long term effects can be costly:

Your home is likely to be your largest ever investment.  If left untreated, rising damp can cause structural and cosmetic problems that  will adversely affect the value of this investment. The fungal attack often associated with damp can be extremely damaging, especially in older houses with suspended timber floors.  In addition, damp timbers are known to be more susceptible to termite attack than dry timbers.

Adverse health effects of living in a damp building

Rising damp will make a building cold, because heat within the house is absorbed in driving the moisture from the walls. Living in cold and damp conditions is known to exacerbate certain medical conditions such as bronchitis.  Where the damp has caused fungi, the problem can be compounded due to bronchial problems caused by fungal spores.

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