How to prevent Condensation & Damp in your Home

Condensation has caused mildew in this house to do steam developing around windows, caused by cooking.
Condensation has caused mildew in this house to do steam developing around windows, caused by cooking.

Damp: the problem

I was recently approached by a colleague who had a new problem of condensation appearing in her upstairs child's bedroom. She's only lived in the house for just over a year and this is the first time she'd noticed it. She was very concerned as she thought she had damp.

My experience is that water sitting on walls high up in upstairs bedrooms is seldom caused by water ingress or damp are more because of condensation forming on the surface of the interior wall. To understand how to prevent damp in your home you'll need to understand the causes of it. This Hub will look at some of the causes and the ways in which you can prevent (and even stop) condensation forming.

DON'T PANIC! These things are often solved easily and don't always point to a serious problem.

Basic example of how condensation forms on colder walls in a house
Basic example of how condensation forms on colder walls in a house | Source

Dealing with condensation on walls and ceilings

One of the most common complaints from people is condensation forming high up on walls, most commonally on walls which face the outside of the property such as a corner bedroom or bathroom.

The condensation is usually found in the colder winter months when central heating is being used and we'll have to go back to our basic school-day science lessons for the answers.

Hot air rises. As it does, it takes water vapour with it. The water vapour travels up to the higher points of the property. The minute it comes into contact with a cold surface (such as an exterior wall) the vapour instantly condenses and form water droplets on the surface of the wall. Over time, more and more water droplets are formed until a noticeable wet and cold patch of water appears.

There are a number of methods you can apply - for free - that will prevent this happen:

  • air the room - try and leave a window cracked open as much as possible to allow air to circulate inside the room and water vapour to be taken naturally out of the room
  • avoid drying clothes by hanging them around you home or on radiators - as they dry the water will be removed from the clothes into the air and will eventually end up sticking to cold surfaces
  • turn the radiator in that room up - I know we all want to save money but a warmer room will help to dry out the walls faster. What's more important, saving a few pennies on heating or preventing damp?
  • open windows when using the shower, cooking or washing up - both of these things produce steam and steam will eventually turn into water. Try and make sure you air other rooms that you wash or shower in as well as the room with the condensation problem.
  • clean often with an antibacterial spray and dry the area immediately after use - keeping the area dry is important and will prevent mould and mildew

Other ways to prevent condensation

As well as the free options suggested about, there are other ways you can help prevent condensation forming:

  • Buy a moisture absorber - the Unibond 360 is a particularly good system for collecting water and gets very good reviews
  • Install cavity wall insulation - if this is an option you should consider it. Many companies off free or very low cost insulation. It will help keep heat in your home, prevent condensation and reduced your heating bill significantly. Also, if you're claiming certain benefits you may be entitled to a grant to help towards some or all of the cost of insulation
  • Consider having Brick style air vents such as these professionally installed - these can allow a constant flow of fresh air into the room (you can always use adjustable vent covers to stop or restrict the air flow if you find it too drafty)

Damp - the more serious problem

Damp is more serious than condensation equally more difficult to cure. The signs of damp are usually more obvious and may start from the ground upwards or from roof lines. The signs of damp include:

  • A musty smell
  • Mould or mildew forming on walls and wallpaper
  • Staining of wall coverings, peeling wallpaper & blistering paint
  • Dark patches & damp walls
  • Discolouration & fragmenting plaster
  • Decay of timber by wood rotting fungi or presence of wood-boring weevils
  • Rusting can also develop on angle beads within damp plaster work
  • The appearance of salt stains on outside walls
  • Mortar on the outside of the property begins to crumble away

Free ways to fix damp

There are a number of things you can do to help prevent and cure damp:

  • Make sure your guttering and down-pipes are clear - failure to do this can result in water overflowing the guttering and splashing against the side of your house, which over time will penetrate the outer wall and cause damp
  • Make sure your roof isn't leaking - damaged tiles and lead work can allow water to get into your home
  • Make sure you haven't breached the damp course - have you lent something up against an exterior wall? Have you built a lean-to or damaged the brickwork in any way?
  • Make sure all the mortar in-between exterior bricks is sound - have the brickwork re-pointed if necessary
  • Check plumbing for leaks - do you have a radiator that has a slow leak (the usual sign is having to keep re-pressurising your heating system) or do you have a waste pipe leaking from a sink?
  • Is water leaking through shower and bath seals? - you may not be able to see it, but even a small amount of water can cause damp over time

Expert help with damp problems

If you suspect you have a damp issues caused by a breach of the damp-course of your property (or any other building defect) it's important that you seek expert advice from a trusted building company or surveyor.

If ignored, damp problems can cause structural damage to a building which can be expensive to put right. In addition, damp can lead to moulds and spores growing in the property which can make you ill and aggravate some illnesses such as asthma.

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