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How to spot signs of damp

Learn how to spot the common signs of damp and be ready to tackle it.

Signs of damp on a wall in a home

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Signs of damp in a house

Some of the common signs of damp inside a house include:

  • A musty smell
  • The appearance of mould or mildew on walls, floors or ceilings
  • Walls, floors or ceilings that feel cold or wet
  • Dark or discoloured patches on walls or plaster
  • Lifting or peeling wallpaper
  • Excessive condensation on windows

 

What is damp?

If a house is suffering from a damp problem, it means there's unwanted moisture. It's usually found in the walls, ceilings or floors.

A damp problem can occur for a number of reasons. These include:

  • Leaking pipes
  • Broken or missing roof tiles
  • Moisture rising up from the ground
  • Bricks that are porous

A small patch of damp on a wall initially might not seem too bad, but if it's not dealt with it can cause problems – and you could find that your home insurance doesn’t cover it.

Health conditions such as asthma can be exacerbated by damp, too.

Damp problems are categorised according to type. Penetrating damp tends to move horizontally across walls or ceilings whereas rising damp moves vertically up walls.

Make sure you take steps to lessen the chance of having burst pipes.

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What are the signs of rising damp?

If you're worried that rising damp could be a problem, there are some particular signs that you can look out for. These include:

  • Damp patches that start at the base of a wall and gradually move upwards
  • Skirting boards or plaster that is rotting
  • Floor coverings such as tiles, vinyl or carpets that are wet and lifting
  • Peeling paint or wallpaper
  • The appearance of a white, powdery salt-like substance on a wall
  • Yellow or brown tide marks or staining on a wall

Rising damp can sometimes be tricky to deal with, and it can be costly.

If you suspect it could be an issue, try to hire a professional as soon as possible.

 

Why is there damp on the outside walls?

Damp can occur on interior and exterior walls.

If it's penetrating damp it's often due to structural problems, such as damaged guttering, roofing or cracks in the wall.

Old bricks can also become porous, which let water in.

As with internal walls, you might notice darker patches appearing on outside walls or, in the case of rising damp, dark swathes of tide lines rising up the walls.

 

How do I check for damp?

In the early stages, the only sign of a possible problem might be a musty smell.

To check for areas of damp in a house, carefully examine walls, floors and ceilings for any tell-tale signs.

Feel for wet patches and peek under flooring that appears to be lifting.

If you suspect your house could have rising damp, a useful trick is to run your hands across the affected area. 

If it feels wet, you should be able to feel the plaster salts. These are white deposits that are washed out of the bricks and into the plaster.

If there is wallpaper on the area, listen for a slight crunching sound as you move your hand over the salts.

But by far the best way to check for damp is to use an expert surveyor.

The surveyor will thoroughly check for any signs of damp inside or outside the property, identify what type of damp it is and the likely cause.

They'll also offer advice on the best way to fix it.

 

Where should I check for damp?

If your home – or a property you are considering buying – has a basement, it’s sensible to start there.

Discolouration or damp patches on the walls is a tell-tale sign, and you might be able to smell it, too.

The floorboards can rot if there is damp underneath them, while walls and ceilings can show clear signs of suffering from damp.

A bathroom can be particularly susceptible to damp because of the constant use of water in there. If yours suffers from condensation, mould can quickly follow.

It’s also worth keeping an eye on the airing cupboard and the water heater in there.

 

How do I fix damp walls?

If you have penetrating damp due to porous bricks, replacing the bricks or painting them with a special exterior silicone water repellent paint can help fix the problem.

You can get anti-damp paint from most DIY stores.

Not all damp problems are easily resolved, though.

On some occasions, you might need expert help.

Some of the fixes professionals might suggest are:

  • Having a cavity tray either replaced or fitted to stop water from the outside reaching the inner wall.
  • Have a new damp-proof barrier or damp course fitted.
  • Having the internal walls or floors sealed in damp-proofing material.

An expert will advise on the best approach to resolve your damp problems and the costs involved.

It's always worth getting a couple of quotes from different tradespeople before deciding whose services to use.

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It can be a real worry to experience damp in your home.

To help reduce the risk of your property suffering from such a problem, keep your house well maintained and promptly deal with any problems that arise.

This is especially important as damp problems caused by poor maintenance aren't covered by home insurance.