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The issue of damp: your questions answered

John Conlin / 28 April 2017 ( 27 November 2018 )

Chartered Surveyor John Conlin advises on a host of damp and water damage issues, including discoloured walls, condensation, damp bricks and more.

Water on roof
A reader is worried rain running off his neighbour's garage roof is causing damp inside his house

Question: how do I remove black spots?

If our damp problem is identified as condensation, what would be the best method of removing the black spots?

Answer

The first thing is to cure the condensation by reducing internal humidity. 

Ventilation, avoiding drying washing on radiators or indoor clothes lines, using an extractor fan when showering or bathing will all help. 

The black spots are collections of fungal spores. Wiping with an household surface cleaner may erase the black spots but will not eradicate the spores. 

Use a proprietary spray such as ‘Polycell Mould Killer’. If you need to redecorate choose a paint containing a fungicide.

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Question: is concrete waterproof?

Our garage and kitchen extension were built up to the boundary with our neighbour who has now built a raised concrete patio which has buried the damp proof course of our garage and extension. 

I have always understood that damp proof courses should not be covered, but my neighbour says covering damp proof courses with concrete is acceptable because concrete is waterproof. 

I am not convinced and should be grateful for your advice.

Answer

You are correct. Concrete is not waterproof; if it were, one would not need to incorporate a damp proof membrane in solid floors. 

Covering a damp proof course creates a bridge for both rising and lateral damp.

Question: why is my wall getting damp since my neighbour built a garage?

The side wall of my garage is only about 4 inches away from the side wall of my neighbour’s more recently built garage. When it rains heavily my garage wall becomes wet. I have been told that this is seepage because the adjoining garage is set slightly higher than mine and tanking might cure the problem. Is that something I could do?

Answer

With only a 4 inch gap I wonder if rainwater from the garage roofs is running down the walls. If there is no gutter I would suggest that, with mutual consent, a gutter should be fixed to bridge the gap just below the roof edges and also any accumulated debris within the gap is raked out in case it is above internal floor level. I doubt that tanking would be the solution. It is better to identify the cause.

Question: why is our damp proof course failing?

My house, built around 1870 had a damp proof course installed about 50 years ago but now we have damp along the side wall.  

Do you have any suggestions?

Answer

50 years ago the damp proof course was probably a ‘pressure injection’ type. 

The chemical compound then used slowly becomes diluted by the moisture it is repelling. I suspect that you need a new damp proof course.

Modern nano particle technology has created damp proofing creams that are injected into holes drilled into the mortar surrounding the bricks using a simple hand held cartridge dispenser. 

 It is an easy job and does not require specialist skill or equipment.

Question: do damp courses wear out?

Do damp courses wear out? Parts of our outside walls feel damp to touch and a damp proofing firm have suggested we need a new damp proof course.

Is this true or a marketing scam?

Answer

Damp courses consist of a horizontal layer of lead, slate, bitumen or plastic in the outside brickwork just above ground level and rarely fail. Chemical damp courses are sometimes found in older property that had no original damp proofing and can be identified by rows of holes in the walls where the chemical was injected.

Occasionally, the chemical ages and becomes less effective. However, do not spend money on any work until you have checked that the damp you detect is not condensation. If in doubt ask an independent chartered surveyor to test and give impartial advice.

Question: why are our walls damp?

We have recently replaced old wooden windows with double glazed ones. Since then although the house is warmer we are experiencing damp walls due to condensation. Is there a solution to this?

Also is it safe to use a de-humidifier each night? Your advice would be much appreciated.

Answer

I think the most likely explanation is a lack of ventilation because your new windows, unlike the old ones, are draught proof and natural lifestyle humidity is building up.

If your new windows are equipped with ‘trickle vents’ or the window handles have a secure slightly open position try using that. It is also important to use an extractor fan in the bathroom and an externally venting cooker hood.

I, personally, would use passive dehumidifiers rather than electric ones: have a look at the Uni-Bond 360º.

Question: condensation or external damp?

We have black-spotted staining appearing at the junction of ceilings and outside walls. Our landlord says it is because of condensation due to lack of ventilation, but I think it is damp coming through from outside. Is there any way of checking?

Answer

There are sophisticated (and costly) tests, but try this simple DIY test. Cut a postcard- sized piece of kitchen foil and tape it, shiny side out, to the wall in a stained area. Turn the bottom of the foil up to form a little gutter with closed ends. At various times over several days, check for any droplets of water on the surface or collected in the gutter. If so, it confirms condensation.

Question: damp behind panelling

It was several months before we became aware that an outside wall had become saturated due to a defective gutter. Internally it is clad with old decorative timber panelling that, although seeming dry, has developed a musty smell.

I am worried that dry rot may be spreading unseen. Is there any way of checking without removing the panelling?

Answer

You are right to be concerned because damp, stale air in a confined space is an ideal environment for fungal development. Fugenex dry-rot sensors, which comprise a 90mm (3½in) rod impregnated with a reagent, only require a tiny hole for minimum cosmetic damage. As the fungus develops, the pH in the surrounding material (wood, brick, plaster etc) changes, causing the reagent in the rod to go from blue to yellow. If this occurs, more invasive investigation is justified.

Question: why is my masonry discoloured?

I had the outside of my house clad with roughcast about 8 years ago. One wall is becoming discoloured with what seems to be moss. A builder says water may be going down the back of the roughcast and it will cost £700 to redo it. Could you advise?

Answer

The fact that only one wall is affected may be significant. All forms of cement rendering (inc. roughcast) will absorb moisture unless they are coated with waterproof paint. If the discoloured wall faces away from the sun or prevailing wind it may not dry out as well as the others and the constant low level dampness will encourage the growth and spread of algae. Pressure wash the wall using an algaecide additive to stop re-growth then, during a dry spell, coat the wall with a colourless silicone water repellent such as “Thompson’s WaterSeal”.

Question: has my damp proof course been damaged?

I have a damp problem in the bedroom of my bungalow. I asked a damp-proofing firm to investigate, and they say I need a new damp-proof course as the present one has been damaged by water draining from my neighbour's land onto the path adjoining the wall of my bedroom.

Does that sound likely?

Answer

Like most things there are good and bad damp proofing firms but you are right to be cautious. It can be like asking a fox to count the chickens.

Providing the surface of the adjoining path or soil is at least a couple of inches below the line of the damp proof course, it is unlikely to have been damaged.

There are many other possible causes, so you really should get an impartial opinion from a local chartered building surveyor. You can find a surveyor on the RICS website.

Question: why do my gutters always overflow?

My gutters keep overflowing during heavy rain although I clear them regularly, which is causing damp issues in my house. I now find that the water isn’t going down the pipes, but I don’t know if they are blocked or whether the soakaway is full because the pipes are cemented in at their lower ends. Have you a solution?

Answer

The trend to do away with open-ended pipes discharging into gullies does cause problems.

You might consider cutting a 10cm (4in) section of pipe out near the base, clearing any blockage then fitting a plastic hopper head to the lower section of pipe with the upper section discharging open ended into it so that, in future, you can clear any debris that comes down the pipe. It would also be worth fitting gutter mesh.

Question: why is there condensation in my loft space?

Having recently bought a 1970s house I went to put some boxes in the loft and worryingly saw that several of the timber supports along the underside of the roof slopes appeared water stained, and in several places there were little beads of water on the black fabric beneath the tiles. Is there any way to waterproof the roof without major expense?

Answer

The droplets of water are likely to be condensation and the staining to the timber rafters is, similarly, likely to be due to long term absorption of the moisture collecting on the underside of the tile underlay. It is a common problem due to lack of ventilation often caused by loft insulation being packed into the eaves cutting off air circulation. Draw back the insulation so that the eaves are unobstructed and check there are adequate vents in the underside of the eaves. More recent buildings include these as standard.

Question: why is there water on my roof felt?

I think the felt beneath the roof tiles has started to leak as I have seen drops of water on the underside of the felt when I have been in the loft. Is there any way to stop this without stripping all the tiles and laying new felt?

Answer

You will be relieved to hear that it is unlikely that the felt is leaking. I have seen water droplets on the underside of felt lining to tiled roofs on dozens of occasions. It is condensation due to poor ventilation of the roof space. A common cause is the packing of insulation into the eaves cutting off natural ventilation.

Question: how can I temporarily fix my leaking garage?

I have a double garage. Although the concrete walls and floor are in good condition the corrugated roof leaks in several places. My roofer has tried patching but eventually this stops working. I wonder if there is anything that can be done, possibly from inside, as a short term solution as the property may be redeveloped in five years or so.

Answer

I think anything inside is problematic as the water it collects would need to drain off somewhere. You do not mention whether the roof is metal or asbestos - if the latter great care is needed and minimum disturbance is essential.

No repair will be permanent but I suggest that wherever daylight is showing inside your roofer should patch outside with adhesive ‘flashband’ and then give the entire external surface a good coat of a reinforced acrylic plastic compound such as ‘Evercryl’ or ‘Flexacryl’ which contain synthetic fibers that help to seal small gaps and cracks.

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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.