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Common Signs and Symptoms of Penetrating Damp in Buildings

When you think of a building – whether it’s a cosy home or a towering skyscraper – you imagine strength and resilience. However, despite the sturdiness of its structure, every building has its vulnerabilities, one of which is the risk of damp. Among the various types of dampness that can affect a building, penetrating damp is particularly troublesome. It enters structures horizontally, usually from the external environment. Recognising the signs and addressing the issue promptly can save you both time and money.

What is Penetrating Damp?

Penetrating damp, often referred to as lateral damp, is a moisture issue that plagues both residential and commercial buildings. Unlike the rising damp which makes its way upwards from the ground, penetrating damp occurs when water infiltrates the structure from the outside, moving horizontally through the walls, roof, or other external surfaces.

The root causes of penetrating damp are varied, but they typically stem from a range of external factors:

  • Weather conditions: Prolonged periods of heavy rain, especially when accompanied by strong winds, can force water into even the tiniest of cracks or gaps in a building’s exterior.
  • Faulty building exteriors: Over time, construction materials deteriorate. Bricks can become porous, and mortar might erode. When this happens, water can easily seep into the building.
  • Compromised roofing: Loose tiles, damaged flashing, or faulty roof joints can allow water to penetrate, leading to damp issues in the upper parts of the building.
  • Poorly sealed windows and doors: Gaps or defects in the seals around windows and doors can allow moisture to enter.
    Inadequate drainage: Blocked gutters or downspouts can cause water to overflow and run down walls, increasing the risk of penetrating damp.

Visible Marks on Walls and Ceilings

One of the most evident signs of penetrating damp is the appearance of dark, damp patches on walls or ceilings. These patches often spread horizontally rather than vertically. They can increase in size after heavy rain or prolonged wet weather, signifying a clear connection between external conditions and internal dampness.

Paint and Wallpaper Peeling

A building’s interior aesthetics can also be compromised by penetrating damp. You may notice paint bubbling or flaking off walls. Wallpaper might begin to peel away or become discoloured. These are not just cosmetic issues; they are clear indicators that moisture is finding its way inside.

Rotting Window and Door Frames

Wooden structures, such as window and door frames, are susceptible to moisture. Over time, continual exposure to penetrating damp can cause these structures to rot. Touch the frames: If they feel soft or crumble easily, it’s a clear sign that moisture has severely damaged the wood.

Musty Smell

Our sense of smell is incredibly acute, and it can often alert us to problems before they become visible. A persistently musty odour in certain areas of a building, especially during or after rainy days, can indicate the presence of penetrating damp. This smell comes from the mould and mildew that thrives in moist conditions.

Mould Growth

Mould loves damp environments. If you find green, black, or brown fungal growth on your walls, ceilings or corners, it’s a telltale sign of a moisture problem. Not only is mould unsightly, but it can also pose health risks to the inhabitants of the buildings.

Wet Insulation

In buildings with cavity wall insulation, penetrating damp can saturate the insulation material. Wet insulation not only loses its effectiveness but can also lead to higher heating costs. If your energy bills are inexplicably high, it’s worth checking your insulation for moisture.

Deteriorating External Appearance

Often, the external structure provides clues about the onset of penetrating damp. Bricks may become discoloured, or you might see patches of wetness on external walls. Further, the pointing between the bricks may begin to deteriorate, indicating prolonged exposure to moisture.

Exposure to Cold and Draughts

Another unmistakable sign of penetrating damp is an unusual coldness or drafts emanating from specific areas in a building. When moisture enters the building’s structure, it can disrupt the insulation properties of the walls or ceilings. This leads to certain parts of the building losing heat more rapidly than others. If you notice that certain areas remain cold, especially during wet weather, or if you feel a draught when there’s no obvious source, it might be due to moisture penetrating the building. Addressing the cause of the dampness can help restore the room’s warmth and comfort.

Damaged Plaster and Masonry

The integrity of a building’s plaster and masonry can be severely compromised by penetrating damp. As moisture makes its way through walls, it can cause the plaster to crumble or bubble. Bricks and stonework can also be affected. They might start spalling, which means that fragments of the material begin to flake off. This is not only unsightly but also indicative of deeper structural issues. If left unattended, it can cause significant renovation costs in the future. It’s vital to address such signs promptly to maintain the health and longevity of the building’s infrastructure.

Increased Condensation on Windows

An unexpected outcome of penetrating damp is the increase in condensation on windows. When moisture enters and cools in certain areas of a building, it can lead to a significant difference in temperature between the inside and outside. This temperature differential causes condensation to form on the interior of windows, especially during the colder months. If you find that your windows are constantly ‘sweating’ or have more condensation than usual, especially in rooms where other signs of penetrating damp are present, it’s another signal that unwanted moisture is infiltrating the building. Regularly wiping away this moisture can prevent mould growth, but it’s crucial to address the root cause to find a lasting solution.

Erosion of Internal Fixtures and Fittings

Often overlooked, the interior fixtures and fittings of a building can also fall victim to the persistent effects of penetrating damp. Items like skirting boards, electrical outlets, and mounted shelving can show signs of wear or damage. For example, skirting boards might warp or become discoloured because of the extra moisture. Electrical outlets might malfunction due to moisture interference. And any fixtures attached to affected walls, like shelves or cabinets, may weaken or become unstable.

Are you worried about rising damp in your home? Contact London Damp Specialists today to discuss your concerns and book a survey.

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