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Signs of damp in a house and how to treat

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Damp can be a serious problem in any home, whether it’s a centuries-old cottage or a brand-new luxury apartment. Not only can it upset the health of a home’s occupiers, but damp’s unsightly appearance is often a sign of deeper structural issues. Ultimately, damp is a universal problem and needs to be addressed whether you are the homeowner or just a tenant.

Damp remedies for a healthier house

Fortunately, the condition of a damp-riddled property can often be improved without professional intervention, and even the simplest steps can ease the effects on your family. Dakota Murphey has put together a list of common symptoms of damp, and how to tackle its three possible causes, to have your house feeling better in no time.

The most common signs of household damp:

  • Condensation build-up on window panes
  • Mould spots on window frames and surrounding sealant
  • Black mould on the back of curtains and sofas positioned against walls
  • A musty odour, particularly in cupboards or disused areas of the house
  • Walls are cold to the touch
  • Flaking paint or peeling wallpaper
  • Dark speckles or stains on walls and ceilings

Damp tends to get progressively worse, and if left untreated even a few spots of mould can turn into a significant health risk for your family. If your house is already suffering from multiple symptoms, or if they are particularly advanced, you need to act quickly. A specialist surveyor will be able to conduct a professional damp survey to accurately diagnose the most likely cause of the damp, and prescribe the best solution for the construction of your home.

The best methods of resolving damp will depend on its source and the kind of damp being caused.


Condensation is the most common type of damp, and it typically forms on cold surfaces (like windows) in rooms with excess moisture in the air, or poor ventilation. If your house suffers from condensation, you will probably notice that the problem is worse in winter.

To reduce the amount of moisture building up indoors:

  • Open bedroom windows for a few minutes each morning
  • Use extractor fans and open windows when showering or cooking
  • Direct clothes drier vents outdoors
  • Keep air bricks and vents unobstructed
  • Turn the thermostat up a few degrees to limit the number of cold surfaces
  • Hire or purchase a window dehumidifier

If condensation has suddenly started appearing, a normal air passage may have been blocked. Chimney removal and the installation of double glazing are both culprits for trapping air in homes, and can prove particularly problematic for older buildings where traditional materials need to “breathe” so dampness can evaporate. It may not be possible to adjust these areas where old and new materials meet, but increasing the ventilation should sufficiently ease the problem.  

Penetrating damp

Penetrating damp occurs from water breaching external walls - look for horizontally-expanding patches of moisture. The source is likely to be faults in the roof, guttering or seal of the building, which are trapping excess rainwater in the masonry. Penetrating damp is more common in older buildings as their construction materials start to wear.

Check the exterior of the building for the cause of penetrating damp, including:

  • Blocked gutters forcing excess water down part of the wall
  • Cracks in the render or mortar
  • Broken or missing roof tiles
  • Damaged or warped window and door frames

Once you have determined the most likely cause for the penetrating damp, get to work fixing the problem as quickly as possible. You may be able to deal with the solution yourself, but hiring a contractor to complete the work professionally and efficiently may be a better idea in colder seasons.

Rising Damp

The exact nature of rising damp may be hotly contested, but water’s ability to climb through porous masonry has been scientifically proven. Whether the moisture comes from the ground or sky, the tell-tale signs of rising damp include damaged skirting boards and plaster, and tide marks from mineral deposits in the walls.

Properties built after 1875 are fitted with an impermeable membrane called a damp-proof course (DPC) in their floor, to prevent water from seeping up the building in this manner. Older properties may or may not have a DPC, and it may have become damaged over time.

Don’t immediately panic about having to replace a faulty DPC – there may be a simpler explanation. Take a walk around the outside of your property, and look for any raised landscaping which may be bridging the DPC. If earth or foliage is creating a path for damp to skip the membrane, trim the plants back and re-distribute the soil.

Large objects positioned close to the external walls can also trap moisture above the DPC, and you should also consider installing a narrow gravel trench along the perimeter of your home to soak up rainfall.

A compromised DPC is a little more challenging to solve. If you fear this may be the case, it’s worth investing in a specific defect survey. It will provide experienced, independent advice about your options, and clearly explain the effectiveness of each choice. While some homeowners go straight to a “damp specialist”, be aware that they are often employed by firms selling synthetic, injectable treatments which may not actually be the most beneficial treatment for your home.

Final thoughts

Damp is a nusiance in a home and it can cause some serious issues like mould which can be bad for your health.  If you suspect you have damp in your home then don't leave it - follow the tips above to see if you can find the reason,  try a dehumidifier if you have too much condenstaion in the mornings, or call in the professionals to locate the source and provide advice.