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What Causes Moisture in Buildings?

What Causes Moisture in Buildings?

One of the most common causes of moisture in buildings is penetrating dampness. It includes any damp which has penetrated the building; however, it also provides plumbing leaks. On one of our building surveys in Kingston, we saw the causes of penetrating dampness from a cavity wall (generally post the 1920s).

Penetrating damp from outside sources, namely, rainwater has a very different effect on solid-walled buildings than it does cavity walls. Cavity walls were explicitly designed to prevent penetrating damp in exposed areas.

They allow dampness to penetrate the first layer of brickwork; however, this cannot get to the inner leaf. This means that the inner leaf remains dry and any decorative finishes inside the property; this means that any defects that would cause penetrating dampness in solid walls do not occur in cavity walled construction. This leaves the main issues with cavity walls such as wall tie corrosion and bridging as the few consequences of penetrating damp to cavity walls.

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Solid Walls (pre-1940s)

Solid walls act very differently. Solid walls rely on the thickness and breathability of the walls to remain dry. When driving rain hits a solid wall, the outer skin of brickwork will become saturated. When it becomes saturated, additionally rain will not penetrate the wall and will only runoff; when the driving rain stops, the wall must breathe to allow any moisture within to evaporate out.

This means that solid walls are a lot more susceptible to penetrating dampness than any defects to the wall. The damp may be able to penetrate right through the wall, causing moisture internally within the property. These defects can be anything such as receded mortar or spalling brickwork. Additionally, a porous mortar should be used between the brickwork to allow the wall to dry and moisture evaporate. At Prinsegate Chartered Surveyors, we tend to see much more damp in solid-walled buildings because of this.

Kingston Building survey showing damp penetration in solid wall

The photograph was taken during a building survey in Kingston

Above photograph: damp penetration into a solid wall due to defective guttering. The wall is saturated externally; however, no damp was found to the property internally. At present, the solid wall is staying watertight due to the process described above; however, over successive wet periods, this may not remain the case.

Roof

Defects to the roof structure can be a significant cause of penetrating damp. Missing tiles or dropped slates can allow penetrating damp in the loft structure and then into the house’s internal areas. The roof structure is always a susceptible area for wood rots due to an exposed location and exposed wood. This means it is vital to keep all tiles or slates in good condition. As soon as it is noticed that one has slipped or eroded, it should be replaced.

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Having said this, there is some protection provided by the overlap of tiles/slates. Wherever there is one tile/slate, there usually is another (or part of another) underneath, preventing damp penetration into the loft space. Additionally, most properties nowadays have a sarking felt. These were initially designed to keep most of the internal roof space dry while roofer fitted tiles. Now they are used as a second line of defense to prevent penetrating dampness when the roof covering has failed.

Damp in roof

Photograph was taken by our Kingston building surveyors

Above photograph: damp penetration due to a roofing defect in a valley gutter. This has caused wood rot (wet rot). Timbers are showing over 30% of wood moisture content on the moisture meter.

Rainwater Goods

Defects to the rainwater goods are another common cause of penetrating damp. Cavity walls are less susceptible to this and are only customarily affected when bridging the cavity. Solid walled buildings are more vulnerable. A significant defect to the guttering of a property will allow rainwater to flow onto the wall. A solid walled structure will not be able to cope with this, whereas a cavity may prevent this severe damp penetration.

Undulating rainwater goods

Above: Prinsegate photo showing undulating rainwater goods. This is very likely to lead to damp penetration into the solid walls below.

Building Surveys

There are many more damp, penetrating sources not mentioned above; however, the above are the most common daily. In our RICS full building surveys (level 3), we are always on the lookout for any defects that could cause damp penetration into the building and recommend remediation. Sometimes these are minor defects that could lead to more major damp penetration in the future.

If you feel you need a penetrating damp survey or have any questions, contact us today.