Damp, mould and mildew – everything you need to know
With gale force winds and never-ending rain, the UK winter can wreak havoc on homes and properties around the country. Wind-blown roofs, slippery paths and gutters full of leaves are a common problem during the coldest months of the year. Not to mention unwelcome visitors. We’re not talking about trick or treaters or Christmas carollers here. We’re talking damp, mould and mildew. It’s estimated that 1 in 18 properties in England alone suffers from some form of damp, mildew or mould.
Not only is mould unattractive but it can spread very quickly and be harmful to your health. Exposure to it can be damaging to those with skin conditions, compromised immune systems and respiratory conditions such as asthma. Therefore it is important to regularly check your home for signs of damp and mould and if found, treat straight away.
In the majority of cases, damp isn’t a major problem if spotted early, but even a small issue can make your property much colder and less appealing. Especially if you want to rent or sell it. Damp doesn’t discriminate and it can affect any type of property. It won’t matter whether you own it, rent it or work in it, damp can strike them all.
What is damp, mould and mildew?
Quite simply, damp is caused by excess moisture in your property. It can be something small like a leaky pipe, or a more serious issue like rising damp from the ground. Persistent rain during the winter months along with lack of warm sunshine means the wetness will stay around for much longer than in the summer. Therefore, you need to be vigilant in spotting the signs of damp and mould.
There are different types of damp:
This is the most common form and develops when the interior air cannot hold any more moisture. For example, a steamy mirror after you’ve had a hot shower or foggy windows after perfecting your culinary skills in the kitchen. Even drying wet clothes indoors can cause condensation to form, especially in winter when the heating is on and the windows closed. Lack of ventilation when cooking can also exacerbate condensation. In fact, an average family of four living in a 3-bedroom property would create 112 pints of moisture a week from just breathing, cooking, showering and boiling the kettle. All these daily activities cause increased levels of humidity in the air, made worse during winter when doors and windows remain closed to keep out the cold.
- Rising damp
A less common form that occurs when groundwater travels upwards through the fabric of the wall. The water travels in a wick-like fashion through tiny porous holes in the bricks, mortar or stone. The water will stop rising when gravity counteracts the upwards force. If left untreated, rising damp can cause serious structural damage. Older buildings are more susceptible to rising damp as they might not have a damp-proof course (or DPC) installed. The DPC is an impermeable plastic membrane, placed along the mortar line near the ground, which acts as a barrier.
- Penetrating damp
Caused by water leaking into a building through walls and roofs. It is usually the result of structural damage such as cracks in the walls or holes in the roofing. It can even happen due to blocked guttering or internal leaks from pipes or plumbing. Older buildings with solid walls are more likely to suffer from this type of damp as cavity walls found in newer properties provide more resistance to rain. You will usually find the symptoms of penetrating damp higher up and on southwest facing walls.
Mould and mildew are often a sign of an underlying damp problem in your property and if left untreated, can cause structural damage and be hazardous to your health.
What should I do?
The first step to sorting the problem with damp and mould is to spot the signs and find the cause. Check your walls for peeling wallpaper, flaking paint, rotting or wet wood on your skirting boards or windowsills. If there are visible damp patches, black/grey/green marks or growths or they are wet to the touch, then you have damp and mould.
Rising damp can also leave a “tide line” type of stain around the lower part of your walls above your skirting board. Likewise, check your bathroom grouting for similar signs of black spots or growths.
With penetrating damp, you will generally find damp patches on your walls, floors or ceilings that will darken or become bigger with heavy rainfall.
A good method to spot damp is to use your nose. Damp has an unmistakable musty smell. Do you get a musty whiff when you open your wardrobe? If so, then it’s a sign that damp is present. Closed wardrobes and cupboards prevent air from circulating and if there are overfilled, your clothes will have a musty smell or a damp feeling.
Don’t forget that damp and mould can grow on soft furnishings too. Check your sofa, curtains and blinds for signs.
In most cases, damp is easily treated with a few simple DIY repairs or products:
Treatment for condensation:
- Ensure your washing machines and tumble dryers are in a well-ventilated area, whether in or outdoors.
- Put a lid on your pans and use an extractor hood when cooking. Keep it running for 10 minutes after you have finished so you suck up the last of the humid air.
- Keep the bathroom door closed and open the window when taking a shower or bath. If your bathroom doesn’t have a window then you will need an extractor fan to keep the air remove the humidity.
- Wipe down surfaces after cooking, showering or bathing to remove excess moisture build up. It can quickly turn to mould if left.
- Keep an eye on plants. Indoor plants can produce a lot of moisture. If you notice a damp patch above or near to plants then try moving them outdoors to a sheltered spot.
- Try to dry your washing outdoors. If it’s not possible, then air-dry them inside next to an open window until fully dry.
- Adequately heat your home. It will improve the internal temperature of surfaces within your house and reduce the likelihood of condensation.
- Ensure your home is energy efficient by installing insulation and double-glazing so heat doesn’t escape from your property.
- Dehumidifiers are a good way to cool and remove moisture from the air, before they warm it back up again to recirculate. It’s a good way to control the amount of moisture in the air. However, it can be costly to purchase a good quality one but it might be worth it if you suffer from condensation on a regular basis.
- In areas that are more prone to condensation, such as bathrooms and kitchens, use special paint that has a moisture resistant finish.
Treatment for rising damp:
- A specialist must deal with rising damp.
- Check your property has a damp-proof course (DPC) installed. If not, call in a specialist (approved by the Property Care Association) to fit one. It is now compulsory for all homes to have a DPC.
- Any DPC that is installed should come with a 25-year guarantee. Keep this in a safe place in case you need to sell your home. The new buyers will want a copy of this for mortgage purposes.
- Make sure your DPC is 15cm above ground level. If it is covered, then dig away any soil on the exterior side of the damp wall to below the level of the damp-proof course.
- Please make sure that you get a second opinion if you suspect rising damp. It can often be misdiagnosed.
- Keep areas around your DPC free and clear. Do not place anything directly against them or the external walls.
Treatment for penetrating damp:
- The key thing is to eliminate moisture at the source so check you walls (interior and exterior) including the rendering thoroughly, along with the roof and window/door frames.
- Strip out old sealant on window and doorframes and replace with a good quality silicone based sealant.
- Repair or repoint crumbling or missing mortar between brickwork.
- If repointing or working at height, it´s best to call in an expert.
- Clear your gutters regularly so excess water can drain freely.
Next, you’ll need to tackle mould:
Once you’ve identified and fixed your damp problems, you then need to turn your attention to any mould growth. You may be able to remove it yourself, or you may need to call in a professional if the mould covers a large area.
You can remove mould caused by condensation yourself. Before attempting to tackle it, kit up with goggles, rubber gloves and a mask that covers your mouth and nose. This is important, as it will protect you from mould spores. Open the windows, but keep internal doors closed to prevent the spores from spreading throughout your home.
- Wear old clothes than you can wash or throw away after you’ve finished.
- Keep a plastic bag handy to place any mouldy soft furnishings in, ready for the bin. If your sofa or curtains are mouldy, then gently shampoo or arrange for them to be professionally dry cleaned.
- Use a bucket with warm soapy water (washing up liquid is great to use) and a sponge or rage to carefully wipe the mould away. Don’t scrub or brush as this can release mould spores.
- Once you´ve wiped away the problem, use a dry cloth to dry the area. Remember excess moisture is bad for your home!
- When you´ve finished place the rags and sponges you´ve used in the plastic bag and throw them away.
- Then give the room a vacuum and wipe down the other surfaces with a clean soapy cloth to remove any spores.
Damp, mould and mildew can be a hassle but it´s not all doom and gloom. Keep checking your property regularly for the signs. Prevention is better than a cure after all.
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*IMPORTANT – Please be careful and responsible when doing DIY, repairs to your home or if checking walls and roofs. If in any doubt, call a professional. The information contained within this article is for guidance purposes only and Rointe will not be held responsible for any outcome because of this article. Rointe is not responsible for the content on external websites.