Combatting Damp in Social Housing

By Chris Heaton
Date 14/04/2023
combatting damp in social housing

Damp affects over 900,000 homes in England alone, according to the English Housing Survey. Plenty of those come under the social housing umbrella, with 4% of social-rented properties thought to be affected.

While it might seem like a small minority, that’s still 1 in 25 homes at risk of serious problems if damp is left untreated. In this post, we’ll keep things simple by looking at what damp is, why it needs to be tackled and how to combat it.

What is damp exactly?

First things first, let’s be clear about what we’re dealing with. While ‘damp’ can be used to describe anything that’s a little bit wet, it has a very specific meaning when it comes to housing and buildings more generally.

Damp refers to excess moisture inside a property. That can be carried in the air, but most typically held on surfaces such as walls and ceilings. This happens because moisture is drawn to cold surfaces, where it condenses from a gas to a liquid.

Damp can also be broken down into three different types:

Penetrating damp

Penetrating damp is when moisture comes from outside your property and penetrates the roof or walls. It’s typically solved by repairing your roof, repointing your walls or adding an exterior coating for further protection.

Rising damp

Rising damp is a little more complex. It occurs when moisture rises through building materials from the ground via capillary action. That’s the movement of liquid through a narrow space without (or even against) gravity. It’s usually remedied by replacing the building’s damp proof course, which stops moisture in its tracks.

Condensing damp

Finally, there’s condensing damp or condensation damp. This is arguably the trickiest type of damp to deal with as it doesn’t require any specific defect to arise. It develops naturally when moisture is released inside homes from a long list of day-to-day activities:

  • Cooking, washing dishes and boiling a kettle
  • Showering and bathing
  • Washing laundry and drying clothes
  • Even talking and breathing release moisture

This is the kind of damp that is becoming more and more prevalent and problematic for UK homes – and it’s the kind of damp we’ll focus on in this article.

Why is damp problematic?

Why does damp matter for social housing? It’s simple. Damp can impact the health of anyone living in, or even visiting, a home.

Firstly, damp is a sign that the air is too humid inside social housing, which makes it easier for germs and viruses to survive, thrive and spread.

When walls, ceilings or furniture become damp, they also provide the perfect conditions for mould to grow. That’s when things become even worse. Mould releases allergens, irritants and toxic substances that can cause respiratory problems, worsen existing conditions and even trigger attacks.

Over time, people living in social housing with untreated damp will typically suffer from some sort of health impact. That could be overt, such as an allergic reaction to mould. Or it could go unnoticed, such as a shortness of breath attributed to growing older.

Why does damp matter in social housing?

Here’s why that matters for housing associations and local councils. Social housing, by definition, is intended to provide safe, secure and affordable accommodation to anyone who needs it. If social housing stock is plagued with damp, it doesn’t meet that ‘safe’ criteria.

This issue was brought to the nation’s attention in 2022, when a coroner confirmed mould contributed to the death of a 2-year old boy in social housing. Awaab Ishak from Rochdale “died as a result of a severe respiratory condition, caused due to prolonged exposure to mould in his home environment.”

That came five years after his father’s initial complaints about mould in their home. Put simply, Awaab and his family were let down by their social housing provider, Rochdale Boroughwide Housing. What followed was months of bad press and even funding cuts, with a £1m grant revoked by the government.

How to combat damp in social housing

As mentioned earlier, the way you combat damp depends on the type of damp in question.

Combatting penetrating damp

With penetrating damp, it’s a case of finding the root cause, repairing it, then drying out the damp and redecorating – as well as fixing any other issues caused by water ingress. Common sources of penetrating damp are roofs and walls.

Even the smallest break in a roof’s covering can allow rainwater through, whether it’s loose flashing or a cracked tile. As for walls, wind-driven rain can soak brickwork, leading to water ingress. Or perhaps houses have a leaking gutter, which can have a similar effect on the walls.

Repairing rising damp

For rising damp, you’ll usually need to replace the damp-proof course (DPC). That’s simply because an inadequate or non-existent DPC is generally the reason behind rising damp in the first place. A DPC is a layer of damp-resistant material which stops water in its tracks when it rises through the walls from the ground.

So, what about damp from condensation?

Unlike the other two kinds of damp, you can’t tackle the root cause. There are a few ways tenants can reduce the amount of moisture released in their home, such as drying clothes outside or using a tumble dryer rather than drying them on a clothes airer.

However, as a social housing provider, you can’t control what tenants do or simply point the finger of blame. What you can do is advise tenants on the best ways to reduce humidity within their home. But in most cases, some further steps will be required.


Ventilation is key if you want to reduce humidity and avoid damp forming. It allows moisture in the air to escape before it settles on walls, ceilings or other surfaces.

Social housing should be equipped with extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms, as well as trickle vents on windows to improve ventilation. Extractor fans are particularly useful as they remove moisture at source from cooking and bathing or showering. This is something all councils and housing associations should be taking care of.

But, as above, there’s a bit of a grey area when it comes to responsibility, as there are some things tenants can do to improve ventilation in social housing. One is to use those extractor fans when needed. They should ideally open windows too, when drying clothes or exercising indoors, for example.

Of course, the latter comes at a cost to warmth (at a time when energy prices are higher than ever). It can also compromise on security – it’s never advisable to leave windows open if the home is vacant. In any case, you can only assume tenants are doing their bit and act accordingly.


Even with all of the steps above, some homes are still prone to high humidity and damp. With limited budgets, it’s not realistic for social housing providers to pull down and rebuild older properties.

Fortunately, a damp-proof course for rising damp isn’t the only way to combat moisture inside a home. Walls and ceilings can also be protected from condensing damp using a damp-proof coating like SprayCork.

It’s applied in two 3mm layers with a final 2mm overskim of plaster, so there’s minimal impact on tenants’ living space – and no need to adjust fixtures or sockets. Once completed, damp simply can’t form on the surface of internal walls or ceilings.

While it’s not a replacement for vital measures like extractor fans, a damp-proof coating is a great solution for homes where damp issues seem otherwise untreatable.

Are some homes more prone to damp?

If your social housing stock has lots of damp issues, you may be wondering whether you’re just cursed. In truth, certain types of housing are more susceptible to high humidity and damp development.

Flats are a case in point. They typically have more people living in less space, which means the humidity from cooking and washing is concentrated. Humid air also rises, meaning that condensation will usually get worse the higher you go in a block of flats.

The same is true for some older properties. Firstly, older buildings are more prone to rising damp when the DPC has been damaged or not installed at all. There’s also the issue of impermeable (non-breathable) insulation being used on permeable (breathable) walls, which are often found on older buildings. This will trap moisture inside the walls, leading to damp and mould developing.

Combat damp with SprayCork

All too often, damp will persist even when humidity is reduced and ventilation is improved. SprayCork offers a lifeline to social housing providers, so you don’t need to undertake extensive renovations, rebuilds or even the relocation of tenants.

Most importantly, it allows you to eliminate damp and mould, safeguard the health of tenants and avoid lasting damage to your reputation with cuts in funding.

If you want to find out more about our internal wall coating or arrange a quote, please don’t hesitate to contact the CorkSol team on 01484 442420 or email [email protected].

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