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. It can also be broken down into three different types:
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 is a little more complex. It occurs when moisture rises through building materials from the ground via capillary action. It’s usually remedied by replacing the building’s damp proof course, which stops moisture in its tracks.
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 does it matter?
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.
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.
How to combat damp in social housing?
As mentioned earlier, the way you combat damp depends on the type of damp in question.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.