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Damp toolbox part 6: Minimising cold surfaces for damp to collect on

The headlines

The previous articles in this series on Damp have:

  • Discussed the issues caused by damp, from health impacts, to cost and comfort.

  • Explained that reducing in-home moisture levels is the key to solving damp problems.

  • Discussed the practical steps that we can all take to reduce moisture levels.

This article looks at realities and down sides of other approaches commonly used to reduce the negative effects of high moisture levels, or to mask damp problems.


The following methods are frequently used to deal with problems:

  • Keeping rooms or the home warmer.

  • Improving insulation.

  • Tricks such as use of chemicals or using washing up liquid on glass

While these methods might reduce the visible symptoms, they:

  • Don't address the actual problem, which is too much damp in the air.

  • Don't stop damp in the air causing or even worsening hidden problems.

  • Can work out more expensive than solving the actual causes of the problem.

 

Quick links to sections below

 

Keeping rooms warmer

There are many websites which suggest that turning up the heating will help with damp issues.

Does this work? Well, to an extent, but it’s really a proper solution, and it's expensive.

By warming up a home it means the air in it can hold more moisture. This will reduce the amount of condensation that forms on cold surfaces.

(If you are interested in more about why, see my article on relative humidity here)

Using heat like this is often used as the main method of dealing with damp, but it really should be used as a solution of last resort.


The reason this is a poor solution

Heating up the air might well succeed in reducing the amount of visible damp and condensation which forms on surfaces. But:

  • Damp is still in the air, and it will still look for cold surfaces on which to condense.

  • And you may not know! These cold surfaces could be hidden within the structure of the house, or simply out of sight, behind a kitchen cupboard or a wardrobe.

  • Real world evidence: There are many stories on social media of lofts dripping with condensation. This is mostly from damp air that has found its way into the attic from the home below. See my article on this specific subject here.

  • And of course, extra heating costs extra money.

Attic condensation caused by damp air from the home below
Attic condensation in winter

As soon as the heating is switched down/off, the air within the home will cool.

Cooler air is less able to hold onto the water it contains. Hey presto...it will dump it in the form of condensation on old surfaces and were back to square one.


Recommendation

If you are using heat to solve problems

  • Try to minimise the amount of extra heat you use, together with

  • Take steps to routinely ventilate your home, or increase ventilation in the immediate area and

  • Take a look at my other article with lots of practical ways to limit the amount of water going into the air in your home

 

Insulating

Insulating is always a good thing. It improves comfort levels and lowers energy bills.

Insulation also helps to keep surfaces warm: Loft insulation helps to keep a ceiling warm, and good double glazing helps to keep the inner side of a glass window warm. And warm surfaces are a friend when it comes to combatting damp.

For example, this photograph shows how condensation has formed on the colder parts of this ceiling – the parts where loft insulation has not been laid properly.

Localised damp problems such as this can be resolved by fixing the local problem – in this case, sorting out the loft insulation.


Why insulation alone doesn't fix the real problem

Improving insulation:

  • Doesn't reduce the amount of damp air in the home.

  • Damp air just will find other cold surfaces to condense onto which could be out of sight.

  • It is impossible to insulate every surface that is cold. If there is too much moisture in the air, there will always be somewhere cold enough for damp problems to occur.


Why glazing doesn't actually fix the problem

Improving glazing is often a sensible option from an energy efficiency point of view.


But, if the primary aim of replacing glazing is to tackle condensation:

  • It is a very expensive way to reduce condensation.

  • There is no guarantee it will eliminate condensation in all circumstances.

  • It won’t reduce the level of damp air in your home. If new windows reduce condensation, then it’s likely that the damp air has gone somewhere else to cause a problem.

So, insulation is good to do, but it won't solve the fundamental causes of the problem, air that is too damp.


Recommendation

These are very much the same as the recommendations in the heat section above:

 

Use of chemicals and other tricks

Other common methods for reducing the symptoms of damp or mould.

  • Chemicals and cleaners on mouldy surfaces.

  • Overpainting or using special paints.

  • Using washing up liquid on the insides of glazing.

  • Bubble pack on glazing.

  • Insulated wallpaper.

  • Keeping curtains open at night. This allows the warmth in the room to keep windowpanes warm enough to reduce condensation. But the downside is that more heat is lost from the home through the window.

The above things might help to reduce the symptoms of damp. However, none address the fundamental problem, the high level of dampness in the air.


Solutions like the first three tend not to last very long.

 

Quick links to the other main articles on this subject.

Other supporting articles on damp:


 

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All content on the site should be treated as information and not advice. You should take professional advice where appropriate to different site articles.


Thanks.


Mark Thompson


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