Frequently asked questions - Damp, Dry rot, Mould

Here are some Questions from our site visitors

Answered by our Technical Director Mike Davison cssw

Rising damp & penetrating damp

What's the difference, how can I identify both, are there tell tale signs?

Penetrating damp can be from driving rain, leaking gutters, defective adjoining roof coverings, defective seals to windows doors etc. Penetrating damp can appear anywhere in a property, upstairs, roofs, chimeys and in the same places as rising damp too!

Rising damp is where dampness from the ground travels up the wall trough a capillary action and there is either a defective, failed or no damp proof course installed to stop the progress of the moisture.

An inexperienced or untrained surveyor may mistake condensation or penetrating damp or rising damp and recommend a course of action which will be unnecessarily disruptive and possibly expensive, worst of all it is also probably not required and will simply disguise the true cause of the problem temporarily.

All properties are different which is why we offer a full range of damp proofing solutions. There are many sources of damp in buildings, rising damp, penetrating damp and condensation are the main types and they are often confused. It is therefore important to get a reliable and properly trained surveyor to check out the problem fully before arriving at any conclusions and paying out money for the wrong course of action.

How to deal with condensation?

I have condensation in my Victorian conversion flat with black mould on some external walls. I have double glazing but the problem happens in winter when they're shut.

Would ventilation in windows (e.g. trickle vents) fix it or would passyfier air vents be better to solve the problem? Ideally I'd like to be able to close the vents when it's really cold as don't have central heating.


Condensation is a complex subject, primarily ventilation is the answer but this can be problematic in the cold e.g during winter. There are lots of opinions on prevention but as any fully trained and qualified surveyor will confirm, every property is different. Even the lifestyle of the occupants Can have a major influence.

To cure condensation follow these steps.

  1. Do not dry washing on radiators or clothes airers inside if you have any signs of condensation in your home.
  2. Check if anything is introducing damp to the exterior of affected walls, damp = cold = lower surface temperature and dew point. look especially for leaking gutters, overflows, rising damp, etc. Correct anything found.
  3. Increase ventilation where practical, IE when cooking close the kitchen door and open the window, when showering or bathing do the same in the bathroom.

If this does not solve the problem you will need to look at specific types of ventilation. The airtightness of newer properties and the new building regulations where new properties must pass an air tightness pressure test mean extractor fans may not be suitable, they can create a negative pressure which stops them working effectively.

PPU's or positive pressure units are very good for mould but do have some slight drawbacks, in winter they are bringing minus degree air into your home, this can result in a temperature drop in the installation area (usually the hallway or landing) but units with pre-heaters are available and a thermostat activates a heating element below certain temperatures to take the chill off the incomming air. These units typically start from around £600 + vat fitted.

Builders often recommend passyfier vents, these work on the principle of air movement and pressure changes - e.g when you open and close a door, but as you do not open and close doors all night when condensation is at it's worst (not if you want some sleep that is) their efficiency is limited. They will help to reduce problems on a single room basis but seldom cure condensation problems. Builders tend to recommend them as they are easy to fit and you do not have to carry out any complex calculations for them. These are around £150.00 + vat fitted

The best solution is an heat recovery ventilation unit which heats up incoming fresh air using the warm stale humid air which it exhausts at the same time. The unit contains a matrix through which the warm humid air from your property is directed as it is extracted to the outside. The fresh but cold external air is then pulled in across the other side of this matrix warming it up and giving you pre heated fresh air into your home or property. These fans can now be over 90% efficient heat recovery and 90% efficient for power consumption. These units efficiently combat condensation and improve air quality within the home. Some units cost less than a lightbulb to run.

Contact us for further details

Mike Davison cssw

Neighbour's new patio doors causing cracks?

Our neighbours put in a new kitchen about 3 years ago, and put patio doors into the back wall of the outrigger of their Victorian house, the outrigger shared with our own in a long terrace. We've been told that under the foundation is normal for a Victorian house, with sandstone probably 3-6 feet under the surface of the ground. Since their patio doors have gone in, small cracks have appeared above their doors, and above our own patio doors (both internal and external leafs), which have been in place for over 15 years I think, and are also in the back wall of the house. I estimate there's about 4 feet of supporting wall between the patio doors, and another 3 feet of supporting wall to each side to the outrigger corners. Our patio doors have a substantial steel plate lintel, theirs is a concrete one (I presume reinforced).

Since their construction, their new plaster (dot and dab I think) has 2 vertical hairline cracks on the party wall about 10 feet back into the 18 foot outrigger, whereas our solid plaster wall is fine. There is also a first floor crack opened up on both sides of the party wall where the outrigger joins the main house, but no cracks anywhere else, i.e. on the outer walls of the whole outrigger. There are what I think are large supporting wooden beams the hold up the back wall of main part of the house, and there are hairline cracks under both of these, and a few hairline cracks following the panels in our plasterboard kitchen ceiling (in the outrigger of course). The rest of the building is tickety-boo.

Should I be worried? Is it just minor settlement of the building, or is their lintel not up to the job and is causing movement in the outrigger? I assume they and their builder used a correctly sized lintel and got building regs, but I don't know. I know we don't have building regs for our patio doors (we got an insurance policy as our surveyor picked it up), but you can see our steel plate (5 mm thick I think) above our door.

I presume we are not liable for any remediation if any is needed. Am I right? I'm guessing the chain of liability is the builder, then the neighbour's insurance, then our own?

There should be no new settlement on a Victorian house, all settlement should have stopped years ago. From the sound of your description the first thing I would be looking at is whether there is enough supporting brickwork left between the two properties and the foundation. By putting two sets of patios next to each other on the same elevation the weight distribution on the sub strata is reduced to spot loading through a smaller footprint. This spot loading can in fact push the foundations down into the earth below whilst the rest of the walls stay put, this movement causes the cracks. If the walls are of brick construction stepped cracking often occurs. The distance the wall between the patios travels down into the ground is determined by the compressive resistance of the sub strata.

You will need to appoint a structural engineer to do some calculations and work out what is happening, the ground may compress a little and then all movement stop or it could keep moving down which will increase the cracking, cause the patio doors to jam or even lead to collapse in severe cases.

If we are carrying out this type of work we have an engineer check the compressive resistance of the earth beneath the foundation and loading first, we generally have to underpin the sides of the new opening with reinforced concrete structural pads prior to cutting the patio door openings out. As this can be costly, disruptive and time consuming it can be ignored by cowboys or unwitting occupants who do not want to fork out the extra costs.

Hope this helps

Do I need to have a sump pump installed in my cellar if I am having it water-proofed?

My cellar has black rot due to poor ventilation and is under ground level, but has never flooded before. I have had several damp-proof companies come to have a look, and some say it must have sump pump due to BS regulations or something, and others say, no the floor is dry so doesn't need one, just needs p20 membrane tanking system and humidistat fan. Please advise me, it's alot of money to gamble and I don't know who to believe. thanks a million


kalimills -2nd Mar,

Dear Kali,

The key to the answer of your question is where you said the room is, 'below ground', to meet the requirements of the manufacturers membrane system, and British Standards fully, you would need to install gravity drainage or a sump pump system. The system you mention (Cavity Drain Membrane) cannot deal with hydrostatic pressure (a build up of standing water behind the membrane) and if not drained by a pump or gravity drainage system will fail catastrophically in the event of water build up. Even though the property has not flooded before a slow build up of ground/rainwater would still be possible. British Standards rule that even if a property has no record of historic flooding we should assume it may flood in the future!

So the correct answer is yes - in the absences of any reliable gravity drainage you will need a sump pump in that situation.

Mike Davison cssw (certificated Surveyor in Structural Waterproofing)

4th Mar,

Damp Patches in upstairs bedroom caused by condensation?

I am having issues with my kids bedroom. We live in a rather old property and when we bought it, it had been sat empty for about 5 years and had a leaky roof so the place was pretty wet! We dried it all out with dehumidifier's and had the damp course done, roof re done etc. All was fine until I noticed 2 damp patches in one bedroom. These patches are either side of the window (on an external wall) which has a bank and rather a lot of trees opposite. 1 patch is various distinct damp patches covered with the small black mold spoors and the other is above the skirting board and again has mold. Both patches never spread and when I clean the mold off the damp that is left is always in a very distinct pattern. I open windows at opposite ends of the house to ensure ventilation. No where else in the house has any issues and I cannot understand if its condensation why its forming there as there is nothing to cause it. The bathroom has an extractor fan and the door is always shut and this is the only thing upstairs that I can think could cause the problem.

One person told us it was condensation and the another didn't seem to think it was! Shed any light?

M. E. copland -1st Sep,

The black spot mould is condensation. This can be caused by cold bridging or dampness within the walls.

Basically the affected areas are colder than the rest of the wall creating a dew point on the walls where the moisture from the ambient air within your property condenses more readily than the higher temperature surroundings.

Things to look for-

Gaps where moisture or cold air can enter the fabric of the building.

Dot'n'dab plasterwork where the adhesive dabs form a cold bridge from an outside wall.

Leaks from roofs.

Leaks from gaps to lintels or sills.

The leaks can be through quite small cracks gaps or openings and can be some distance from the internal signs as water/moisture can run from point of entry and settle in a different place.

Also possible that interstitial condensation is forming within a cavity and causing damp patches or mortar is lying on wall ties forming a cold bridge.

Or If wall ties have corroded this can cause a gap in the mortar and allow moisture/cold air to cross the cavity. This can often be seen by horizontal splitting in mortar courses/gaps in external pointing.

These issues can be detected quite easily by a trained professional and inspections are often free.

If in the North East area drop us a line and I will inspect the problems for you.

Mike Davison cssw

12th Sep,


Hi I just moved into a house that has had both chimney breasts removed downstairs. Upon removing the wallpaper I have noticed damp and the skirting boards rotted at the bottom. What could be the cause of this? Any help appreciated.. ata_75 -3rd Sep,

ata_75 -3rd Sep,

Most chimneys were constructed without a damp proof course, the heat from the fire would pull any moisture out of the brickwork and up the flue. of course when the open fire is removed any dampness will now manifest itself through the plastering if a suitable dpc has not been installed. Have the area checked out to see if it is rising or penetrating damp. An expert will tell you straight away.

Mike Davison cssw

How to know when a damp patch has dried


I have an old damp patch on the bottom of my kitchen wall. I have recently made enquiries about cavity wall insulation and have been told I cannot proceed until the damp is stopped. I believe this was caused by a blocked gutter which overflowed when it rained, bounced back up on to the wall and through any gaps in the mortar. We have had the gutter cleared out and I'm in the process of getting the gutter fixed. I have also filled up any holes I could see, and am in the process of getting the walls properly checked out, in case I have missed any. The internal wall is discoloured (looks like the oil from Kitchen paint) and there are two very small bubbled patches, but the wall doesn't feel damp anymore. However, I believe it still must be because I occasionally get dead woodlice on the floor in the area. How would I be able to check and tell for sure whether the damp has been resolved and has dried out?

Thank you for taking the time to read this and reply.


claire3278 -10th Oct,

There are a number of issues which could explain the problem you describe.

The gutter will certainly not have helped but it is unlikely that would have caused a damp patch on the internal skin of a cavity wall if there were no other underlying problems.

The cavity wall insulation people will not do your walls until damp issues are resolved as the cavity wall insulation may exacerbate the problem, originally cavity walls were built for several reasons, the cavity formed part of the exterior ventilation of the property, it prevents the cold bridging of the solid wall and allows the outer leaf to get wet from rain etc whilst the internal leaf remains dry as it is not connected by brickwork to the extern.

The issue you have is most likely due to cold bridging, where mortar droppings from the original bricklayers fell down the cavity during construction, this formed a thermal bridge between the outer and inner leafs and during winter conducts the cold/damp from the outer leaf to the inner one. This can then cause condensation to form on the internal cold spot (because of the lower dew point) and the wall becomes damp, however the damp is from the surface of the wall and not rising damp. this problem gets worse in the cold and damp of winter but can appear to improve in warm summer months.

You would be best to get a qualified surveyor to check it out. If you get a RICS surveyor you will usually get good advice and a hefty fee, if you get a reputable remedial and damp proofing surveyor the report is usually free but they may not fully understand the problem and advise a damp proof course that is not needed.

Check to see if they have CSRT or CSSW after their name, it generally means they have been properly trained and certified as competent to do the job.

Mike Davison cssw

12th Oct,

I have some damp that in the base walls which is apparent after heavy rain, the pointing looks fine but the plaster inside is wet. Is it rising damp?

The damp is in patches is in some parts around the bay. Seems particularly bad in the corner. Damp seems to have wicked to an internal wall also. We have recently added additional ventilation bricks as they were covered by turf on the outside. We have dug a small trench around the outside of the bay though yet to finish with drainage pipe/shale.

I forgot to mention, it has rained before and the damp has not been visible. The house was left empty for 1 day and the temperature dropped, not sure now whether it is condensation and not rising damp!

k_webb -9th Oct,

It is impossible to diagnose your problem without a thorough inspection of your property and it's individual circumstances. See my other answer with a description of 'cold bridging'. Do not follow any course of action until someone who knows what they are talking about has had a look or it could prove both costly and unnecessary.

Mike Davison cssw

Damp patches around chimney breast

I think I have an interesting one for you...

I have had a problem with damp patches appearing around my ground floor chimney breast and I would have though I first noticed an issue around 2 years ago. This is an INTERNAL wall and the construction is SINGLE SKIN brick. In June 2011, I commissioned an independent damp survey (CSRT qualified surveyors independent of any supplier) to try and identify the root cause of the problem.

The surveyor took damp measurements of the affected wall and created a damp profile. The moisture meter indicated elevated readings ranging from 70 - 90% in the plaster of the chimney breast and 40 - 60% in the plaster of the adjacent wall. The skirting boards were 20%. Up to 1m the readings are fairly consistent and at approx 1m the damp readings stop entirely.

At my instruction floorboards were not lifted due to an existing laminate floor that I can't afford to replace at present. Samples of brickwork were not taken and the surveyor inspected the house from the outside but did not get up onto the roof or go into the loft.

The survey report identified the "cause" as being rising damp due to a missing or ineffective dpc in the chimney breast. Also possible bridging from the concrete hearth and associated earth mound allowing moisture to track up the brickwork and plaster. Unable to confirm whether the hearth is in-situ due to the flooring.

Recommendation is to install a dryzone or vandex dpc in the bottom row of brick above floor level and replaster with sand+cement incorporating salt inhibitor. Plaster not to project more than 25mm below top of new skirting and min gap to floor of 25mm.

HOWEVER, from visual inspection over a period of time, the damp patches on the wallpaper gets worse very quickly during periods of heavy rain and gradually dries out over a period of several weeks when there is a dry spell (all too rare in north Manchester!).

The gas fire came out today and the hearth behind was full of rubble and soot. I have cleaned all of this out. I have had a couple of lads come out to quote for the

So then based on the above, is my problem:

a) Rising damp as diagnosed by the surveyor

b) Penetrating damp from a leaking chimney

c) Condensation being hygroscopic salts in plaster drawn through from brickwork behind.

d) Some combination of the above/ other

And based on that diagnosis. Do I:

a) Hire a dpc Contractor as per recommendation

b) Get a roofer to see what is what up top and fix any problems there as a first try.

c) Buy a dehumidifier and run it hard for a few weeks.

d) Other.

Sorry for the essay, hope you found it an interesting one, any more info just ask, look forward to seeing responses.


davebee -27th Sep,

Your problem is probably a combination of issues, chimney breasts were usually constructed with no DPC, the roaring hot fire used to pull all the damp ot of the masonary and evaporate it up the flue, when the fire was removed, rising damp could have taken hold however the problem with chimneys is that they often have a rubble filled void either side of the fire opening, this makes injection unsuitable as the moisture would rise through the rubble and beyond the dpc (bridging) and then affect the walls from the inside-out. Also you could have problems with interstitial condensation and with your description you could also have an open chimney allowing rain/moisture to leak down the flue and collect in the debris at the bottom.

Sorry if I threw a few more spanners into the works, but a far deeper investigation is required to get to the bottom of this.

And FYI rising damp can go well beyond 1m depending on wall construction, the only way to tell if the damp is rising or not is with a calcium carbide test.

Mike Davison cssw

Damp and condensation expert

13th Oct, 2011

Passyfier vents or heat exchange units?

Condensation is forming in one room in my ground-floor Victorian conversion on the windows and some of the walls.

passyfier vents or heat exchange units?

jason_32 -14th Nov,

Heat exchange units are always the better option, they are bringing fresh pre heated air into your home and not just allowing freezing cold air (depending on external temp) into it.

26th Nov,

Surveying/building advice needed urgently, can you help?

We are in the process of buying an attractive Victorian home in a good road. We have secured a good price and it is in reasonable condition for its age, with the vendors living there for 25 years and it is well presented, half of it has been refurbished and the kitchen is new and good quality. The survey has come up with some maintenance issues which are to be expected. However, off the side of the house is an extension which was originally a garage and has been extended backwards to become the kitchen (this was done before the current vendor over 25 years ago). The garage is 16 x 8.5 and the kitchen on the back of that is 22 x 8.5. It has a flat roof which was replaced this summer.

However the surveyor has noticed that the kitchen wall "may" be of single-skin brick with a timber-frame inner lining. It isn’t thick enough to be cavity or solid. There was no obvious feel of insulation nor any obvious ventilation. "Unless they have been very clever", he would guess that any insulation is either minimal or non-existent. He doubts that there is any insulation (or not much) in the wall lining. If they do claim to have insulation then he suggests i ask how the roof is ventilated as there was no sign of anything.

How concerned should i be about this? I have read that mortgage companies don't like such construction. We have secured a mortgage on the property but used an independent surveyor so he said the mortgage company "might not notice". Would a roof company re-do the roof with a 20 guarantee and not provide adequate ventilation and insulation? If they provide us with proof of building regs does this mean that the insulation is adequate at least in the roof?

We could obviously not change the roof because of the construction, how much would it cost to demolish and rebuild such a structure if we had to in the future? Is this a reason to secure a lower price?

If you can help and offer an opinion on this I would be very grateful. I don't want to buy something that is not mortgage able in the future. I don't want to have a kitchen that is a cold and mouldy. The vendors have lived there happily for 25 years and seem to be perplexed by our concerns because the extension has been there for so long and the refurbishments they have done have been very good quality.

I am awaiting their vendors information which should include the relevant paperwork for the new roof, what should i be looking for? In short, would you buy this house, i don't want to pay alot of money for something that isn't what is seems???? Many thanks for your help and apologies if i haven't explained this very well my knowledge of construction is zero but i am trying to learn very quickly.

greenpeel1969 -16th Nov

Email your surveyor and ask him directly for advice as to what to do, and any indicative costs for his recommendations, this is what you have already paid him for. Remember - you can't re-negotiate after the purchase so make sure you get to the bottom of it before you complete.

It is quite an easy job to add insulation on top of a flat roof and re-felt it (assuming you have the height to do this) and insulation can be attached externally and rendered if need be. If this work is required you will need to know the cost for negotiation prior to purchase, so ask your surveyor directly and follow his advice or the same problem will only come back and haunt you when you come to sell.

Mike Davison cssw

11th Feb

A Plumber quotes an estimated price for a Bathroom Installation. Customer offers to carry out help to install. Can the plumber still charge the estimate price?

A plumber supplies a verbal estimate to fit a bathroom. Say £1950.00. Including labour and materials to install the bathroom assuming fitting of bath, sink, toilet and radiator. The customer is a very competent person experienced in a wide range of building work. However, too busy to carry out the plumbing installation. As they are projecting the installation, measure all out doing the joinery work, tiling, painting etc. To get the job as required up to 50% of the installation assistance is supplied to the plumber without questioning, assistance just given and accepted. 75% of the installation materials are available free issue and taken without question from the customer, copper pipes & fittings, soil pipes, the plumber supplies hep pipe but takes the customers stock copper pipe to trade etc. Some of the work the plumber caries out is not to satisfaction. I.e. loose pipes need re-bracketing and further chasing out and is rectified in the absence of the plumber to move on with the install. All holes cored for waste and soil pipe with customers core drill. Plumbers drill is said to not be suitable to core engineered brickwork. The fitting of most equipment is prepared and carried out by the customer for the plumber just to fit pipes. Bath, sink, wall hung toilet frame. The plumber has spent approx 50 hours installing the bathroom. This is a generous time given due to plumber spending up to 2 hours a day on their mobile running their business.

The customer expected the price to be less than £1950 as most materials were supplied and assistance supplied. Equipment was fitted ready for piping up. A lot of time has been paid for by the customer for the plumber to speak business on his phone, visit plumbers merchant for the bathroom equipment installation advice etc.

The plumber requests the verbal estimated price for the job £1950. Where would the customer stand requesting a discount? Customer has requested a breakdown of the price but still said to be a fixed price!

It is always difficult to advise with only one side of a story, however I hope this helps. Depending on circumstances quotes can be changed and estimates can be changed i.e. if the work is added to or reduced or takes longer that the time expected due to unforeseen circumstances, but a fixed price can not be changed unless agreed by both parties.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but you have gone about this the wrong way and unfortunately he seems to have taken advantage of that.

Legally I suspect you do not have a leg to stand on.

Try talking to him, he may be prepared to replace the materials he has used if he calculated them into his price - otherwise you may just have to pay up and learn from experience - you will know better next time. This shows the need for only employing decent trustworthy businesses to do your work.

Mike Davison CSSW

11th Feb,2012

Very difficult to set a sump pump in wet cellar

I live in an old cottage set on a Pennine hillside which has a vaulted cellar. The cellar is currently damp and in really wet conditions water can be seen at the edges of the flag stones.

The water is only ever in one corner of the room but the opposite corner appears dry (in fact I have ran a hose pipe down there for a few hours and the water totally drained away).

When I lifted some flag stones I had a dig around to see what the ground was like underneath and after only about 1" of digging I hit solid bedrock. It looks like the water is due to a natural water course which runs along this bedrock

Therefore it doesn't look like installing a sump pump would be possible as I would need to literally chisel into the rock. Also as the house is old I wouldn't want to try and alter the natural water course which the house has always been sat on.

Given that the water is only ever in one corner and the level of water never comes above the flag stones (I have been watching for about 3 years now) would I get away without a sump pump if I were to try and use a membrane tanking system ?

Otherwise would a more traditional concrete + DPM type floor be better as this would raise the floor level 3 or 4 " ?

Any advise would be appreciated.

lee -26th Apr,


You can only use cavity drain membrane in a tanking situation if it has drainage or a sump pump. The system is not designed to cope with static water pressure and any build up would certainly result in failure. The British standard for this type of system tells you that even if there is no history of flooding we must assume that some flooding will occur in the future.

The pump does not necessarily have to go in the damp corner - if there is earth elsewhere in your cellar you could dig there and form a drain to that point.

Kind regards

Mike Davison cssw

27th April 2012

Skirting boards butted-up and not scribed

I have just had a conservatory makeover which included plastering walls and fitting skirting boards. The contractor has used pencil round boards. Internal joints have been simply butted-up (and not scribed) and external mitres don't fit perfectly. He is trying to tell me that it's perfectly normal to butt-up (even though it looks rubbish) and it is to be expected that external mitres are not flush. When I get round to decorating, apparently I should put caulk in the hole caused by butting-up and filler in the mitres. I want the boards stained not painted by the way. My view is that if the internal joint can't be scribed (too flimsy they say) then they should mitre (not square they say). Surely a decent carpenter can deal with walls that are not square and do an internal mitre at say 44 degrees instead of 45?

neiltheblue -17th Sep,

A decent joiner will always do a mitre to external corners and scribe the internals with the profile scribe to the wall least visible.

Give them a reasonable deadline and refuse to pay till they put it right, if they don't put it right by the deadline employ a craftsman joiner to do the work and knock his bill off their price.

Simple as that.

People like that get us all a bad name.

If I want to get tiles laid on my kitchen floor how would I go about it?

What I am getting at here is do I buy the tiles and adhesive myself then get a tiler to come in and lay the floor or will they get the materials for me?

If I get the tiles myself will they know what adhesive to use?

These may sound like silly questions but we are just about to exchange on our first home and we are clueless about anything remotely DIY related!



heathershouse -4th Jul, 2011Flooring

Hi Heather,

There are no hard and fast rules here, some Tilers will charge a percentage for supplying the materials and some won't, often the tilers can buy at such a discount that they can add a handling charge and still be cheaper than you would pay if you purchased them yourself.

Invite several companies to quote, request a full breakdown of all costs, ie tiles, adhesive, grout, tile edge (if needed) and compare them. Remember to ask for the broken down price in writing and a reference from a recent customer.

Good luck.

Mike Davison cssw

About Mike Davison - our Technical Director

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