One word that new homeowners fear the most – damp! It can fill any first-time buyer with absolute dread, with thoughts that their dream home may not be quite as dreamy as they imagined.
First of all, damp is usually treatable, so don’t start crying into your survey just yet and withdrawing your offer. Here’s our essential guide to damp problems, what they could mean for you and how best to approach them.
Before you even get to the offer/survey stage, there are some tell tale signs to look out for:
• Does the place smell musty and damp, or do the owners seem to be trying to mask the damp smell with potent air-fresheners, scented candles etc.
• Is there an obvious condensation problem? This could indicate that the property is not sufficiently ventilated.
• Are there strategically placed items alongside walls, or things hanging that could be covering up damp patches (have a poke around if possible).
• Are there visible signs of damp patches or mould? Is wallpaper peeling away?
This is not to say that these things will definitely be damp related, but they are worth looking out for. If you suspect damp, it’s probably wise to get a specialist damp survey done so you know the extent of the problem, how best to sort it and how much it might cost. It is also a good idea to check if the property has a damp proof course (a specialist damp treatment) and if there is a damp proof certificate from the current owners to back this up.
Types of damp
There are different types of damp – penetrating damp, rising damp and condensation.
Penetrating damp is normally caused by an external defect – like dodgy brick work, leaking guttering etc. which is causing external rain water to seep into the wall of the house. If you can identify the defect, the penetrating damp may be fairly easy to fix.
Rising damp is a little trickier, as this involves water being drawn upwards through direct contact with brickwork and mortar. If there isn’t a sufficient damp proof course, the water rises by capillary action up into the walls.
Excessive condensation is usually evident on widows or in mould forming around widow frames. This normally indicates insufficient ventilation
A damp survey
If there is evidence of damp, this should be picked up on your survey. Your homebuyer’s report might alert you to the fact that there is evidence of damp – but probably won’t go into much detail about it – which can be quite worrying and frustrating for first-time buyers. A buildings survey will probably go into more detail – but will still normally suggest that you get a specialist damp survey done.
From my research and speaking from experience, I believe Rentokil to offer the most comprehensive damp proof survey. Most surveyors just use an electronic damp proof monitor which scans walls for moisture levels. Rentokil use these too, but actually make a small incision into the wall to measure the moisture levels deeper into the wall, rather than just on the plaster work.
They gave us very thorough advice and we were pleased with the quick, clean service they gave in treating the problem and re-plastering.
Damp proof coursing involves the professional drilling a series of small holes in the external walls of the property and then filling these holes with a damp proofing fluid (silicone based). There are other methods, such as installing a damp proof membrane – but your surveyor should be able to talk you through the options. Normally the affected plaster will also have to be removed (which can be a little dusty and messy) and new plastering will be done in the affected area. You’ll be advised to leave it at least 2 weeks before re-decorating to allow the plaster to dry properly.