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What Is Damp?Structural dampness is the presence of unwanted moisture in the structure of a building, either the result of intrusion from outside or condensation from within the structure. A high proportion of damp problems in buildings are caused by condensation, rain penetration or rising damp.
SymptomsDampness tends to cause secondary damage to a building. The unwanted moisture enables the growth of various fungi in wood, causing rot or mould health issues and may eventually lead to sick building syndrome. Plaster and paint deteriorate and wallpaper loosens. Stains, from the water, salts and from mould, mar surfaces. The highest airborne mould concentrations are found in buildings where significant mould infestation has occurred, usually as a result of severe water intrusion or flood damage. Mould can grow on almost any surface and occurs where there is a lot of moisture from structural problems such as leaky roofs or high humidity levels. Airborne mould concentrations have the potential to be inhaled and cause serious health effects in humans.
Externally, mortar may crumble and salt stains may appear on the walls. Steel and iron fasteners rust. It may also cause a poor indoor air quality and respiratory illness in occupants. In extreme cases, mortar or plaster may fall away from the affected wall.
Health Effects of Structural DampAsthma is one of the most common health effects associated with structural dampness. Asthma is heightened due to condensation, moisture, humidity, and water intrusion, which all contribute to indoor moisture. Mould infestation is a major trigger for asthma. Aside asthma, other health concerns of mould are infections, allergenic or immunological illness, and nonallergic illness. Asthma is also triggered by the sensitization of dust mites accruing humid, wet regions of a structure. Another health effect associated with structural dampness is the presence of bacteria in an indoor environment. Bacteria requires water to grow and multiply. Bacteria is a source for the transmission of diseases, therefore putting occupants’ health at risk by water intrusion into the indoor environment. Water removal and drying of wet building materials within 2 days will likely prevent mould and bacteria growth, therefore reducing occupants’ vulnerability to disease.
A 2009 World Health Organisation report entitled "Children Living in Homes With Problems of Damp" stated that:"Excess moisture leads – on almost all indoor materials – to growth of microbes such as moulds, fungi and bacteria, which subsequently emit spores, cells, fragments and volatile organic compounds into the indoor air. Moreover, dampness initiates chemical and/or biological degradation of materials, which also causes pollution of the indoor air. Exposure to microbial contaminants is clinically associated with respiratory symptoms, allergies, asthma and immunological reactions. Dampness has therefore been suggested to be a strong and consistent indicator of risk for asthma and respiratory symptoms such as cough and wheeze."
IdentificationA wide range of instruments and techniques can be used to investigate the presence of moisture in building materials. When used correctly, they can provide a valuable aid to investigation. The competence and experience of the person undertaking the damp investigations is of greater importance than the kit he or she carries. Experience and qualified surveyors are the difference between a correct and incorrect diagnosis of damp. It is often found that condensation is misdiagnosed as damp and therefore the wrong treatment is suggested. Or alternatively, a damp proofing course be installed where the problem is only condensation.
All of the above should be considered during any assessment for damp related defects in buildings.