Damp is, unfortunately, a common problem that can affect any property, regardless of its age. It comes in various guises and can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most feared of all – and often the most costly to fix – is rising damp.
On the plus side, rising damp is relatively rare compared to other forms of damp, such as condensation and penetrating damp. It usually only affects older properties, which may not have any protective waterproof layers applied to their ground-floor walls or concrete floors. Even if they have, these layers can become damaged or ineffective over time.
So, what exactly is rising damp, how is it viewed by insurers and is it covered by your home insurance?
What is rising damp?
Rising damp occurs when groundwater creeps up the walls and/or through the floors of a building by a process known as ‘capillary action’. Building materials such as bricks, mortar and cement are porous, and so they can absorb and draw moisture upwards, just as a piece of cotton string would if you dangled the end of it in a jar of water.
If the property has no damp-proof course (DPC) inside its walls or damp-proof membrane (DPM) under its concrete floors – or if these protective layers are damaged – then the water is able to rise up above the foundations of the house and could eventually rear its ugly head in your ground-floor rooms.
This form of damp can also be caused by the ground level being raised – for example, if a heap of earth is piled up against an exterior wall, or an area next to the building has been concreted over or paved. If the ground surface next to the walls becomes higher, it can act as a ‘bridge’ for rising groundwater, allowing it to bypass the DPC. The situation can be made worse if there is inadequate drainage to carry rainwater away from the building.
What does rising damp look like?
It can usually be identified by the presence of damp patches near the base of internal walls (up to around 1.2m) or on floors at ground level. But rising damp can also cause rotting skirting boards or floor timbers; peeling paint or wallpaper; stains or tidemarks; crumbling plaster; a musty smell; mould; and powdery salt residues, left behind on the wall or floor surface as the groundwater evaporates into the room. You may notice that the damp patches worsen during wet weather.
What are the dangers of rising damp?
Rising damp has the potential to become more than just an unsightly stain on the wall. If left untreated it can lead to structural damage, especially if timbers begin to rot and decay, and it’s likely to put off most prospective buyers if you’re looking to sell your property.
Living in damp and mouldy conditions can also have an impact on health, causing respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies, asthma and/or a weakened immune system – especially in young children, the elderly, and those with existing health problems.
Can I claim for rising damp on my home/landlord insurance policy?
We’re often asked ‘does house insurance cover damp’. The answer to this question is most likely to be ‘no’. It’s not usual for buildings, content and landlord insurance policies to cover gradual deterioration, which is the category that damp problems generally fall into. This is especially true of rising damp, which insurers tend to consider as only ever being associated with a gradual decline in the condition of the building.
It’s not usual for buildings, content and landlord insurance policies to cover gradual deterioration, which is the category that damp problems generally fall into
It’s worth double checking the exclusions listed in your policy documents first, but the likelihood is that you’ll need to arrange and fund the repairs yourself. Be sure to consult several reputable damp specialists before proceeding with any work, to ensure the damp problem in your property is properly diagnosed and that you pay a fair price.