Why is Damp Such a Problem in Older Homes?
Some of the most historic buildings in the country are succumbing to structural rot. Why now, and what can we do about it?
Everyone knows that wood is liable to rot over time – it is one of the reasons that timber frames went out of fashion in building construction, just as they did in in ship building or car making. However, take a stroll around any village in the English countryside, and you will see plenty of timber framed buildings that have stood the test of time for centuries.
This begs the question of why we are now seeing more problems with rot than we have ever seen before, and a larger proportion of the country’s historic architecture literally crumbling away before our eyes.
The answer lies in our modern-day obsession with warmth and insulation. A period home needs to be allowed to breathe, and by “suffocating” our history, we are causing expensive damage. However, the good news is that timber treatment services can recover many situations and prevent damp from spreading. From there, it is a case of learning to maintain your older home in a way that will prevent the same problems from resurfacing years down the line.
Don’t suffocate your house
When you buy or sell a house, there is a huge amount of importance placed on energy efficiency. You will invariably be told that the insulation needs to be thicker, and the walls should be coated in this and injected with that.
Yet visit Holland, where homes are built with their feet in the water, and you will not see a single home with a damp problem. In New York, where the climate is very similar to that of the UK, you will not see a single home with an injection hole, yet damp is not an issue.
Every morning, as the sun warms the wall of a house after a cold night, the air inside it expands, and a proportion is pushed out through its connected pores. At the end of the day, as the temperature drops, the reverse happens as the air contracts. This is what is meant by the wall “breathing.”
If the air that is drawn in at night is humid, then as the temperature drops further, the water vapour condenses into water droplets. With rising temperature, the water evaporates as the wall “breathes out.”
Anything that prevents your house from breathing in this way will reduce the life expectancy of the masonry or timber with which it is constructed. Coatings that are designed to seal and “protect” a surface can actually trap moisture and cause damp and rot.
Problems from within
The changes in external temperature and humidity pale into insignificance when compared with the problems we make for ourselves from the inside. Central heating, power showers and tumble driers all combine to create their own microclimates. And our obsession with hermetically sealed walls and roofspaces gives the moisture no way out.
Protect and survive
Even if damp has begun to affect your home, there is action you can take to literally stop the rot and prevent things from getting worse. If caught in time, timber can be professionally treated, leaving it sound to provide years more service. With the damage repaired, the secret then is to understand your old house’s needs, and allow it to keep breathing for decades to come.