Dampness in Homes

Dampness can appear in a number of homes and can be caused by faults in the structure, not enough heating, not enough insulation, not enough ventilation or the way the house is used. Dampness can lead to mould growth which can make breathing problems worse.

There are three types of dampness that can appear in your home:

  • Condensation
  • Rising dampness
  • Penetrating dampness

It is possible to get more than one type of dampness in your property. Each needs to be treated in a different way, so it is important to know what type of damp is affecting your home.


Condensation is the most common kind of damp. Warm air holds more water than cold air and so when warm air cools down it has to loose some of the moisture. Condensation happens when warm moist air cools down or comes into contact with a cold surface.  Condensation is common in rooms where a lot of moisture is generated, such as kitchens, bathrooms and bedrooms. The warm, moist air will travel to other parts of the house which are cooler and will also condense there. Bedrooms are much cooler and the air is quite still, so are more likely to have condensation dampness.

Condensation can be made worse by poor ventilation and when there are periods when heating is switched off, this allows warm damp air to condense. If possible it is best to have a steady heat in your property throughout the day. The removal of existing chimneys and installing energy-saving measures, such as air-tight double glazing can reduce ventilation. Opening your windows and trickle vents will help reduce the risk of condensation damp occurring and is important when drying clothes, cooking or bathing.

Energy saving matters that can improve dampness are loft and wall insulation which will help to keep the walls of your home warmer, reducing the risk of condensation. Insulating your walls has the added benefit of keeping your whole home warmer by reducing heat loss and so will greatly reduce your heating bills.

Symptoms of Condensation

There may be water droplets on windows or walls and there may be dark mould appearing particularly on glass, around windows  and on outside walls when moist air comes into contact with a cool surface. You may also notice an unpleasant smell. If left untreated, condensation can cause damage to paint and plaster and cause window frames to decay.

When mould becomes visible as a dark coloured patch it begins to release millions of new spores into the air inside your house. Mould associated with damp buildings can cause sneezing, coughs, a wheeze, respiratory infections and allergic conditions. People who are more susceptible to these symptoms are those with weakened immune systems, allergies and severe asthma. Breathing mould spores can trigger asthma attacks. Therefore, if you think your home is suffering from condensation, please see our Icon for pdf advice sheet on condensation [59.87KB].

See the condensation page for more information.

Rising Damp

Rising damp is caused by ground water moving up through a wall or floor. Walls or floors will naturally soak up water from the ground, but usually it is stopped from causing damage by a barrier called a damp-proof course or damp-proof membrane.

Newer properties will have a damp-proof course or a damp-proof membrane. But older buildings may not or they may be worn or damaged. If this is the case your walls or floor may suffer from rising damp. A specialist contractor is needed to fix this.

Rising damp can also happen when there is a lack of drainage or the level of the ground outside your home is higher than your damp-proof course allowing water to get above it.

Symptoms of Rising damp

You may notice damaged skirting boards or plaster, as well as peeling paint and wallpaper will often have wet patches at the bottom of the wall. Rising damp may dissolve soluble salts from the ground and building materials which can then crystallise, forming a white powder like substance. This along with water can leave tide marks along the wall  and are normally seen anywhere up to 1 metre above ground level.

If the problem is coming up from the floor, you may notice floor coverings lifting or damp patches.

Penetrating Damp

Penetrating damp is caused by water leaking through walls or roofs. This type of damp may expand across your walls or ceiling or work its way down, but will not travel up your walls like rising dampness. Penetrating damp is usually caused by structural problems in a building such as faulty guttering or roofing or cracks in the walls or render which means walls or roofs are regularly soaked with water. It can also be caused by internal leaks such as pipes under the sink or seals round a bath.

Symptoms of Penetrating damp

Penetrating damp often shows up through damp patches in walls or ceilings which may darken when it rains. You are more likely to get penetrating damp if you live in an older building with solid walls as these do not offer the degree of protection provided by cavity walls in newer buildings.

What to do if you think that you may have Rising or Penetrating dampness

If you are a Council tenant, you should report this to the council by Requesting a Repair.

If you are a private tenant or a Registered Social Landlord (RSL) tenant, you should contact your landlord as per your tenancy agreement. If your landlord does not resolve your dampness issues you may need to take the matter to the First-tier Tribunal for Scotland Housing and Property Chamber. There is more information on the Homes in Disrepair page.

If you are an owner or occupier, you should contact a Dampness Specialist Surveyor.

How can Environmental Health help?

For Council tenants and private tenants, Environmental Health will carry out an independent survey of the dampness. Environmental Health can be contacted via the call centre on 01506 280000 or by e-mail: environmentalhealth@westlothian.gov.uk

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