Dampness Related Respiratory Illnesses In Old Buildings

Dampness Related Respiratory Illnesses in Old Buildings

Health consequences of living in a damp building, especially dampness related respiratory problems, are a hot topic nowadays, and with good reason. This kind of a problem is more common than one would think, so I thought I share a very relevant case study with you (just scroll down to the case study if you are familiar with the problem.)


Chesty Problems, Heavy Breathing, Asthma - just to mention a few of the possible health consequences of living in a damp building.

The following video will provide a quick overview of what kind of health problems can damp buildings cause:

Respiratory Illnesses in Damp Buildings - History

This is not a new problem. 

Different medical organisations have been advising about building standards since the late 19th century, to make sure residential properties are dry and healthy. We have compiled a nice collection of historic documents on this subject here: https://www.coreconservation.co.uk/rising-damp-historical-overview/


Solving Dampness Problems Does Solve Related Respiratory Illnesses

It has happened several times that after we have solved the damp issues in an old building the customer mentioned how thankful they were because the chesty problems, heavy breathing or allergies of their children have also disappeared. 

Last time when it happened we have asked the customer if he would be okay sharing it with us:


The Case Study

As the customer mentioned in the video, solving health problems went quicker than expected. But let's start from the beginning.

We started with a thorough survey to spot all the different sources of damp in the property. The basement area, as well as the crawl space under the floor board, were very humid spaces, and they have been identified as the main source of dampness and allergens in the building.


Systematic Elimination of Damp to Solve Respiratory Problems

Typically, when eliminating damp in basements or underground spaces we are targeting two main factors:

  1. We start reducing the size of evaporating surfaces, and the amount of moisture that is evaporating into that space. This is accomplished by fixing leaks, solving rising damp, fixing the floor, eliminating sideways penetration, etc. Simply put: it is done by solving every single source of damp one by one as best as we can.
  2. We are improving ventilation, to make sure any remaining humidity is vented out and it won't condense on cold surfaces. 

By systematically eliminating the different sources of damp, and improving ventilation the same time, we will arrive to a point where it works. The basement feels dry, fungi and other microorganisms will die, smells will disappear, and there will be a remarkable improvement of air quality.

This is the point where dampness related respiratory illnesses will also start to disappear.

The same principle of eliminating damp and improving ventilation applies to upstairs areas too, with the difference that the most common types of damp to solve are leaks or condensation. (For ideas of solving damp in a living space and how to ventilate it please see the examples provided in the "Damp Related Respiratory Illnesses in Modern Buildings" section below.) 


How it went in the above building?

Based on the initial survey we decided to start with reducing the amount of damp in the walls, and in the soil under the floor boards - which made the crawl space damp. 

There were two possible ways of doing it: 

  1. Doing a fairly deep French Drain around the house, or
  2. Installing a Magnetic DPC.

We chose the magnetic DPC, because of its simple installation and being the cheaper option. In our experience it always makes an improvement:

  • Freestanding walls dry out completely, 
  • Earth touching walls show a certain improvement (the degree of improvement on earth touching walls can vary),
  • Floors and the soil under the house gets also somewhat dryer (the degree of improvement on floors and the soil can also vary).

In this case the improvement was sufficient and just after a few months the basement was a lot dryer and the air quality started to improve. Bacteria and fungi, those who were thriving in a damp environment, started to die and the damp related respiratory illnesses started to disappear. The full solution for the basement, that the customer will do in full, will be:

  1. Magnetic DPC for getting the basement and under-floor area dryer,
  2. Unblocking the air bricks around the crawl space, and installing an extractor fan into the cellar for added ventilation,
  3. Plastering the basement using a breathable but salt-resistant Roman waterproofing lime plaster.


Damp Related Respiratory Illnesses in Modern Buildings

Modern buildings are somewhat different. But the principle of eliminating sources of damp and making sure there is sufficient ventilation the same time holds true for solving damp related respiratory problems in modern buildings too.

The main difference is that modern buildings become damp for different reasons. These are:

  • Leaks of all sorts: roof leak, burst pipes, overflowing gutter, bathroom leak, you name it. (Rising damp, sideways penetration, flooring problems are usually not a problem.)
  • Condensing water droplets in cold corners, which results in black mould growing on that surface.
  • Steam and vapours trapped in kitchens and bathrooms.

When fixing ventilation in a modern building one should be looking for the following:

  • Are there trickle vents in the window frames? Are they open?
  • Are there extractor fans fitted in the bathroom and kitchen? Do they work? Are they strong enough?
  • Are there radiators in every room? Are they being used? Are they large enough? (Heating will cause air to move around in the room. When there are trickle vents in the window frames heating will trigger an acceptable level of ventilation.)
  • If the above simple ways of ventilating a property do not produce the desired results installing a Positive Input Ventilating System or another form of ventilating system might be needed.)

And just like in an old building, when all the sources of damp are fixed and there is sufficient ventilation, damp related respiratory illnesses will disappear too.

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