Reason 1- Roofing Issues.

Traditional Pantile roof filled with cement mortar in Whixley, North Yorkshire

No two traditional roofs are the same, but all traditional roofs serve the same purpose: to protect the interior of a building from the outside elements. Over time, however, even the sturdiest roof can succumb to wear and tear. Damaged roof tiles, for example, can lead to water ingress, causing dampness in the roof space. Lack of ventilation can cause condensation, causing mould and infestations. This is why it’s vital to regularly check your roof for any damage and ensure all tiles are intact.

It would be best if you inspected the roof copings, ridges and verges for any missing mortar because it can cause dampness to appear inside your roof. If you find any missing mortar or repairs undertaken with cement mortar, replacing it with a traditional pozzolanic lime mortar is essential. This will allow moisture removal through the joints and help prevent dampness and condensation from accumulating inside your roof. Finally, ensure that any lead on your rooftop and around the chimney is fitted correctly and finished with a pozzolanic lime mortar. This is because cement and lead seals will trap moisture behind them and into the masonry, which can cause erosion over time. These tips can help keep your roof in good condition for many years.

It’s interesting to think about how things were done in the past and how they’ve changed over time.

Roof Felts

Roof felt can also act as a moisture barrier, causing condensation on the roof tiles. This condensation makes the timbers damp, which then causes mould spores to form, eventually creating rot. One of the most critical considerations in historic preservation is the roof. The roof protects the structure from the elements and, therefore, must be in good condition to preserve the integrity of the building. One problem with ceilings is dampness, which can eventually lead to the rotting of the wooden supports. One way to cause moisture is to seal the roof space with a material that will restrict air circulation. This can cause condensation, which is a leading cause of dampness in roof spaces.

Before the 1900s, roofs never incorporated under-felting. They were usually torched with lime mortar. This was mixed with animal hair to reduce shrinkage and prevent cracking. The mixture was placed between the tiles and along the joists and battens. This allowed any condensation in the roof and moisture in the timbers to be drawn out as air circulates. Lime torching allowed for moisture regulation, which helped dry the atmosphere and prevent mould growth and mildew. Lime torching also prevents infestations of insects and other pests. Today, of course, most roofs are built quite differently. But it’s interesting to consider how our ancestors approached this vital part of their homes.

Reason 2- Roof Insulation

Traditional roofing issues. Damage caused by spray foam insulation rotting roof timbers due to trapping moisture into them

By sealing the roof space with spray foam insulation, air circulation can be restricted to the roof and timbers. This can lead to condensation building up, eventually leading to the rotting of the wooden roof supports. Mortgage lenders can refuse loans due to spray foam insulation being applied and the survey community condemning houses with spray foam insulation installed. Open and closed cells are the same, trapping moisture behind them, causing dampness, condensation, mould growth and beetle attack. Damp is a severe problem in buildings as it leads to conditions that encourage fungal growth and decay, which could result in structural damage if left untreated. It is crucial to address damp problems as soon as they are identified to prevent further damage to the property.

Sheep’s wool has been used for centuries as insulation material due to its ability to regulate moisture and store heat. When used between floor joists, it can help prevent condensation and dampness from building up and causing problems. Wool is also known for self-cleaning, requiring less maintenance than other materials. As a result, it is an ideal choice for those looking for an environmentally friendly insulation option.

Reason 3-Faulty Rain Water Goods

Gutters and downpipes are vital to any building and must be adequately maintained to prevent water damage and dampness within your structure. Wooden gutters should be lined with lead to prevent leaks, and all channels should be regularly cleaned out to prevent blockages. Over time, gutters can become corroded or damaged, so inspecting them regularly for signs of wear is essential. Leaking gutters can cause water to track down the side of a building, which can cause rising dampness; this excess of moisture can cause erosion to the masonry. In addition, condensation can build up within the masonry, causing the structure to weaken over time. By regularly maintaining your gutters and downpipes, you can help to preserve the integrity of your building.

When water enters brickwork or stone masonry, it can cause severe damage if it gets trapped there. It leads to mould growth, and the damp conditions can also cause the material to weaken and crumble. This is why it is vital to keep your home well-maintained and damp-free.

Reason 4-Damp Chimneys.

Damaged cement flaunching on a traditional chimney allowing water to ingress through the cracks caused due to thermal expansion

A damp chimney is not only unsightly, but it can also be a health hazard. If left unchecked, dampness can lead to the growth of mould and mildew, which can cause respiratory problems. In extreme cases, trapped moisture can also cause the chimney’s structural integrity to deteriorating. As a result, ensuring that your chimney is ventilated correctly is essential to prevent the build-up of condensation. Additionally, cowls should be fitted to the pots to help prevent water ingress. The flaunching around the pots should also be made from a pozzolanic lime mortar, allowing moisture to be drawn through the mortar and preventing erosion.

One area that is often forgotten is the chimney stack. Cement pointing and rendering around the stack trap moisture behind them, which eventually leads to the destabilisation of the masonry. The bricks and stones become increasingly vulnerable to damage as the lime mortar behind them erodes. If you live in an older home, it is crucial to have your chimney stack regularly inspected to ensure it is in good condition.

One of the most important things to remember about traditional buildings is that moisture is your enemy. A damp environment is the perfect breeding ground for all sorts of problems, from rot and mould to wood-eating insects, so ensuring your chimney is adequately ventilated is vital. Moisture will build up inside the chimney stack without proper ventilation, creating condensation. Over time, this moisture will mix with the sulphates in the brickwork, causing dark stains on the internal and external walls. In addition, the dampness will cause the joints between the bricks to decay, eventually leading to instability and even collapse. So remember: proper maintenance is critical when it comes to historic preservation!

Reason 5-Ground Drains.

Blocked ground drain with standing water causing damp in Hebden Bridge

Rising damp is a severe problem for any home. It can cause the wood to rot and the paint to peel. It can also cause mould to grow, which can harm your health. Many things cause rising dampness, but one of the most common causes is poorly maintained drains.

When drains are not working correctly, they can allow water to seep into your home, which can cause rising dampness and several other issues. This is why ensuring that your drains are in good working order is essential. If you suspect that your gutters may be leaking, you should have them surveyed by a professional.

Altered water tables can also cause cellars to flood, which causes rising dampness. If your basement floods, it can be caused by new construction; the modified landscape can redirect flood water. When you live in an area where this is a problem, you must monitor your cellar for signs of water ingress. If dampness occurs, it is necessary to remediate the problem as soon as possible to prevent further damage to your home. A pump to remove flood water can be installed, and a vapour flow system can help regulate the humidity.

If you want to learn even more about rising damp through a building and its fabric, we recommend watching this video Historic England IHBC Conference by Robyn Pender.

Reason 6-Ground Levels.

Raised ground level causing damp in Barnsley

The floor joists in a traditional building are usually fitted just above the air vents, and the external ground level would be 150mm or two bricks below the air vent. Ground moisture does not typically rise above 2 or 3 bricks in normal conditions, so if you have raised ground levels, you have a reduced moisture barrier which causes the tide marks to appear internally; this will also rot floor joist ends.

With rising moisture levels being such a common problem in the UK, it is vital to be aware of the potential effects that even slight ground-level changes can have on your property. By ensuring that your floor joists are correctly fitted, and the external ground level is not too high, you can help prevent r damp and erosion problems in your home.

Damp-Proof Courses

Originally traditionally built homes did not rely on current damp-proof systems. Initially, they were not constructed with them and started using slate and Staffordshire blue engineering bricks around 1875. This was because they are more durable than softer bricks. However, they still mainly rely on capillary action to draw the moisture out; this happens through the various stages of lime work within them.

In the early 1900s, bitumen was used as a layer between the brickwork, placed 150mm above the ground level to act as a damp-proof course. This is the closest version to the type used today. Still, until the 1950s, lime mortar and traditional building methods were undertaken; however, they were phasing out due to a lack of skilled labour left from the war and the need for rapid rebuilding.

Concrete floors. While modern homes are built with concrete slabs, many older homes have materials that allow moisture to pass through them. This includes stone slabs, bricks, terracotta tiles, and lime ash flooring. These materials were typically bedded with lime, which allowed moisture to be absorbed and prevented water from transferring into the walls, which would eventually cause erosion. As a result, these traditional flooring types are often found at ground level in older homes. While they may require more skill to lay than modern concrete floors, they do not create dampness, leading to erosion. As a result, they are an excellent choice for those interested in preserving the historic character of their home.

Reason 7-Non-Porous Internal wall finishes.

Damage caused by Infestation to an internal wooden lintel behind gypsum plaster coated over lime plaster

Gypsum plaster and plasterboard are not porous like lime plaster, so they trap moisture behind them. This trapped moisture can lead to problems like mould and mildew and weaken the wall’s structure. In addition, trapped moisture can cause paint to peel and pockets of salt to form on the plaster surface. Using breathable material like lime plaster when creating walls and ceilings is essential to prevent these problems.

Lime plaster is porous, allowing water vapour to pass through it. This allows any moisture that does get behind the plaster to evaporate rather than being trapped and causing damage. As a result, lime plaster is a much more durable and long-lasting material than gypsum or plasterboard.

Damp-proof paint and other modern decorating paints

These materials are not good options for traditionally built homes. When working with historic buildings, it is essential that the materials used are appropriate for the job and will not cause further damage to the fabric of the building. Damp-proof paints or modern decorating paints are one type of material that should be avoided when carrying out repair work. These paints trap moisture behind them, causing condensation on the paint’s surface. This can lead to further damage to the fabric of the building as the trapped moisture starts to break down the plaster behind the paintwork. It is, therefore, essential to use breathable paints that will allow water vapour to escape rather than trapping it behind non-permeable materials.

Damp-proofing solutions, These forms of repair can condemn buildings, especially cement-based tanking slurry. It creates a severe build-up of moisture behind it. This moisture causes erosion to occur to the masonry units and the mortar joints. Like cement-based renders, it can destabilise walls and cause surrounding timbers to rot and fail. Tanking also transfers moisture up the entirety of your wall, meaning if you have tanked your basement, this could cause rising dampness to appear on the above wall. The correct ventilation and a good coat of lime wash are all most basements need.

Reason 8-External Wall finishes.

Damaged brickwork blistering behind cement based render caused by trapped moisture

Damp is a common problem in historic buildings. It can cause damage to the fabric of the building and create an unhealthy environment. One of the most common ways damp gets into a building is through cracks in the masonry. These cracks can be caused by movement or lack of lintels over windows.

Checking for cracks and ensuring that lintels are correctly installed is essential in preventing dampness. Another way dampness can get into a building is by covering your masonry joints with cement-based mortar. Cement-based mortars do not allow the building to breathe and can trap moisture inside the walls. If you find that previous repairs have been undertaken with cement-based mortar, it is essential to have these repairs removed and replaced with an air-curing lime mortar using pozzolans where required. By taking these steps, you can help prevent dampness from causing damage to your historic building.

Damp and masonry decay is often caused by cement mortar pointing. When people choose cheaper repairs, they often ignore this fact. As a result, wet and masonry rot can spread quickly and cause severe damage to buildings. Cement mortar pointing is a significant cause of dampness because it seals the joints in the masonry, preventing them from breathing. This can lead to problems with rising moisture levels because the masonry retains moisture which then evaporates and creates efflorescence. This process can damage bricks and mortar and decorative features such as plasterwork. In addition, cement mortar is more prone to cracking than other types of mortar, which can also lead to dampness and masonry decay. As a result, it is essential to choose a repair method that will not cause further damage to the building.

Masonry paints and weather seals

Masonry paints and weather seals are not advised for porous masonry as they create a barrier that disables capillary movement within the mortar. This can lead to efflorescence, erosion of the masonry, and trapping moisture, which can cause further damp problems.

As anyone who owns a historic building knows, the maintenance and upkeep of such a property can be a delicate balancing act. In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, traditional materials and construction methods often provide superior protection against the elements. However, they can also be more vulnerable to damage if not correctly cared for.

Cement renders or pebble-dashed walls are often used on historic buildings. While they may provide additional protection against the elements, they can also trap moisture behind them, causing the masonry and mortar between the joints to decay. If left unaddressed, this can lead to extensive rebuilding work. Removing cement render or pebble dash from historic buildings is vital. These materials should be removed as soon as possible to avoid costly repairs. If you must render again, use an air-curing lime render and protect it with lime wash. These preventive measures can help ensure that your historic building will stand the test of time.

Reason 9-Climbing Plants.

climbing plants damaging aStone house in Holmfirth covered in climbing plants

Climbing plants are often seen as a beautiful addition to any home, but what many people don’t realise is that they can cause a lot of damage to masonry walls.

One of the leading causes of dampness is penetrative dampness, which occurs when water enters the building through cracks in the walls or roof. Climbing plants are a common cause of penetrative damp because the roots of these plants can penetrate the masonry, causing damage and dislodging roof tiles allowing water to enter the structure. This can lead to damp problems and structural instability.

In addition, climbing plants can harbour pests and diseases that can spread to other plants. For these reasons, it is advisable to keep climbing plants away from your masonry walls. Taking these precautions will help ensure that your home remains in good condition for years.

Reason 10-Window paints and silicone sealants

non porous paints creating damp conditions which is rotting window frame in Wetherby

According to the National Association of Home Builders, windows are one of the first places homeowners should look to improve their energy efficiency. However, many people don’t realise that windows can also be a significant source of problems if improperly maintained. One of the most common problems is rotting or eroding window frames and sills.

Several factors, including poor ventilation, condensation, trapped moisture, and damage from sun and rain, can cause this. In addition, many window frames are covered in plastic paints and silicone sealants that trap moisture behind them, causing the timber to rot and the masonry surrounding the seals to erode. If you notice any of these problems with your windows, having them repaired as soon as possible is essential to avoid more extensive damage.

Traditional window and door voids were filled with oakum docka rope, wooden splints and hidden brickwork. This was finished with a bead of lime mortar; the lime beading allows moisture to be drawn out of the timber or rope through the mortar and towards the air. Windows can be painted using linseed or lime wash. These types of paints are porous, meaning that they ‘breath’. This is important because any moisture within the woodwork can be released and will not get trapped. This helps to prevent problems such as wood rot from occurring. We recommend using these types of paints if you want to conserve your historic windows.

Reason 11- Non-Permeable Paints.

Damp conditions and condensation creating mould spores to form on a non-permeable painted surface in Pontefract

Today, many types of paints on the market claim to be permeable or breathable. However, not all of these products are created equal. Some paints and sealants are non-permeable, which will trap moisture behind them. This can lead to condensation and mould growth, damaging the colour and the underlying surface. When selecting a breathable product, it is essential to ensure it is capillary active. Having capillary action will allow moisture to be drawn out of the surface. This capillary action prevents condensation and ensures that the paint will last longer. When appropriately used, breathable products can help to prevent moisture damage and preserve the life of your building,

Traditional limewashes were made using a Quick lime and water mixture and then tinted with natural pigments. These lime-based paints were highly porous, meaning they were breathable. This helped to regulate moisture levels within a building and prevent the growth of mould and mildew. Lime paints and washes also had the benefits of being naturally antiseptic and antibacterial. Limewash was even used to help kill bacteria on walls during the great plague.

In addition to their functional properties, lime paints and washes come in various colours. From soothing earth tones to vibrant jewel tones, these paints could be used to create any desired aesthetic. Modern lime paint and wash formulations offer the same benefits as traditional products. However, some of these products are now made with synthetic pigments, which means they are no longer considered natural or breathable.

A dry home is a warmer home.

Moisture movement through in a traditional building

Traditional homes are typically constructed with high-quality materials that stand the test of time. This contrasts with newer houses, often made with lower-quality materials to cut costs. Furthermore, traditional homes usually have a sense of character and history not present in newer homes. This character can give them a unique charm that is hard to come by.

When it comes to insulating traditional homes, many different options are available. For instance, hemp fibre can be used for insulating plastered walls, sheep wool can be placed between floor rafters, and underfloor heating can be installed. Each option has its benefits and drawbacks, and weighing all factors before deciding is essential. These options can help reduce energy costs and improve the comfort of your home. You can find the perfect solution with careful planning and execution.

Finally, traditional homes are built to last and constructed with high-quality materials chosen because of their ability to withstand the elements. If your traditional home is maintained correctly, it can provide a comfortable and inviting environment for many years. Traditional homes are designed to take advantage of the climate. In winter months, they are built to be snug and warm, with thick walls and fireplaces on every floor. These fireplaces heated the walls helping to keep the cold out. And in the summer, they are built to be cooler, with expansive windows and eaves that shade the interior from the sun’s heat. As a result, traditional homes can provide a comfortable place to live for future generations.

If you’re eager to dive deeper into the topic of dampness and want to expand your knowledge, we highly recommend exploring the informative video series titled “A Common Sense Approach to Damp” by Historic England. These videos offer a comprehensive and detailed understanding of dampness, covering various aspects of this issue.

A Common Sense Approach to Damp Part I

A Common Sense Approach to Damp Part II