Dampness in Buildings


Hello John,

I live in a small finca near Parcent in the Jalon Valley and every winter I have the same problem, the whole house feels damp and miserable. I had a local builder come to see what could be done, but he just confused me. He talked about rising damp, condensation and leaking roofs. I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about and suspect that he was just trying to find himself some work. Could you please explain to me how to tell the difference between rising damp, condensation etc., so that I can get my head around the problem and decide what I need to do before next winter.


Sue P.


Hi Sue,

One of the most frequent problems encountered in the home is damp. Each year, the average Spanish home copes with around 10,000 gallons of rain water, so it is no surprise that damp can become a big problem for many. Although most damp problems are much less serious than they actually look, whatever the cause, damp can be very bad for our health. From aggravating respiratory problems to encouraging the emergence of mites and mould, the effects of damp can be serious, not to mention making the whole property cold and unappealing.

In many cases, damp can be unwittingly encouraged due to poor maintenance and there are several causes of damp in the home, but all can be remedied. Damp can be in or around the roof, walls, floors, windows, doors or pipe-work on any property. Often, if there is a damp patch visible inside the home, the cause can be identified from an issue on the exterior. For instance, a wet patch at the top of a wall might be due to a leaking gutter outside or faulty eaves tiles. So let’s look at the main causes of dampness.

Rising damp is caused by water soaking up through porous building materials of the walls and floors of the property. This usually occurs in houses which haven’t got a damp proof course or the damp proof course has failed to work properly, quite common in Spanish construction as the damp proof course is not always continuous. Rising damp can be spotted in a number of ways – namely, the bottom of the walls may feel damp and cold to the touch, there maybe water marks or deposits of salt visible on the inside of the walls. Internal decorations will become stained and damaged, and plaster can become perished and loose. Any wall in contact with the ground can suffer from rising damp, therefore rising damp can affect both external and internal walls – however dampness rarely travels up a wall further than one metre in height.

Penetrating damp is caused by issues with the building or plumbing, where a problem has allowed water to enter the property. Symptoms will usually only occur during wet weather, but it can affect roofs and ceilings, along with walls. A watermark might appear and grow if the water continues to enter and if not fixed, plaster may start to perish. Penetrating damp can sometimes be caused by gutter or roof problems which have allowed rainwater to spill onto and saturate areas of wall. Penetrating damp is most frequent in older Spanish homes, which have single block walls. A newly built property with cavity walls and insulation offers more protection and is unlikely to suffer from this type of defect. Penetrating damp can be tricky to pin-point and often may require expert help, for instance you may have rain coming through the ceiling in one part of the house but the actual hole in the roof may be quite some distance away.

Condensation differs from rising and penetrating damp in that it’s caused by excessive moisture that cannot escape from the property (as opposed to water entering the property). Condensation will only arise when there are high levels of moisture present in the air and limited or no ventilation. Condensation mainly affects the inside of properties but this year I have seen two cases on the roofs of large open nayas. Using radiators to constantly dry clothes, not opening windows, poor heating, and even portable gas heaters can all contribute. Mould or black spots may appear on walls, ceilings, furniture and even curtains, quite often the first signs can be seen in the corner of a room at the top or bottom of the walls especially if there is furniture close to the wall restricting air flow. There is usually a strong musty smell present and unlike the other types of damp, condensation is largely caused by the inhabitants of the property, rather than problems with the actual building.

I hope this is of assistance but without seeing your property it is difficult to say what problems you may have and how to remedy them; it may be that all you need is a good log burning stove this would warm up the fabric of the building and circulate the air. If it helps and before you spend any money trying to solve the problem, I would be happy to visit your property and give you my opinion, my contact numbers are shown below.

John Phillips (F.I.A.S. F.A.B.E. M.I.B.C.O. F.F.B. M.R.S.H. C.M.W.O.B.O. M.B.I.M)
Construction Buena Vista

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