Surveyors carrying out checks for damp and condensation in loft

How to Spot the Difference Between Condensation and Damp?

20 July 2020

A question we often get asked is “how do you spot the difference between damp and condensation?” It is important to understand the difference between the two when your home has been affected by condensation or other by other factors such as problems with rainwater goods or rising damp. This article will discuss how to spot the signs of condensation and other forms of damp problems and give advice on what treatments can be used to get rid of your damp problem.

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The Main Differences Between Condensation and Other Forms of Damp?

Condensation occurs when warm moisture laden air comes into direct contact with a cold surface such as a wall, window or windowsill. Compared to rising damp and penetrating damp, condensation is more prominent in the colder months of the year. Rising damp and penetrating damp on the other hand cause more problems during the periods where there is wet weather unless it is down to issues from plumbing.

Condensation problems tend to leave patches of black mould on walls as opposed to stains marks from rising and penetrating damp. Condensation will occur in places of the property where the air tends to be still, such as in the corner of a room or behind furniture. The simplest explanation is that damp is caused by condensation.

Damp is a big problem for homeowners across the UK and if not treated quickly and correctly then this could lead to serious damage to property. If a damp problem is left for a sustained period of time, it will lead to damage to the plaster on the wall and, depending on where the damp has affected your property, it could also cause wood rotting issues (e.g. wet rot or dry rot).

Condensation and other forms of damp are often confused with each other. Condensation issues can easily be remediated before too much damage has been caused. While on the other hand, other forms of dampness will sometimes take time to diagnose correctly and invariably will lead to costs for the homeowner in the form of either damp treatment or for property maintenance to be carried out to resolve.


Condensation is the most common form of damp and, as already explained, occurs when warm air comes into contact with something that is colder than itself. It can occur in any type of property no matter how old or new and is caused from people carrying out everyday activities. An example of this is cooking, boiling a kettle, or drying clothes inside the house.

A lack of ventilation is the biggest cause of condensation. Having no extractor fans, single glazed windows, and no insulation in areas where there is a chance for warm air are big contributing factors in helping condensation occur.

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Signs of Condensation

  • One of the most common signs of condensation is black mould which can occur on any walls of the property. This compared to rising damp where if mould is present it will only occur on the ground floor of the property.
  • Water will collect on windows is a common symptom of condensation in homes.
  • Plaster will start to deteriorate if the condensation problem is not treated quickly. The walls will also appear wet.

    condensation causing peeling wallpaper

Penetrating Damp

Penetrating damp is the process of water finding its way through into the property from the outside. The causes of penetrating damp are mainly down to poor maintenance of the building, this can be from leaking gutters, broken pipes or poor brickwork. If there are any gaps in doors or windows this can also lead to problems as well.

Signs of Penetrating Damp

  • Damp patches on your walls are a symptom of penetrating damp. These patches will appear bigger following heavy periods of rainfall. The damp patches can be present on both the inside and outside walls of the building.
  • Cracks or leaks in the gutters could lead to a penetrating damp issue occurring at the property.
  • A similar sign of penetrating damp, compared with condensation, is that it can lead to black mould appearing on the inner walls of the property.Penetrating damp affecting exterior wall

Rising damp

Rising damp is the process where the moisture rises from the ground through “capillary action”. This type of dampness is mainly a problem in older properties where the damp proof course has become damaged or it is not present. Bricks may appear solid enough, however, upon closer inspection bricks are full of voids. This is where a chemical damp proof course helps stops the moisture rising.

Signs of Rising Damp

  • Having tide marks on walls is one of the most common ways of identifying rising damp. These tide marks will not appear higher than one metre from the ground. It is possible that there will also be damp patches and stains on the walls which will appear yellow or brown in colour.
  • Just like condensation wallpaper will start to peel off the walls but the difference is that it will occur only on lower parts of the wall. It is possible that if rising damp comes into contact with any timber then you could see timber decaying as an outcome.
  • Unlike condensation, white salts will be present on walls.
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How to treat Condensation, Rising or Penetrating Damp?

As you can see that there are similarities with all forms of dampness, but the biggest difference is how the damp is caused. If you are seeing symptoms of condensation then it is more than likely that your property has little or no ventilation in areas of the property where the most moisture air likely to occur. Bathroom or kitchen extractor fans are a simple solution for this.

Penetrating damp is a tricky problem to identify but once you have identified the problem such as a broken pipe then this will need to be fixed. Having a damp specialist carry out a survey is always the best option to make sure the cause of the issue is correctly identified.

Rising damp can lead to serious structural problems such as dry rot so the faster the damp issue is treated than the less expensive it will be for the treatment. The installation of a damp proof course is the common form of damp proofing that can be used to get rid of rising damp, however, there are other damp treatments such as electro osmotic systems which can be used.

Having damp problems at your property can prove to be a headache for any homeowner which is why contacting a damp specialist will make sure the stress is taken away from you. You can contact one of our specialists across England, Scotland, and Wales by filling out our contact form or by calling 0800 288 8660.