Cures for Damp Coming up From the Ground in Old Stone Houses

Written by g.d. palmer
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Cures for Damp Coming up From the Ground in Old Stone Houses
Old stone walls may be subject to rising damp. (Old Barn, Boards, Stone Foundation image by steverts from

Many old stone and masonry houses have a problem with damp. According to the "Proceedings of the Royal Society A," a compendium of physical and mathematical sciences texts, water rises from the foundation and into the walls through capillary action, following tiny channels in and between the stones. This is commonly referred to as "rising damp." If allowed to persist, rising damp can create mould and salt problems, and can also degrade the structure of the home. Fortunately, owners of stone homes can choose several options to deal with this problem.

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According to and, stone and masonry homes naturally have a small amount of dampness to them, due to their tendency to "breathe." The action of heat and cold on the walls in these houses causes water vapour to condense on them, especially at night. When cement mortars, plastic-based paints and other modern, non-breathing materials are used on the walls of these houses, the result is trapped water. This water can lead to rotting door and window frames, dislodged mortar, and lower structural stability. Homeowners interested in maintaining their buildings in historical condition can combat dampness by removing impermeable materials and replacing them with older ones, such as lime-based plaster and mortar.

Water-Repellent Barriers

Rising damp may also be reduced by water-repellent barrier techniques. These involve drilling a series of holes in the stone and injecting a water-repellent substance into the stone itself. These substances come in cream, gel, paste and liquid forms, and may be applied by the homeowner or a professional. These water-repellent substances should be used with caution---in cases where rising damp is not the problem, they may actually trap moisture above the water-repellent layer, allowing the damage to continue.

Pore-Blocking Barriers

Barriers to rising damp, also called damp courses, may be created using a pore-blocking material. This is usually a cement-based mortar, and is applied by injection into holes in the stone. This type of damp course is mostly injected by professionals, as it is more difficult to use successfully. As with water-repellent options, pore-blocking damp barriers should be used carefully. Cement-based mortars can speed up decay in homes where the damp is coming from adjacent ground, from wall condensation, from a leaking pipe or any other non-rising source.

Osmotic Barriers

Osmotic barrier systems require embedding wires directly in the wall. Holes are drilled in the wall, and wire loops placed inside. Passive systems use copper wires, which tend to corrode over time. Active systems normally use non-corrosive titanium wire, which is connected to a powered control box. Electricity run through these wires, reducing the amount of damp in the wall. This technique can be very expensive, and must be installed by professionals.

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