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Condensation: What is it? Why do I have it? What can I do about it?

Date posted: 30 January 2017

Of all the damp problems found in British homes, condensation is by far the most common. You may have spotted streams of water running down your windows, or damp patches on your walls. 

Condensation is caused when moist air (with a high relative humidity) comes into contact with a cold surface such as a window or wall, at which point the air cools and its relative humidity rises. As this occurs, the air can no longer hold onto the moisture so the moisture forms droplets on the cold surfaces. 

This process happens in homes across the country when the temperature drops inside the house, particularly at night time when the heating is switched off – so we often wake up to find out windows streaming (especially in bedrooms where we are breathing all night – adding to the room's relative humidity!).

You will also often find condensation in rooms where a lot of moisture is generated from our everyday activities, such as in bathrooms where we shower and kitchens where we cook – as well as in rooms where there is a water leak, or some other source of moisture.

The main signs of condensation

  • Water streaming down windows
  • Water running down walls, or damp patches on walls
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Mould growing on walls, ceilings, window frames and even soft furnishings or fabrics (as mould growth is encouraged by condensation as it loves damp conditions)
  • Mould or mildew growing on soft furnishings / fabrics 
  • An unpleasant damp, musty smell 

Why condensation is a problem

Condensation is not only horrible to look at, but it can create a musty smell in your property and create an unhealthy environment in which dangerous mould can grow and thrive – potentially triggering or aggravating health conditions such as asthma and allergies. If left untreated, damp can also cause damage to the very fabric and structure of your property.

Help solve the problem with a dehumidifier

The single most effective means of staying on top of condensation is most likely to be the use of an effective dehumidifier.

A dehumidifier becomes the coldest point in a room and therefore attracts excess moisture from the air into the unit, which extracts this water and lets it collect in a water tank. You can then dispose of the water down a drain. 

The majority of portable dehumidifiers designed for use in your home enable you to set your desired humidity so that the unit maintains this level automatically. The recommended relative humidity level for homes is 45-50% for optimum comfort and health. The machine will then switch itself on and off as required to maintain this level – without any further input from you.

You can also help to eliminate or at least reduce condensation problems by doing the following:

  • Wipe off any condensation you find on your windows.
  • Air your home thoroughly. Open the bedroom windows when you wake up. Open bathroom and kitchen windows (or use an extractor fan, if you have one) when you are showering, cooking, washing up, and so on. Leave them open until steam/moisture levels have returned to normal.
  • Avoid drying clothes on radiators and other indoor surfaces and, if you must do this, make sure you also open the window.
  • Check your house has adequate natural ventilation. If you have had chimneys removed or air tight double glazing fitted, you may have “sealed” your house and reduced its natural ventilation.  You may be able to get "trickle vents" retro-fitted to your windows and doors to help.
  • Avoid switching your heating on and off. Instead, try keeping it on continuously at a low level.

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