Detecting the Difference Between Rising Damp Vs. Condensation

rising damp

By initial appearances, concrete and cement seem one and the same.

Both gray, made with aggregates, and hard, the untrained eye might not be able to distinguish between the two in passing.

Beyond the surface, the two materials are indeed different – so much so that both building materials are used for different purposes. For instance, because cement isn't as strong or durable as concrete, you'd never see it used as a structural component of a building.

In a certain respect, the relationship between rising damp and condensation isn't that much different. At first glance, they look like the exact same thing. And the damage they cause is largely the same, too. But the devil is in the details, or in this case, how each damp issue forms and is detected.

While all moisture issues in a building deserve the same level of attention, properly distinguishing between rising damp vs. condensation is essential in devising the right course of corrective action.

[Comparison] Rising Damp Vs. Condensation

Again – despite appearances and their effects on a space, rising damp and condensation are not the same. In fact, one of the biggest rising damps myths is that there's no difference between it and condensation. Sometimes rising damp is misdiagnosed as condensation.

What sets these dampness problems apart are their sources and the nuances of their presentation. One is caused by issues from the unseen area surrounding a building's foundation while the other stems from a space's ambient conditions.

Let's go beyond the surface of rising damp vs. condensation.

What is Rising Damp?

Rising damp is a phenomenon that's often present in older buildings.


Older buildings are prime candidates for rising damp issues for one reason – they typically lack a waterproof barrier between the ground and basement-level floors and walls. What's more, building materials typically used in old basement walls (concrete, cement), are porous, meaning damp vapors travel through them easily.

What causes rising damp?

Through hydraulic capillary action, dampness makes its way into a building through its foundation floor and walls. Rising damp only reaches a height of 1 meter from the floor in a space because of vapor pressure. With enough pressure, the dampness presents itself on surfaces before evaporating. Because of their virtually identical appearance, rising damp is often confused for condensation.

Rising damp can cause issues in buildings, such as damage to internal walls, plaster and even furniture. In severe cases, it maycause long-term structural instability and it creates an environment for mold growth.

The effects of rising damp are not easy to detect or even see until significant damage has been done. What does rising damp look like? By the time it's noticeable, the signs of rising damp include:

  • Surface-level water droplets
  • Tidemark discoloration on walls and floors
  • Salt efflorescence traces
  • A musty smell

If left unchecked, the dampness can spread into other areas of the building, creating further – and costly – problems.

New call-to-actionStopping Rising Damp

Rising damp can be prevented by controlling the level of moisture in the air and soil around a building by installing physical barriers such as tanking slurry or waterproof membranes.

Additionally, good ventilation helps reduce humidity levels inside buildings while also helping stop moisture from entering through exterior wall cavities. Regular maintenance checks should also be conducted to identify any signs of rising damp in its early stages before damage occurs.


What is Condensation in Buildings?

Condensation is a type of moisture that can form on walls and furniture in buildings.

What are the causes of condensation in buildings?

Like the glass of a cool drink on a hot day or your bathroom mirror after someone takes a hot shower, you'll see condensation when the air inside a building quickly becomes too humid and warm. In a humid environment, dampness forms on cold surfaces.

Unlike rising damp, condensation doesn't have a height restriction. As long as there's enough of a temperature difference between ambient conditions and surface temperatures in a space, it won't be hard to soon notice:

  • Condensation spots on walls
  • Condensation on windows
  • Condensation on floors

This type of moisture is particularly a problem during colder months.


Supplemental heaters, such as those using propane or butane, release moisture into the air of the space they're heating. Without proper ventilation or dehumidification, condensation forms.

Just like rising damp, if condensation and its source are not addressed, it can cause damage to walls, plaster and even furniture over time. It can also create an environment where mold and mildew thrive.


Preventing Condensation

Like other excessive damp issues, the key to avoiding condensation problems is to stop them from even starting.

The most effective condensation countermeasures include:

  • Installing and regularly servicing a dehumidifier
  • Using ventilation to bring fresh air into the building while simultaneously exhausting damp, stale air
  • Insulating cold surfaces such as walls and pipes to reduce temperature differences within the space
  • Reducing indoor humidity levels by limiting activities that add moisture to air (e.g. cooking and drying

Testing for Rising Damp & Condensation

Outside of a height differential, rising damp and condensation generally appear to be the same.

However, because both issues are unique and require different solutions, evaluating and testing for both is important to ensure a building is adequately protected.

Testing for Rising Damp

As with all dampness inspections, checking for rising damp starts with a thorough visual inspection and noting areas of concern (the same applies to checking for condensation). Water stains or discolorations on walls or floors, surface-level water droplets and salt efflorescence are all signs of rising damp.

The simplest way to determine if a dampness issue is indeed rising damp is through a salts analysis test. This evaluation method analyzes for traces of soluble salts left behind by evaporating water from rising damp. If dampness is from rising damp, the test will confirm the presence of soil nitrates within the salt.

Testing for Condensation

To identify the potential for condensation presence in a building, humidity levels should be tested in its rooms using either a digital hygrometer or thremohygrometer. Testing the air in a building will help measure how much moisture is present compared to the temperature inside the space. In addition, it's important to take temperature readings of surfaces within a space. High humidity coupled with poor ventilation and low surface temperatures is the perfect recipe for condensation build-up.

Another method used to detect areas where condensation may become an issue is by using a thermal camera, which helps identify differences in surface temperatures throughout a building. Cold surfaces generally indicate elevated levels of moisture. This method, however, is not definitive. Rather, it's another means to locate moisture during an inspection. Identified cool spots should always be tested further with a moisture meter.


Understanding the Difference Between Rising Damp Vs. Condensation in Buildings

Rising damp and condensation may look the same, but they are two very different moisture issues that can cause damage to a building if left unchecked.

While the last thing anyone wants to deal with is a moisture issue of any size, the best way to remediate the issue is to understand the problem and its causes. With a clear picture of the problem, property owners and building managers will be able to identify the best course of action for permanent resolution.

Evaluate the Potential for Condensation Easily

Our Hygromaster Floor Kit has everything you need to test for dampness and humidity through the entirety of a space:

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