Dealing with dampness in homes in Israel

Dampness (“retivut”) and condensation are probably the most common construction/structural issues found in homes in Israel and can be the cause of serious and expensive problems to repair. If neglected they can dangerously harm a property and seriously affect the quality of life of those who occupy it.  The accumulative damage caused by dampness, can result in extremely high expenses relative to the cost of the repair if the problem is found at early stages.

Retivut is the term used in Israel for an accumulation of water inside the walls or ceiling of homes, or dampness trapped in the sand under the floor tiles.  Dampness can be recognized either by watermarks, peeling plaster, fungus and mould on walls and ceilings.  Imprisoned water under floor tiles can be recognized by the appearance of white salt-like marks in the gaps in between the tiles.  However, dampness often has no visible signs (either because it’s at its early stages, or because it has been deliberately hidden by painting the damaged area), and can often only be detected by using special instruments.

If untreated, dampness can cause weakening of the coating of the property such as plaster, and can damage the thermal insulation capability to a point where it becomes a health hazard.  Dampness also generates corrosion in the steel of the structure and in extreme conditions can cause damage as far as weakening the structure.

There are various reasons for the occurrence of dampness in a building:-

  1. Dampness in the ceiling indicates defective or lack of sealing in the roof.
  2. Rainwater entering through the external envelope of the property as a result of defects in the sealant.
  3. Defective or lack of sealing of balconies and bathrooms which must, by law and building code, be sealed, as roofs must be.  In the professional jargon, those spaces are called “Wet Rooms”. The sealing of those wet rooms must be done in a way that the under floor infrastructure will be completely sealed and separate from the rest of the spaces in the property.
  4. Defective or leakage from the pipes and plumbing systems.
  5. Water trapped under the floor either caused by using damp sand while the building was under construction, or as a result of flood caused at some stage, of which the water sank and absorbed in the sand under the floor tiles.
  6. Dampness enters through cracks in the walls and lack or failure of sealing of windows.
  7. Condensation caused by lack of insulation or bad insulation of the structure.

Once a damp problem is identified, it is highly recommended to check the source and cause of the problem immediately, in order to treat and fix the problem as early as possible to avoid worsening of the issue.  Sometimes the point of which the dampness appears is not necessarily the original source of the damp problem, and therefore in order to pinpoint the exact source and cause of the problem, professional advice is needed.

After a thorough inspection of the problem, the treatment which should be applied, is then decided. The treatments vary according to the actual problem.  For example, resealing of the roof, opening floor tiles in order to fix faulty or leaking pipes, fix sealant in wet rooms, dry the sand underneath floor tiles, and re-tile, etc.  If the problem is not professionally and accurately detected and properly treated, there is no doubt that the problem will reappear in a very short time.

Depending on the seriousness and extent of the dampness, sometimes dampness should affect the decision of a potential buyer of a property in Israel .  It is therefore highly advisable to hire a professional engineer to inspect the property before purchasing.

The writer is a qualified architect, specializing in engineering surveys and property inspections for building defects and faults.  With more than 20 years of experience in Israel, he is nationally recognized in his field, and appointed by the Israeli Courts, as a leading expert in the area of construction problems.  Avi has offices in Tel Aviv and Modi’in and can be reached at avi_goldstein@012.net.il.

The contents of this article are designed to provide the reader with general information and not to serve as legal or other professional advice for a particular transaction. Readers are advised to obtain advice from qualified professionals prior to entering into any transaction.

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