Rising damp is when groundwater rises up load-bearing walls in capillary action through the fine capillaries and pores of brick and mortar in a wick effect in walls that have no original DPC installed during the construction of a property.
The groundwater rising contains ground salts which are nitrates and chlorides. It is these ground salts that cause the contaminated plaster. These ground salts are hygroscopic and naturally absorb and hold moisture causing the walls to become highly saturated, contaminating plaster, and causing the skirting boards to decay and rot as they are against damp walls.
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