Vapour Control Layers in Insulation


The pressure for energy saving in solid walled buildings is real and tangible. Green Deal and rising energy bills are encouraging us to insulate our walls. Where we have external features / facades that we want to keep we are forced to choose internal wall insulation (IWI).

BS5250 (the British Standard) for moisture control in buildings recommends a series of potential interventions (but crucially it also says that this is NOT a recommendation for breathable walls – which are virtually all the solid walls). One of the main recommendations (and hence common practice) is to install a Vapour Control Layer on the warm side of the insulation.

If there is no water in the wall then this works fine, but it is now becoming common knowledge that virtually all the UK’s solid walls must be seen as ‘moist’.

This is starting to create problems for the vast majority of the solid walls fitted with VCLs or non-breathable insulations due to Reverse Condensation (or Summer Condensation). This is a phenomenon that occurs when external temperatures and hence humidity levels are greater than the internal environment. Higher external pressures associated with temperatures forces this moisture laden air into the wall and when it cools and hits a water proof membrane or insulation the vapour condenses and runs down the back of the barrier. This concentration of moisture deep into the wall structure also means that joists and other wood is more at risk of damage.

The answer is to carefully read BS5250 and listen to what it says, which is, for breathable walls take professional advice from specialists. The best to provide this are bodies like National Trust, CADW, English Heritage and Historic Scotland. Thankfully all these sources of specialist advice are members of the STBA (as indeed RDE is) and their advice / case studies etc are available from

The best advice recommends using a fully breathable insulation (wood fibre for example) with a lime / clay plaster and a breathable paint finish (like our Earthborn Claypaints or Auro Lime Paint). 

So beware of advice and common working practices that are based on half-true information.