25 October 2018

Rising damp: The consequences of poor ventilation

UK residents spend up to 90% of their time indoors, equating to around 16 hours a day on average. In the case of babies, young children and the elderly, this figure can be even higher, as it can be harder for them to get out and about.

A family of four can create up to 16 pints of moisture per day by cooking, washing, hanging clothes to dry and even breathing. But unfortunately, all this moisture can contribute to problems with condensation, damp and mould in the home if the building isn’t properly ventilated.

Moisture can also be caused by leaking pipes, rising damp in basements or ground floors, or rain seeping inside due to a damaged roof or window frames. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in cold climates, 15% of buildings have signs of dampness and 5% have signs of mould problems.

Chronic health problems

Damp and mould can affect us all in terms of impacting on our health, but especially babies, young children, the elderly and people with existing medical conditions like eczema, asthma or weakened immune systems. Mould produces allergens, irritants and sometimes, toxic substances, so inhaling mould particles or touching mould spores can cause a number of health problems. These range from nasal congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and throat irritation to more serious respiratory conditions such as pneumonia or chronic asthma.

The most common and well-known variety of mould is ‘black mould’ which can grow on water-damaged building materials and produce toxic spores. In 1994, ten children in Ohio, USA were diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary haemosiderosis (bleeding from the lung) and one subsequently died as a consequence of household water damage that led to the appearance of the toxin-producing mould S chartarum.

Poor indoor air quality: The social cost

According to official government data released in 2017, more than half a million social homes in England do not meet basic health and safety standards – with 205,000 homes having damp in one or more rooms. The Grenfell Tower fire in London raised serious questions about the state of housing in the UK and new statistics show that 525,000 social homes currently don’t meet the national ‘Decent Homes Standard. Unfortunately, social housing and rental properties are more at risk of having damp issues due to poor ventilation, overcrowding, inadequate heating and lack of regular maintenance by landlords. Currently, there are 258,000 families living in social homes classed as overcrowded; 217,000 of those families include children.

According to Shelter, the housing and homeless charity, children living in poor housing conditions are more likely to suffer from breathing problems than children living in good, private housing (32% versus 24%). They are also 50% more likely to experience sleep problems due to wheezing and coughing. But it’s not just children that can suffer the consequences of bad housing; 26% of adults report bad general health (low mental well being, asthma and breathlessness) compared to 17% living in good housing. These residents are twice as likely to have their sleep disturbed by respiratory problems than people living in good housing, a figure which gets worse for pensioners and the vulnerable.

Graham Duke – Chartered Institute of Environmental Health comments, “The costs to the NHS of substandard housing suggest that the quality of people’s housing has a similar impact on health as does smoking and alcohol.”

Counting the cost: what it means for landlords

Good ventilation is critical to keep homes free from mould and condensation. Extractor fans are fundamental in ensuring ventilation is sufficient throughout a property. However, due to a combination of lack of knowledge and irritations such as noise, many tenants choose to switch off their fans in bathrooms or kitchens, leading to serious consequences for the building and the health of residents. The more the fans are switched off, the less ventilation provided, leading to a rise in mould and condensation and ultimately, an increased risk of health problems for residents.

This is a big concern for landlords as these issues can build up quickly and end up being costly to fix – possibly costing thousands of pounds. Landlords who maintain properly working fans which aren’t switched off can easily avoid litigation costs if their tenants report illness due to perceived poor ventilation.

So where do landlords stand? Currently no safe levels of indoor dampness and or mould have been defined, so health-based standards or guidelines do not exist. The best solution is properly maintained ventilation in all properties – as performance is everything.

Unity CV3 – Addressing the issue of poor ventilation in social housing

Our response to this is the Unity CV3 – an innovative, continuously running extractor fan that combines energy reduction and easy compliance with tenant wellbeing by eliminating nuisance running and noise. It’s also the first extractor fan with a data transfer function which updates landlords on how ventilation is performing in their properties. This knowledge gives landlords peace of mind, assuring them that their properties are sufficiently ventilated, their tenants are living in a healthy and safe environment and there is less risk of costly complications, in every sense.

For more information, please download the CV3 brochure.