15 January 2019

‘We must ensure that the homes and buildings we work and live in positively contribute to our physical and mental health instead of diminishing it.’
Jim Shannon MP
Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthy Homes and Buildings

The significant problems affecting the quality of our housing in the UK have been laid bare in the government’s recent White Paper (Building our Future - Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings).

It is essential – if shocking – reading for anyone involved in the UK housing market.

The incidence of damp homes remains largely unaddressed in older houses and in the new-builds and refurbished homes that are forming the next generation of our housing stock.

It’s time to outline clearly what these significant health risks are!

Damp houses and mould

Moulds are naturally occurring and pose little risk outdoors. They play a part in the natural cycle by breaking down dead organic matter, such as fallen leaves.

Indoors, however, the effects of mould are much less benign.

Moulds reproduce by releasing tiny spores, invisible to the naked eye, that float through the air. Within the house mould can only begin growing when these spores land on damp or wet surfaces. This is why reducing condensation and removing excess moisture through ventilation is essential in homes.

There are many different types of mould, but none of them will grow and become a problem without the presence of excess water or moisture.

The incidence and cost of mould in our homes

Mould contributes significantly to the prevalence of poor indoor air quality (IAQ) that has been highlighted in both older houses and new-builds. The effects of this are estimated to have an annual cost the UK of 204,000 healthy life years.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, around a third of the people living in the UK report having mould in their homes and cold and damp houses have demonstrable long-term effects on health:

  • Children living in them are more than twice as likely to suffer a respiratory problem.
  • Adolescents living in them are five times more likely to experience multiple mental health problems.

They are also associated with increased incidence of colds and flu and can worsen existing conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism.

The health risks of damp and mould

‘My partner caught pneumonia. We’ve all been to the doctors so many times and when my daughter, Layla, was born she managed to catch a chest infection.’
Tara Davidson, tenant of a Stoke council house with damp problems
November 2018

Moulds produce allergens (substances that can cause allergic reactions), irritants and can release potentially toxic substances known as mycotoxins.

The NHS is absolutely clear about the health risks posed: it states that ‘if you have damp and mould in your home, you're more likely to have respiratory problems, respiratory infections, allergies or asthma. Damp and mould can also affect your immune system.’

These effects can be caused by either inhaling or touching the mould spores.

Those most at risk are:

  • Babies and children.
  • Elderly people.
  • Those with existing skin problems, such as eczema.
  • Those with respiratory problems, such as allergies and asthma.
  • Those with a weakened immune system, such as those having chemotherapy.

What can be done to reduce the risks?

‘Recommendation 3.1: The Government should develop a national renovation strategy to improve homes for health and performance and end the practice of improving energy efficiency without due consideration to the consequences for health.’
Building our Future - Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings

The Homes and Healthy Buildings Parliamentary Group are highly critical of recent home building practices that have focussed exclusively on energy efficiency measures, often at the expense of things like ventilation that are essential to the health of those living in the homes.

We recently reviewed ways to tackle damp and mould and emphasised that ventilation was a key factor in ensuring that excess moisture was removed from the air.

This is particularly the case in rooms where moisture is at its highest – such as where clothes are dried, meals are cooked and showers or baths taken – it is vital that adequate ventilation is both installed and used.

Sadly, even when installed, extractor fans are often not used. This is due to the excessive noise they can make or because of concerns over energy usage and cost.

Our innovative Unity CV3 addresses these issues by offering a continuously running extractor fan that also delivers energy usage and noise reduction. In addition, it also provides automatic updates to landlords on how their ventilation is performing.

There are many other ways both tenants and social housing providers can ensure that risks are reduced.

The time to act is now – the cost, in terms of human health and damage to the building fabric of homes, is far too high to be ignored.