Recently, the UK government announced that it will review the guidance given to landlords in England about the health risks of mould and damp following the death of a two-year-old boy who suffered a respiratory condition caused by significant exposure to mould.
The death of Awaab Ishak in December 2020 prompted a coroner to call for the government to prevent future deaths by taking action to address the known risks of damp and mould to health, and since then there has been an outpouring of support from the public.
170,000 people have signed a petition to push through Awaab’s law to ensure no other child dies due to mould, which the Government has said it will now deliver.
To explore this topic further, let’s take a look at the facts about mould and the best ways to combat it in your home.
How common is mould in the UK?
Mould is a common problem in UK residential properties, particularly during the winter months when ventilation is reduced and condensation levels increase. Aside from looking unsightly, mould can have serious negative effects on indoor air quality and, as a result, the health of the building occupants.
In January, the chief executive of Shelter, Dr Polly Neate, said that the government’s social housing regulation bill, which would introduce inspections of social homes, was more important than reviewing guidance. Neate said that “unlivable housing conditions” were common in private housing due to a lack of protection for tenants.
Conversely, a Propertymark fact sheet spreads the burden between all parties, saying that in a tenanted property, the responsibility is “shared between landlords, managing agents and tenants.”
Dealing with damp and mould can be a challenging task for everyone, especially in rental properties, but it is really important for ensuring that a property is safe for tenants. However, with enough vigilance from landlords and tenants, once the common causes of damp and mould are known, it can be much easier to manage the issue and prevent any adverse health consequences.
What causes mould in residential properties?
Mould thrives in moist environments. This is why bathrooms and kitchens are particularly susceptible to mould growth. For example, at one point in your life, you may have noticed mildew growing on tiles in a bathroom if left uncleaned and unventilated.
Condensation that comes from cooking, showering and drying clothes indoors can create damp conditions in the home. This can encourage mould growth, providing an ideal breeding ground for it to spread.
Poor ventilation can lead to a build-up of moisture in the air, creating a damp environment that promotes mould growth, while condensation can also be a significant problem, particularly when windows and doors are kept closed and heating is used more frequently in the colder months of the year.
Water leaks can also cause mould to develop, particularly if they remain undetected or aren’t repaired promptly. Leaks can occur in a range of places throughout the home, including roofs and around windows. If they’re left untreated they can lead to long-term damp problems.
The negative health effects of mould and damp
The negative health effects of mould have been much publicised recently, especially in the case of Awaab Ishak. In that heartbreaking situation, excessive mould proved fatal for the young boy who suffered a respiratory condition due to the conditions in his family’s home.
Mould can have a range of negative health effects, and it can be particularly threatening for those with allergies, asthma or underlying health issues.
Mould exposure can cause allergic reactions, such as sneezing, runny nose and red eyes, as well as skin rashes and respiratory problems. People with asthma may experience their symptoms getting worse, including wheezing and shortness of breath.
In rare cases, exposure to certain types of mould can lead to more serious health effects, such as fungal infections. Mould can also produce mycotoxins – toxic substances that can cause a range of health problems including neurological and immunological effects.
So, in short, depending on the severity of damp and mould in the home and pre-existing health problems, symptoms can range from a cough to much more serious, and sometimes fatal respiratory conditions.
How to prevent mould in your property
Preventing mould growth in UK residential properties requires a combination of measures, including proper ventilation, moisture control and maintenance. Many in the private rented sector argue that tenant education is the key, while both private and social tenants say that building standards are the biggest cause of mould issues in the home.
Whatever side of the debate you sit on, here are some steps that landlords and tenants can both take to prevent damp and mould:
- Ensure that rooms are adequately ventilated, particularly during activities that create moisture, such as cooking, showering and drying clothes. Opening windows or using extractor fans might help.
- Reduce humidity levels by using a dehumidifier or installing a humidity control system.
- Keep surfaces dry and clean, wiping up any spills or moisture as soon as they occur. In bathrooms, regularly cleaning moisture-prone areas will keep mould growth at bay.
- Fix any leaks or water damage promptly to stop damp conditions from forming or getting worse.
- Appropriately insulate walls, floors and roofs to reduce the risk of condensation building up in the home.
- Use anti-mould paint or wallpaper in areas that are susceptible to dampness, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
- Educate tenants on how to prevent damp and mould, including how to adequately ventilate and clean the property.
- Conduct periodic inspections to stay on top of any developing damp or mould issues.
Humidity, of course, is a big factor in damp and mould issues in the home. You should maintain indoor humidity levels between 30-60%.
Experts state that humidity levels above 60% provide an ideal environment for mould to grow, while levels below 30% can cause discomfort too. It’s a fine balance, but so long as it’s between 30% and 60% then tenants should feel the most comfortable.
But for the average tenant, measuring humidity isn’t always easy without specialist devices, so landlords and property managers should be more proactive with humidity readings on their periodic inspections.
To offset high humidity, you can use dehumidifiers, air conditioners and fans to reduce the moisture in the air. If the humidity is too low, then you can use humidifiers to add moisture to the air.
Other solutions, such as sensors that collect indoor air quality data, are being rolled out by some forward-thinking firms to tackle the ongoing issue of damp and mould. While these are more commonplace in commercial properties, more and more consumer-friendly devices are coming to market.
Whatever the solution may be, by maintaining indoor humidity levels within the optimal range and practising good ventilation and cleaning habits, you can prevent the growth of mould in your home, creating a safer and healthier living environment.
Is it possible to eliminate mould completely?
If mould has already developed in a UK residential property, several steps can be taken to eliminate it once and for all:
- Identify and fix the source of moisture that is causing mould growth, whether that’s a leak or poor ventilation.
- Remove any surface-level mould using a solution of bleach and water or readily-available mould removal products which you can find in most supermarkets.
- Dry the affected area thoroughly using a fan or dehumidifier to ensure mould growth isn’t resurgent.
- Dispose of any materials that are heavily contaminated with mould, such as carpets, curtains or soft furnishings. Sometimes cleaning them will not eliminate the mould entirely.
Whatever route you take, make sure to take precautions when removing or cleaning mould! It might seem like a simple cleaning job, but as we’ve already seen exposure to mould can be deadly.
Wear protective clothing like gloves and a mask so you can avoid inhaling mould spores, and most importantly, ventilate the area when you’re cleaning.
As we’ve seen, preventing mould growth requires proper ventilation, moisture control and maintenance, while eliminating mould requires identifying and fixing the source of moisture, removing surface-level mould and ensuring the area stays dry. With the right measures in place, it is possible to prevent and eliminate mould in your home.
If damp and mould do develop, it is crucial to take action promptly to prevent the problem from getting worse. One way to stay on top of any developing damp or mould problems is by conducting thorough, regular property inspections. Not only does this help identify the early warning signs of mould in the property, but it can also help you spot any other adverse issues that may be challenging down the line.
As is the case with most industries these days, technology can play a big part in eliminating mould in the home. One way to do this is by carrying out digital property inspections that connect with humidity sensors, providing real-time embedded data about the indoor air quality of the property, giving landlords, property managers and managing agents ample time to react to address the issues.