Thursday, 31 May 2012

Confusion About Moulds in Damp Homes


A recent news story shows that there is some cause for concern about how public housing stock in the UK is maintained with regard to damp and mould.

The UK government Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Mr Andrew Stunell, in answer to a written Parliamentary Question asked by Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price stated, “Damp and mould growth is a category 1 hazard. Councils are under a duty to take action in such cases”.


Belhus ward local councillors, Charles and Wendy Curtis state “We feel we have to point out that this {Toxic Black Mould} is not a Category 1 hazard, but a Category 4."
“There is a major difference and, put simply, Category 1 is a risk to life, Category 4 is not”.

Who is right? It depends on several factors. Damp homes are known to promote asthma amongst young occupants. Moulds are increasingly thought to affect asthma severity and promote attacks. Severe asthma can be fatal.

The UK government has put in place tools that are to be used to to make assessments on the fitness for use of housing stock that is not occupied by its owner - Housing Healthand Safety Rating  System (Housing Act 2004) - despite this there still seems some confusion when it comes to calculating levels of hazard with regard to moulds.

There does seems to be a fundamental problem - tenants will look at the property they are renting and see mould growth, particularly in the cold of winter - and tend to blame the landlord. Mould growth means that there is a damp problem.

 Damp has many causes - direct water penetration through defective walls, roofs or guttering, damp moving up a wall if waterproofing that isolated walls from the ground is inadequate and so on. It is reasonable to assume that these are the concern of the landlord. However another major source of moisture is the tenant - when people cook, bathe, shower, dry clothing or just breathe they introduce litres of water into the building every day - this must be removed and not allowed to settle on walls or other surfaces - usually by adequate ventilation. Unfortunately there has been a lot of effort recently to limit ventilation as a means to maximise energy use efficiency - ventilation can mean lost heat that has to be replaced.

 Tenants will protest (often reasonably) that they cannot dry clothing outside, that tumble drying is expensive and dry clothes on radiators while not opening windows - trapping tens of litres of water inside a property. Once night falls and the heating switches off the temperature in the rooms drops - at a critical temperature all that water will start to drop out of the air and onto handy adjacent surfaces. Result = damp & mould.

It is in a landlords interest to provide means to dry clothes & cook without introducing excess water into the air. It is in the tenants interest to ensure as little water escapes into the house as possible. Both are probably blaming the other, both probably lack good information on what to do.

This is where all parties need to cooperate and expert mediators are needed. This is a complex problem that needs intervention and regulation by a third party expert in damp prevention but with no vested interest. The starting point is probably to assume no fault on either tenant or landlord until it has been properly assessed what the problem is in each case and what action is needed.

This may be expensive to solve but it certainly isn't a problem that is going to go away by itself. Both parties are going to have to accept that the prevention of damp is a far more important issue than it has been and invest accordingly.

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