The Perfect Storm for Mould Growth - What Can We Do?

So here we are, in the middle of another national lockdown, one where I will admit that I was naïve enough to not see coming. But it means that for the vast majority of us, we will be confined to our homes for the next month at the very least. Many will be on the extended furlough scheme whilst others will be using makeshift working arrangements to try and get through this latest lockdown.

Whilst this has rapidly become the ‘new norm’ for 2020, realistically, how suitable are our homes for these new arrangements? Is the next pandemic going to be mouldy homes?

Waxing lyrical about ventilation

There are, of course, a number of considerations for the amount of time we are now finding ourselves at home that has the potential to impact our wellbeing. For the purposes of this article, however, I would like to consider a topic which I feel has been widely ignored for a long time, and that is the provision of ventilation.

Over the years I have found myself waxing lyrical about the need to ensure that there is an adequate provision of ventilation. There are several reasons for the need to provide adequate ventilation including to provide fresh air for breathing, dilution and removal of pollutants, and controlling humidity. It is last of these which is likely to cause the biggest stir because when we are unable to control humidity, and the internal environment becomes unbalanced, then the end result is mould growth within the walls and ceilings of our homes.

It is a simple fact that the more time we spend indoors, the more moisture we naturally create within our homes. Buildings need to be able to deal with this additional moisture loading and if it doesn’t, then the end result is predictable.

Modern homes will be ok though, right?

Presumably, people that live in nice new modern homes will be ok? Well, a study published in 2018 by AECOM and the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government looking at ventilation and indoor air quality in new homes, explored the quality of ventilation installations across seven new build developments throughout England. The majority of the ventilation installs (55 in total) were known as ‘system 1’ (background ventilators and intermittent extract fans), with 25 intalls being ‘system 3’ (continuous mechanical extract). Of those 80 installations, it was found that just 3 met the grade! Similar studies have provided similar findings within modern homes.

The Property Care Association conducted its own poll during a recent webinar on ventilation, and over 72% of the delegates believed less than 30% of installs complied with building regulations. So we know that even in new build homes, the provision for ventilation is not being handled.

The ‘perfect storm’ for mould growth?

I realise I am in danger of oversimplifying the matter. Ventilation and humidity control are just some of the key factors in providing the right conditions for mould growth. Consideration must also be given to heating and the thermal performance of the building, which can be more difficult to control. We have no influence over the weather but at the moment, fortunately, the start of the winter period has been relatively mild. However, the conditions are not expected to last and temperatures are expected to plummet towards the end of the month.

Our members have been reporting an increase in condensation and mould growth problems for years now, but with so many of us confined to our homes over the coming weeks and months, is this the ‘perfect storm’ for a pandemic that mouldy homes have quietly been building?

A public information campaign is needed!

What should we be doing to prevent this? Well, the start has to be increasing awareness and providing guidance on how to manage moisture in our homes. The PCA has previously produced a guidance document for occupants for this very reason, and never has it been more relevant. But this is just the start. More work is needed to ensure we can all lie safely in our beds and not be surrounded by damp and mouldy walls.

If we can have a grant scheme for improving energy efficiency, why not one for ensuring every home is well ventilated and can adequately deal with humidity before mould growth occurs?

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus outbreak has changed our perception on a lot of things. But maybe, just maybe, the fallout will be that we finally start taking consideration for the provision of proper ventilation in existing buildings, as seriously as we should?

What we all can do to improve our internal environment

Many of us from time to time do experience mould problems. It is very common in the UK and we have over the years, a bank of information and guidance that can help all homeowners alleviate mould problems within their homes. There are, of course, solutions for the more stubborn and persistent mould issues. To find out more, visit some of the news and page links below:

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