Does Your Home Have Excessive Moisture?
If you’ve ever lived in an old house, chances are you’ve had some sort of encounter with damp. But, even poorly designed new buildings or internal water leaks can leave you facing a damp problem. Poorly ventilated bathrooms are often a haven for excess moisture in the home, and this can lead to a damp problem and mould growth. The tell-tale sign of a damp problem is often a musty, stale smell. On further inspection, a patch of affected wall or ceiling is usually found to have black mould (Stachybotrys chartarum) growing on it; a result of condensation. Mould is a fungus, and it’s the mould spores released into the air that are known to cause damp related illnesses.
Why do mostly older houses suffer damp problems?
Buildings pre-dating the mid-19th century were constructed with solid walls without damp proofing. Prior to central heating, heat from open fires, and loosely fitting doors and windows, created a breathable system. Moisture was equally absorbed and evaporated. It’s why many badly renovated older houses now have a damp problem; ventilation has been reduced and the equilibrium has been disturbed. Of course, general wear and tear in older buildings, such as defective flashings, hairline cracks and damage to roof timbers also contribute to water infiltration and subsequent damp problems.
Allergies and damp
Mould found on windows, walls and floors can exacerbate allergic conditions such as atopic eczema, rhinitis and asthma. Allergic symptoms are triggered by mould spores when they are inhaled, or touched. The symptoms include sneezing, itching, runny nose and congestion. In more serious cases, where immune function is already compromised, respiratory problems can worsen. For people with lung conditions mould allergy can cause persistent wheezing, shortness of breath, excessive thick mucous production, and fatigue.
Infections and damp
Fungal infections are a serious health threat for immunocompromised individuals. Mould has the potential to cause a systemic infection in these individuals. Susceptible people who have a reduced capability of fighting infection may be at more risk from infections of the skin or mucous membranes if exposed to mould.
Aspergillus is a specific type of fungus that is known to cause chronic lung problems in people with existing respiratory illnesses. Aspergillus is present in the air we breathe, and high numbers of spores come from air conditioning units, composting, and damp or flood damaged houses. Aspergillosis is a group of diseases, which can occur as a result of aspergillus infection. Aspergillosis normally only occurs in people with severely compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and transplant patients.
Who is at risk?
Not all household moulds cause health problems. Damp, however, is known to have a causal link with allergic conditions and is especially problematic for babies, children, elderly people, those with existing skin problems or respiratory problems, and those with a weakened immune system.
What can you do to get rid of damp and mould?
- You’ll need to identify and fix the source of the problem to prevent it returning
- Wear rubber gloves and a mask that covers your nose and mouth while cleaning mould
- Open windows, but close doors to prevent spores spreading to other areas in the home
- Use warm water with a mild detergent in a bucket and carefully wipe mould from the wall with a rag dipped in the soapy water
- Use a dry rag to remove excess water from the wall
- Place both rags in a plastic bag and throw them away
- Remove any contaminated soft furnishings, placing them in bin liners and throw them away
- Clean all surfaces in the room with a damp cloth and hoover floors/carpets
What can you do to prevent damp and mould?
Be aware of condensation in the home, which forms on windows and walls when the air indoors can’t hold any more moisture. Here are some tips for preventing the build-up of condensation.
- Put lids on saucepans
- Dry washing outside, do not dry washing on radiators
- Open windows for 15 minutes each day
- Ensure your home is well insulated
- Heat your home a little more – condensation is caused when excess warm moisture in the air meets a cold surface
- Ventilate rooms regularly allowing air to circulate
- When cooking, showering or bathing – open the window and close the door of the room you are in
- Keep your property regularly maintained to avoid any unnecessary water leaks
Damp and mould problems are often masked with a coat of paint, but if the underlying problem isn’t resolved, it won’t be long before the mould returns. With the wide range of home fragrances available from scented candles to reed diffusers and room sprays, it’s not difficult for a seller to disguise a damp problem. Whether you suspect a damp problem or not, it’s always worth checking in with your surveyor to see what level of survey will identify if there is a damp problem. A full building survey (level 3 report guidelines determined by the Royal Institute of Surveyors, RICS) provides an in-depth analysis of the property’s condition.
Be vigilant. A damp problem isn’t only a potential financial burden, it’s also bad for your health.
Written by Lloyd Wells, a freelance writer working with London-based Chartered Surveyor Peter Barry.