Eliminating bad air

John Moss of EnviroVent looks at how housing providers can ensure a better level of indoor air quality in their residents’ homes.

Dealing with issues caused by condensation and mould growth is a persistent problem for housing maintenance teams. As energy efficient upgrades result in more air-tight homes, this has had a direct impact on the internal environment by lowering the quality of the indoor air. Looking back at the statistics, it’s clear where the problem lies. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of cavity wall insulation upgrades increased by 31.5 per cent from 8.5 million homes to 11.2 million homes, or 59 per cent of all properties with a cavity wall.

The number of loft insulation upgrades went up from 9.5 million to 14.1 million (or 60 per cent of all properties with a loft), an increase of 48.4 per cent. Similarly, the number of solid wall insulations completed in that period rose from 65,000 to 122,000. This was largely driven by Government incentives and the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) schemes. These schemes offered incentives to upgrade or add insulation and improve air tightness in order to reduce levels of carbon emissions from the UK’s existing housing stock.

Deep-rooted problems

While these energy efficiency upgrades provide clear benefits, the work is often done without adequate consideration to improving the ventilation in the property, which in turn results in a whole host of problems. Without a continuous flow of fresh air to control the relative humidity within a dwelling, the internal atmosphere may reach a high relative humidity of around 70 – 80 per cent, which then leads to condensation. The water droplets that form on colder surfaces can result in mould growth and, in some cases, damage to the building fabric. This is due to the fact that the home can no longer breathe. High humidity can provide a haven for dust mites and their detritus and can exacerbate respiratory conditions, such as asthma.

Often the situation is made even worse by modern lifestyles, for example washing dried on radiators can lead to a build-up of stale or moist air, resulting in a decrease in indoor air quality. To add to this, fans may be switched off by residents who have concerns over running costs. This is why there is a clear need for education when ventilation systems are fitted, to advise residents on how they work and why they are essential.

It is also worth considering ventilation systems that are tamper-proof, which means they can work effectively without restriction. The challenge for housing associations or registered social landlords is therefore to ensure that when homes are made more airtight, their properties still meet the requirements of Approved Document Part F (Means of Ventilation) and provide good indoor air quality for residents.

There needs to be a balance of elements in a home to include adequate heating, insulation and ventilation in order to provide a healthy environment. As the living conditions in every home are different, it is recommended that a survey is carried out by a ventilation specialist to fully understand the issue and advise on the best method to solve the problem for the long term, whether this be fitting extract fans in one or more rooms, or carrying out a whole house solution.

Lasting solutions

Many housing providers are looking for permanent solutions to the issue of poor ventilation. Weary of mould treatments that don’t work and with pressure from increasingly frustrated residents, they are seeking longer term, effective solutions. One social housing provider that has taken direct action is Your Homes Newcastle (YHN), the ALMO of Newcastle City Council. Your Homes invested in a positive input ventilation (PIV) system for 150 properties as a way of reducing mould and damp in its tenants’ homes.

During the winter months, condensation and mould growth was becoming an issue for some of its residents, which resulted in ongoing callouts and reactive maintenance by YHN’s repairs and maintenance team. This was costing the social housing management company a significant amount every year in temporary measures aimed at tackling the issue of condensation. Around 30 per cent of Your Homes Newcastle’s 26,000 properties were built in the 1920s and 1930s and have a brick cavity wall construction with no insulation and single glazing.

Between 2008 and 2014, many of the homes were upgraded with new doors and windows and cavity wall and top up loft insulation. Although this has made the homes more energy efficient, it has resulted in inadequate ventilation and poor indoor air quality (IAQ), leading to issues with the properties experiencing condensation and mould growth. As a result of the PIV systems fitted, Your Homes saw a significant reduction in the number of call-outs to deal with issues with mould growth.

This includes some of the worst affected properties reporting no further mould problems. To ensure ventilation systems are installed correctly to meet a home’s requirements, some manufacturers employ their own fully integrated, in-house planning and installation service with a nationwide team of directly employed, qualified and highly trained installation engineers.

Solving problems

It’s important that manufacturers work in partnership with their clients, using our expertise in solving condensation and mould problems to help their knowledge and understanding. Condensation workshops are well attended by local authority maintenance teams and housing managers to ensure they are even better informed and are better equipped to deal with issues.

Ultimately the onus is on social housing providers to upgrade the airtightness of their homes, and there is a very real need for ventilation to be given equal consideration. It is becoming increasingly clear that integrating effective ventilation goes hand in hand with carrying out energy efficient upgrades.

By upgrading the ventilation systems too it means that for a relatively small investment, the level of complaints for issues of condensation and mould growth would be much reduced and the burden on maintenance teams would be much smaller. Failure to provide adequate ventilation can lead to serious consequences for the health of buildings and their occupants.

John Moss is head of sales, social housing at EnviroVent


This feature was published in the May 2017 issue of Housing Management & Maintenance magazine.
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