Wendy Thomas at Nuaire discusses the changes to regulations that social housing providers need to be aware of when addressing mould and damp and looks at different retrofit solutions available for compliance
Condensation and dampness in older homes during the winter months was once considered part and parcel of living in a northern climate. 38% of the UK’s housing stock is over 70 years old and suffers from poor insulation levels and even poorer ventilation, which means that dampness remains trapped and can lead to the formation of mould. Mould has been viewed as a cosmetic issue in the past, but we now have a far greater understanding of the impacts of mould on health, including asthma, eye irritation, respiratory problems, skin reactions, headaches and, in extreme circumstances, death.
In December 2020, two-year-old Awaab Ishak died from prolonged exposure to mould in his home in Rochdale. Such was the strength of feeling, that Awaab’s Law has been introduced as part of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act, which requires social housing landlords by law to fix damp and mould issues to strict deadlines, or rehouse tenants in safe accommodation. While the time frames within which landlords will have to act to investigate hazards and make repairs has yet to be decided, the Act will be made enforceable through a more effective complaint process; Ofsted-style inspections by the Regulator of Social Housing have powers to issue unlimited fines to landlords who fail to meet standards. It will also mean emergency repairs can be made where serious risks to tenants are found, with landlords footing the bill.
As part of this process, the government has realised that suitable guidance is not readily available to landlords. Information on different aspects of damp and mould – be it the health risks, how to treat mould, or how to prevent it forming – can be found, but not all in one easy to access place or document. As a result, ‘Understanding and addressing the health risks of damp and mould in the home’ was published by the Government in September 2023 aimed specifically at rented housing providers (social and private sector landlords). It clearly sets out the legal responsibilities and the serious physical and mental health risks that damp and mould pose. It also defeats the culture of blaming the tenant and their lifestyle; after all, if you live in a fourth floor flat, do you really have a choice about whether to dry clothes indoors or not?
The emphasis in the new guidance is on finding long term solutions. As the guidance states, landlords should “identify and tackle the underlying causes of damp and mould, including building deficiencies, inadequate ventilation and condensation. Simply removing surface mould will not prevent the damp and mould from reappearing.”
When it comes to ensuring effective ventilation, landlords should check that existing measures in place – such as extractor fans and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) systems – are fully operational and up to the job, and that tenants are informed of how to use them.
Bathroom and kitchen extractor fans are generally replaced around every six years as part of planned maintenance. With an increase in minimum air flow rates stipulated in the revised Part F of Building Regulations, you may well need to replace them with more powerful fans, such as a Decentralised Mechanical Extract Ventilation (dMEV) fan. These are mostly continuous running mixed flow axial fans suitable for wall, ceiling and window installation. As an example, the Nuaire Faith-Plus dMEV has been specifically designed and built to achieve the ventilation rates set out in Part F and L Building Regulations. In a typical three bedroom house, requiring a 31 l/s trickle rate, two Faith-Plus fans – one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen – will deliver the air flow required.
For properties where condensation is a major issue and mould is present, waiting for planned maintenance is no longer an option. An immediate solution is required, which could mean more powerful extractor fans, as mentioned, but may require a different solution in the form of a Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) system. PIV systems eliminate condensation dampness, while filtering any harmful outdoor air pollutants. A highly cost-effective solution, they are easily installed in a loft, in under an hour, and provide fresh air to the whole home. They are inexpensive and long lasting.
A mountain to climb
With the English Housing Survey estimating around 904,000 homes in England alone had damp problems in 2021, it’s a mountain of a problem that can no longer be ignored. But it’s not an insurmountable one: proven, cost effective ventilation systems are readily available that can be quickly and easily fitted into existing properties to provide tenants with improved indoor air quality and comfort, and provide landlords with the peace of mind that comes from knowing they are compliant.
Wendy Thomas is residential product manager of Nuaire