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Major problems with dampness and mould in council homes – Crowe

16 March, 2010


Dublin South West Sinn Féin Councillor Seán Crowe has called on residents in dwellings that are suffering from damp and fungus growths to report the problem to the council.

Councillor Crowe today released details of a serious problem with dampness and fungus growths in council dwellings. He said there has been an unprecedented amount of complaints coming from tenants regarding dampness and fungus spores in Council housing.

Councillor Crowe said:

“Some of the problems arise from the new higher levels of insulation introduced in the new building standards in 2003. Increased insulation has led to increased moisture in homes and in turn this has led to dampness and fungus growths.

“I have raised this problem with the council and have been given a commitment that any residents that report a problem with dampness or fungus will have their home inspected and advice will be given on how to control the problem.

“I am calling on all residents throughout the South Dublin Council area to be aware of this problem and to report any dampness or mould to the council.” ENDS

Editor’s note: On foot of Councillor Crowe’s inquiries the South Dublin County Council has agreed to establish a special group to monitor and deal with this growing problem. Please find details below:

MOTION: Councillor S. Crowe
Cathaoirleachs Business
That this Council Committee, concerned at the unprecedented amount of complaints coming from tenants regarding dampness and fungus spores in Council housing including new builds, and recognising the potential health effect this may be having on those tenants and their families, calls on the Manager to give an updated report on precisely how many units are effected in this area and outline the new measures and new responses, if any, that this Council proposes to introduce to combat this growing problem
REPORT:
The Council is receiving a substantial number of reports from tenants of persistant problems with 'damp', largely from those in homes constructed since 2003 when insulation standards were increased.
The reported dampness, which may lead to mould growth in certain circumstances, has three major causes-
Failure or defect to the building fabric
Failure or defect of a concealed heating / plumbing service
Condensation generated within the unit
or a combination of the above
Dwellings constructed after 2003 are constructed to higher levels of insulation, in compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations. They also have higher standards of air tightness to prevent draughts / heat loss, in compliance with Part F of the Building Regulations.
The higher building standards mean that the dwellings retain more heat, and therefore more moisture in the air, and there is a greater reliance on the occupant to sufficiently ventilate the dwelling to ensure that a balance is achieved between bringing in fresh air and removing stale / moisture laden air and retaining heat in the unit. While not all ‘dampness’ problems are caused by condensation, as listed above, condensation remains a significant contributor, however, to the overall problem. The resultant growth of mould from condensation is a major concern. There are health implications for any tenant if the conditions under which mould grows occurs is extended over a prolonged period. Tenants with bronchial or asthma conditions are particularly vulnerable. It is therefore important that, whatever the causes of the condensation are, that tenants are assisted to achieve a healthy home environment.
The recent excessively cold spell has also generated temperature differences that have compounded the conditions under which condensation can be occur, to a level where widespread problems have been generated.
To establish if there are any other contributing factors or other unrelated causes of dampness in dwellings, it is proposed to examine all recent complaints of dampness as follows:
Reports of ‘Dampness’ or Condensation to Council
Reports are sent to Housing Maintenance or Architectural Services Department for action and assigned to Clerk of Works to carry out thorough investigation of all possible causes, including leaks / fabric / services.
Dwelling Inspection – General check on structure and fabric
Check carried out to establish the existence of –
External damp penetration
Internal leaks from service pipework or source
Extraordinary source
Significant cold bridges in structure
Dwelling Inspection – condensation
Check / record - typical condensation damage – staining, mould etc and record locations.
Check / record - if ventilation in dwelling compliant with regulations- windows, window vents, wall vents, extract [ as appropriate ].
Check / record – are all vents free of obstruction or compromised in any way.
Check / record – humidity including internal external temperature and any other factors relevant to condensation generation.
Check / record – sources of free moisture in the dwelling-.
Post Inspection
Structure / Fabric -
If any leaks or defects exist arrange making good or remedial work as necessary.
Condensation problem identified-
Advise tenant of result of inspection and issue advice and guidance note.
Notify Housing and request letter to be issue to tenant on inspection result.
Follow up inspection and / or advice from Housing Department
Estate Management to monitor the dwelling to ensure that further problems do not arise.
The following guidance will be given to tenants, in cases where condensation plays a significant role in the dampness in their home.
The guidance note will be supplemented with illustrations.
Guidance Note to Tenants
Guide to Understanding Condensation:
What is condensation & Why do you get condensation?
Condensation happens when warm moist air meets a cold surface.
The air we breathe can hold varying amounts of water vapor, depending on its temperature. If warm moist air drops in temperature when the heating is no longer on, or is cooled by a cold surface, such as a window or external wall, it is then no longer able to hold the same amount of water vapor. The air-borne moisture turns into droplets of water and collects on the cold surface. This is called condensation. Condensation occurs mostly between September and March when there is the greatest difference between internal and external temperatures.

When is it a problem?
Every home gets condensation at some time. Daily activities such as - cleaning, clothes washing, bath times, -when a main meal is being cooked, generates lots of moisture and steam in a short space of time. Daily living activities of a family of four can add more than 80 Litres of water a week to the air in your home. Constant over crowding can also aggravate the problem.

Window condensation can be a warning sign. It may mean that you are creating excessive moisture in your home. Increasing indoor humidity to a high level may be damaging to you and your families health.
Condensation is usually at its worst during the winter. It often results in mould and mites growing on walls and other surfaces. Mites feed on moulds, and both can increase the risk of respiratory illnesses in some people.
Mould can spoil wall finishes and furnishings and can make your home unhealthy. The best way of tackling mould is to reduce the condensation levels and prevent it growing in the first place.
Most experts agree that relative humidity, the amount of moisture in the air, can affect your health. They suggest maintaining indoor humidity levels between 30% and 50%. According to the World Health Organization, at levels higher than 65%, upper respiratory illness may occur in people suffering from asthma and allergies.
Condensation is caused by:
§ Excessive moisture production–steam in the kitchen and bathroom, drying laundry, steam / water producing appliance.
§ Inadequate or inappropriate ventilation–the moist air can’t escape
§ Inadequate heating– the temperature of your home
What can you do about it?
§ Produce less water vapour or steam in your home.
§ Don't let the water vapour and steam that is produced spread all round the house.
§ Don't leave kettles and pans boiling longer than necessary.
§ Do not hang wet washing on radiators all round your home – doing so is very likely to cause condensation problems. If you need to dry clothes inside make sure the room is ventilated and the moisture to not spread to the rest of the house.
§ Keep you home warm at an average 20 - 21°c. Overheating warms the air. Warmer air holds more water vapour, so the air in your home could become even wetter and condensation will be greater when the air cools down at night.
§ Keep your home ventilated
§ Never block air vents or trickle vents in windows.
§ Never completely block chimneys.
Produce less water vapour / moisture:
§ Cover pans when cooking
§ Don't leave kettles and pans boiling longer than necessary.
§ If you use a tumble dryer, vent it to the outside.
§ Dry or part dry, washed cloths outside whenever you can.
§ When filling your bath, run the cold water first then add the hot - it will reduce the steam by 90% which leads to condensation.
§ Avoid using paraffin or bottled gas heaters – they produce a lot of moisture
Don't let it spread:
§ Close kitchen and bathroom doors to prevent the moisture escaping into the rest of the house.
§ When washing / bathing, washing dishes, cooking, or washing / drying clothes ventilate the room well.
§ Ventilate your kitchen and bathroom for about 20-minutes after use by opening a small top window.
§ Ventilate your kitchen when cooking, washing up or washing by hand. A window slightly open is sufficient allow the moist air to escape outside.
Where Condensation normally Occurs:
§ Bathrooms.
§ Unheated rooms with cold surfaces, e.g. bedrooms.
§ Cold corners, cupboards and un-vented areas such as behind wardrobes.
§ Kitchens.
To Help Avoid Condensation and Dampness:
§ Try to heat every part of the home for some part of the day.
§ Try to vent every room for short periods of time on a regular basis.
§ Help to reduce condensation that has built up overnight by ’cross ventilating’ your home - opening to the first notch a small window downstairs and a small one upstairs. (They should be on opposite sides of the house, or diagonally opposite if you live in a flat).
§ Positioning wardrobes and furniture against internal walls
Other Causes of Condensation and Dampness:
It is possible that condensation may be caused by a leak or water penetration into the dwelling from an external source or by a leaking pipe internally. This is rare and the effect is normally localized. If a leak occurs from a roof, gutter, downpipe or other source the problem should be reported immediately to the Council.

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