The recent Housing Ombudsman’s report ‘Spotlight on Damp and Mould; It’s not lifestyle’, calls for housing providers to take a zero-tolerance approach to damp and mould in properties. It also asks them to be proactive in identifying homes that have or may be at risk of developing problems rather than putting the onus on tenants to report an issue.
This follows guidelines outlined in the Charter for Social Housing white paper, where further pressure is placed on housing providers to offer high-quality, safe homes in good repair, including dealing fast and efficiently with any complaints of damp and mould.
However, the 2019-20 English Housing Survey identified serious condensation and mould problems in at least one room in three per cent of all social sector homes (133,000) while five per cent of homes (192,000) lacked ‘thermal comfort’. It’s a growing problem in our sector, with more than a third of tenants reporting damp and mould in their property and over 60,000 complaints relating to mould, damp or condensation received by local authorities between 2012 and 2018.
Increased risk of health complications
Cold temperatures can cause a myriad of problems in tenants’ homes, from burst pipes to structural damage, but more commonly, from damp and mould. Under-heated rooms that suffer from an excess of moisture are particularly favourable to mould, such as bathrooms and kitchens, where everyday activities such as cooking, showering, drying clothes and even breathing, create moisture which can lead to condensation.
Without the right tools or ventilation in place, these factors can quickly lead to the presence of damp and mould. In the Housing Ombudsman’s report, the top four causes of damp and mould are identified as poor ventilation (30 per cent), leaks (23 per cent), structural (20 per cent) and condensation (18 per cent).
As a type of fungus, mould reproduces through microscopic spores that float on the air, looking for a new home. These spores thrive on nearly any organic surface as long as it has moisture and oxygen. This includes surfaces commonly found inside housing such as carpets, wood, furniture and materials used for insulation.
Damp living conditions can lead to serious health implications, with asthma sufferers especially at risk due to mould spores triggering symptoms. But the elderly, the very young and anyone who is immuno-compromised are also at risk of health complications.
Significant cost impact
Alongside health complications, mould and damp also have considerable cost implications for housing providers. The cost of remedial fixes for small condensation issues can be high, with the estimated damage to a property’s paint and plasterwork alone costing around £700 per property. This can often be followed by more expensive improvements to combat the causes of condensation, damp and mould.
Implementing external wall insulation and ventilation costs around £1,500 per property, and when looking at the number of social housing properties in need of work – these figures will soon add up into the millions.
Then there’s also the threat of legal action from tenants. A recent case in London saw a tenant secure a £3,500 settlement after several years living with poor conditions, including the presence of damp and mould. It was the second time the resident made a housing claim against the London borough due to ‘recurring issues’.
Although the Housing Ombudsman recognises that it’s a daily challenge for housing providers to tackle this difficult problem, the report advises against placing the blame on residents due to ‘lifestyle’; instead, the document identifies 26 recommendations for housing providers to implement.
One of these recommendations is to use “a data-driven, risk-based approach with respect to damp and mould. This will reduce over-reliance on residents to report issues, help landlords identify hidden issues and support landlords to anticipate and prioritise interventions before a complaint or disrepair claim is made.”
There are a variety of new solutions available that enable housing providers to take a data-driven approach; the installation of IoT sensors in residents’ homes can provide real-time data on a property environment, enabling early interventions to pre-empt a problem getting any worse.
Digitising your data capture
These unobtrusive temperature and humidity sensors can create a holistic view of a property’s environment. The devices capture humidity and temperature data, providing real-time information for housing providers to actively review and spot any environments where mould or damp could easily develop.
Housing providers can then deliver tailored support to tenants and provide accurate information about where they need to prioritise maintenance, such as installing better ventilation or insulation, or identifying residents who may benefit from referrals to fuel poverty support groups.
Data collected from IoT sensors will also play a role in future regeneration projects. Analysing the data for trends and patterns can show housing providers which regions or properties are particularly prone to damp (such as those in coastal areas) and ensure those properties have the right insulation and ventilation installed. However, all of this requires the right technology.
With FireAngel Connected, housing providers can create a tailored network of sensors and devices to detect everything from fire and carbon monoxide to water leaks and room occupancy. IoT devices and sensors are wirelessly connected to the platform through our New Generation Cellular Gateway using Smart RF and Zigbee technologies.
Integration with asset management
Housing providers can then access each device’s data using our intuitive dashboard, allowing them to identify environments that could lead to damp and mould. Humidity and temperature data can be integrated into housing providers’ existing asset management systems, enabling them to easily spot trends and allocate resources more efficiently. And because we’ve designed our gateway to use cellular signals alongside a wi-fi back-up, housing providers can be confident that it’s always on and always connected.
By acting early, housing providers can stop costs escalating. Damp is less likely to become an expensive headache to fix, and with better living conditions, tenants will feel more comfortable and safer in their home environment.
To find out more about FireAngel’s Cellular Gateway or about our Connected platform, get in touch with our team of specialists by visiting fireangel.co.uk/connected.
Roger Whittingham is a specification manager at FireAngel.