Black mould is nothing new to housing providers and local authorities, but rises in the cost of living and high energy costs over the past year have seen its damage to homes and the accompanying health hazards skyrocket.
A UK government report, ‘Damp and mould in social housing: initial findings’, published earlier this year stated that 3-4 per cent of the four million social housing homes in the UK – as many as 160,000 – have at least some notable damp and mould, with 1-2 per cent facing a severe problem.
In addition, research commissioned by MRI Software in late 2022 revealed that nearly a quarter of social housing residents were in energy bills arrears. The fact that such a large proportion were struggling to adequately heat their homes during the winter exacerbated the problem.
Despite housing providers working hard to address the problem, there’s no quick fix. And efforts to meet the challenge can be hampered by its sheer scale – some housing providers have over 100,000 properties that they’re trying to simultaneously monitor and maintain, against a background of extensive repair and maintenance backlogs spread across ageing housing stock.
However, housing providers can create an ‘early warning system’ for black mould. By tapping into integrated repair and maintenance solutions and the expertise of the teams using them, housing providers can log, track and manage black mould outbreaks better before they get out of control, and even pre-empt them when serious damp problems are identified.
There are two main types of mould outbreak housing providers need to deal with. The first is an isolated occurrence resulting from residents’ behaviour. For example, a resident could be regularly drying laundry in a poorly-ventilated room. The second is the more pervasive spread of mould due to a structural problem across multiple homes within an estate, such as poor built-in ventilation.
In the first instance, housing providers want to be able to respond fast to residents reporting mould. But, even better, they want to be able to act before a mould problem is even reported, whether in a single home or across several similar or linked properties. Furthermore, being able to identify at-risk properties based on their construction type or repair history enables providers to set up a regime of pre-emptive inspections.
Vigilance and technology
When steps are taken to enable early warning, repairs and maintenance teams become, in effect, the eyes and ears of the organisation because they work in common areas within buildings and service individual properties. They are ideally placed to identify damp or mould outbreaks at first-hand and log them before they can grow into a severe problem that affects the residents.
Once the system is set up, each time there is a service or compliance task to be carried out, such as a boiler inspection or repair, these teams can capture information on mould and damp and act fast. For example, if they find mould that is only a couple of inches wide, they can treat it before it becomes a larger patch that’s more complicated and expensive to deal with, or if they notice pre-mould damp, they can address the problem before mould even appears.
The key for repairs and maintenance teams is to be vigilant whenever they are at a property so they can be proactive. They also need the right tools and processes so that they take effective action when they do spot mould. In many cases, an integrated repairs and maintenance solution provides an effective first line of defence against damp and mould, equipping teams to create detailed follow-up actions, including identifying all at-risk properties, capturing data and setting up the next steps.
Wider structural outbreaks
Repairs and maintenance teams may also identify mould outbreaks across multiple homes in the same block (or same construction type), indicating that the problem is fundamentally a result of how the homes were built. Having the right data-capture processes to track multiple instances of mould enables front-line staff to look beyond localised cases. This broader view is critical for dealing with widespread mould outbreaks.
Solving a widespread mould problem may involve steps such as installing extractor fans or insulation across a building or group of houses to address or prevent further mould problems. This type of solution becomes then a planned project rather than a one-off repair.
More than ever, technology can play a vital role in empowering onsite teams to proactively combat the spread of mould. In addition to leveraging the software used to maintain properties, many housing providers are increasingly deploying new solutions such as sensors and other IoT technology to automate aspects of damp and mould detection, further helping in the battle against this scourge.
Deborah Matthews is the managing director for MRI Living for Social Housing at MRI Software.