According to recent research, mould and damp are a growing problem in social housing – with all the associated health and legal risks. FireAngel’s director of connected homes, James King, discusses how, with new digital technologies, housing providers can minimise those risks and respond to problems quickly and proactively.
Condensation, damp & mould
Over the past few years, issues with condensation, damp and mould have affected more than 27 per cent of all households in the UK, with the issue posing a particular problem for housing providers. Over a third of social housing and council tenants have reported problems, with local authorities across the UK receiving around 60,000 complaints relating to mould, damp or condensation between 2012 and 2018.
Combined with the recent winter lockdown, these problems are likely to have worsened in 2020 and 2021. Most of us were stuck indoors (often with windows closed to keep in the warmth) and with facilities such as laundrettes shut, more people were forced to dry washing inside, further increasing humidity in homes.
The health implications of mouldy or damp living conditions can be serious. Asthma suffers are especially at risk, with mould spores known to trigger symptoms. So too are the elderly, the very young and anyone who is immuno-compromised – and many people from these vulnerable groups live in social housing.
However, there are new solutions that can help housing providers adopt a proactive approach to maintenance checks and ongoing monitoring. With real-time data insights into humidity and temperature levels, housing providers can tackle the root cause of the problem and protect their tenants from the health complications caused by damp and mould.
But this requires an entirely new way to monitor moisture in homes.
With the guidelines outlined in the Charter for Social Housing white paper putting more pressure on housing providers to offer high quality, safe homes in good repair, there’s less room for error, and that means tackling the problem of damp fast and efficiently. But there are a number of reasons why these issues can be difficult to fix.
Current methods for dealing with damp, condensation and mould are usually expensive, time-consuming or even ineffective. Anti-mould wall coatings and regular roof and gutter maintenance only go so far, and even installing cavity or external wall insulation (often necessary to meet energy efficiency regulations) isn’t always effective in reducing damp. Indeed, recent research suggests a correlation between incorrectly-fitted insulation and increased damp and mould problems.
And with waiting lists and placement times getting longer by the day, there’s intense pressure on housing providers to fix problems quickly and move new tenants in. This, along with poor advice and limited access to specialist knowledge, can lead to only surface issues being treated. Mould and damp are then likely to reoccur, leaving housing providers at risk of targeted ‘no win, no fee’ claims from personal injury lawyers.
Successful remediation work requires in-depth investigation to find the root cause, fix it, and protect against future issues, but it’s a lengthy process that can leave properties empty for long periods, costing housing providers considerable sums of money in lost rent.
A smart approach to monitoring
Thankfully, this is where new technology can help. By introducing internet of things (IoT) sensors, housing providers can access real-time data on the humidity and temperature levels in their properties, thereby enabling early interventions to pre-empt the problem.
Unobtrusive temperature and humidity sensors create a holistic view of the environment. Available as independent sensors, as well as being included in the cellular gateway, the devices capture humidity and temperature data and provide real-time information for housing providers to actively review and spot any environments where mould or damp could easily develop.
Installing a sensor in every room allows housing providers to adopt a proactive strategy, with a view to prevent any damp spots from growing. Based on repeated patterns and/or data-driven insights, housing providers can then deliver tailored advice to relevant tenants and provide accurate information about where they need to adopt better ventilation or heating practices.
By acting early, housing providers can also stop costs escalating. Damp is less likely to become an expensive headache to fix, and with better living conditions, tenants are less likely to make expensive legal claims. Sensors also provide a simple solution for understanding and proactively meeting residents’ complaints.
Smart sensors can also provide a clear audit trail, recording accurate and regular environmental readings specific to each property and room. And because the data can be analysed remotely, there’s less need for intrusive on-site investigations.
Preparing for the future
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.
All 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 recently launched New Generation Cellular Gateway using Smart RF and Zigbee technology. Housing providers can then access each device’s data using our intuitive dashboard, allowing them to easily identify environments that could lead to damp and mould. And as 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.
Furthermore, 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.
To learn more about how FireAngel Connected can prepare your properties for a smarter, safer future, please visit fireangel.co.uk/connected.
James King is the connected homes director for FireAngel.