Rising risk of mould growth and how to prevent it this winter

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Mould can impact businesses through a number of obstacles, including health, financial costs, and time out of operating. Stuart Kerr, Managing Director, Restorations UK, details how to prevent, spot and remove mould

The cost of living across the UK has been steadily increasing over the years, with inflation climbing to new heights, surpassing the levels last seen in 2011. Many experts have associated this with global supply chain issues, which has slowed how quickly the worldwide economy has been able to recover post-pandemic and after Brexit. UK energy bills, for example, have been predicted to increase by 30% over the wintertime. Energy usage and living costs may seem unrelated to mould growth and prevention, but on closer inspection, they are more associated than you might think.

The cost of heating up homes is also rising, which has caused many homeowners to turn to alternatives. To keep heating trapped in, homeowners are closing windows or relying on artificial systems to control their indoor climate. For many houses, this will create new problems as the risk of mould growth become a dangerous possibility. Artificial heating, or alternatives, can accidentally create the ideal environment for mould growth – warm, damp settings are conducive to future mould issues. Even the design and layout of a building can, in ways, contribute to its likelihood to develop mould, amongst other issues.

The mould problem

Perceptions about mould vary, with a surprisingly limited understanding of its impacts on human health beyond the potential structural damage it will cause to a property. Exposed cracks, hidden structural supports, and piping can all be affected – the real issue is when mould grows undetected, or inside walls. When it festers too long, it can weaken structural supports, causing a property to devalue on the market. This is worsened only when the damage supersedes cosmetic problems, and it requires professional repair and removal.

Its growth is accelerated when the environment remains damp, dark, and unregulated with sunlight and circulating airflow. The design and the layout of a house needs to be carefully considered in how it can limit the possibility and spread of mould.

Beyond cosmetic and structural damage to a variety of properties, mould can be the leading cause of serious ill health and wellbeing issues. Mould has been associated with short- to long-term health problems, including illnesses and conditions like memory loss, or limited lung function. Those suffering from hay fever, or other allergic reactions, will find that excess mould can trigger or even exacerbate these underlying health conditions.

Critically, mould will impact health differently from person to person. As such, there are those in a household who will be more vulnerable to its effects, including young children, or the elderly. Therefore, constructing and designing family or retirement properties in a way that withstands the possibility of mould is key in building safer, healthier environments that will retain value much longer on the market.

Where does mould come from?

Where a property suffers from damp conditions – such as poor lighting – and where there is limited ventilation, which prevents sufficient airflow, mould is more likely to occur. Mould will produce airborne spores, spreading toxins in the air; without ventilation designed into a property, this means it can freely spread and infect other areas of a building. Target areas like windows, where cooler weather can create moisture, are more likely to develop into mould hotspots if a property fails to regulate its climate properly.

It’s helpful for construction workers, designers and a host of building professionals (including real estate agents) to be aware of the mould hotspots because prevention can be proactively planned. As in residential homes, commercial properties will likely see mould occurring around windows, in bathrooms and even kitchens/ kitchenettes.

In a house, there’s a greater risk of this. Rising damp develops from sitting water, causing it to inflict surfaces, and even infiltrating the foundations of a property. Mould can even penetrate from external damage, so if a property’s landscape is prone to dampness than mould may seep inward from the exterior of a building.

How to identify the mould problem

It’s not until mould settles on a surface that it becomes visible. When it’s airborne, property residents may only notice slight symptoms affecting their health, such as agitated eyesight or breathing. The invisibility of underlying mould is especially problematic as it can create unseen damage to a property, no matter what state it is in.

Here are the signs of mould in a property:

  1. Building users notice symptoms or become unwell when accessing a property, including cleaning crews, or builders during an extension project. These symptoms may only develop when a user accesses a building, and then subside when they exit the property. This is called ‘sick building syndrome’ and can explain why building users feel more tired or generally unwell when they are accessing a property, such as an office.
  2. During construction or thereafter, do you notice an unpleasant smell radiating from a property, such as a vacant show home? Odours are a tell that that mould has settled into a property, and this can deter prospective homebuyers, especially if the odour is persistent.
  3. If spots, or discoloured patches, are visible, then it could be a symptom of damp or worse. In locations that experience more challenging or ‘heavy’ weather patterns, this can quickly grow into place, causing rapid mould infestations on properties that might have only recently become vacant. Assess for dampness, because this could the starting symptom of mould.
  4. If a residential property is located in a flood plain or has previously suffered from flooding, then mould growth is a high risk. Where dampness and water damage has not been properly irrigated or dried, mould will typically form in its place, infecting walls and wider structures. Residual water and damp are a quick breeding ground for mould issues, which can manifest as longer-term issues if not immediately dealt with. It’s essential to learn how to deal with damage after a flood, to ensure a property is properly able to recover.

Last summer had the most Google searches on record for ‘How to stop mould’, an increase of 65% from last year

Economical solutions to mould prevention

Mould prevention is not limited to costly extremes, and can be eradicated creatively and without causing a drain on your budget. Wintertime conditions will inevitably create unfavourable circumstances for certain prevention methods, but it’s not always the case.

Mould prevention comes in different methods:

  1. Create environments that have natural sunlight and can be well ventilated, with plenty of windows and options to help with circulation. Ultimately, regulating the internal climate is key to ensuring the setting of a property is behaving in a way that naturally prevents mould – removing dampness, moisture, and instead introducing ample sunlight and air.
  2. Design rooms that are aware of mould problems, especially when focussing on kitchens and bathrooms. Excessive damp grows here, so plan to design around this flaw, ensuring that steam, water excess and other symptoms don’t develop into something more damaging.
  3. Put a focus on natural circulation; for example, having too many walled off rooms and corridors can help mould to grow and spread. When a property is designed and constructed more freely, the circulation and ventilation options become more creative.
  4. Small embellishments and room design should not come at the expense of rules about mould prevention. For example, heavy duty curtains can encourage mould growth, blocking out natural sunlight.
  5. Rely less on artificial solutions – albeit a humidifier is often helpful. You can naturally deal with symptoms like dampness and moisture, but if you’re unconfident about it, then consider the likes of a humidifier to tackle symptoms before they develop into something more severe.

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