Our last few posts have looked at some of the bigger picture, policy-related issues around fuel poverty, but as we hit October and it starts to rain on a more regular basis, we thought it time to think about something more practical:
The English Housing Survey 2012-13 reported that around 5% of homes have significant problems with damp, with higher incidences occurring in older properties that had been converted into flats. In reality, the problem is likely to be far greater as damp comes and goes in properties according to the temperature and the way the property is lived in.
Firstly: not all damp is the same. Here’s a really useful Which? page describing the three main types of damp: http://is.gd/NjzDhW
The one we’ll concentrate on here is condensation. This is the one that is most closely linked to issues around fuel poverty.
Where does condensation come from?
Anything that we do at home that creates moisture has the potential to create condensation, and therefore damp. Cooking, washing ourselves or our clothes, boiling the kettle, breathing even! The moisture that we produce has to go somewhere. The best place for it to go is OUTSIDE – through extract fans, ventilators, trickle vents, open windows. If moisture can’t go outside – and if the property is cold, then that moisture will settle on the cold walls or windows. In turn, it will form damp patches and mould will start to grow.
So what should you advise people who have problems with damp and mould? Here’s where it gets tricky:
1. Keep the property warmer
This is a good piece of advice – but not always possible when people are worried about switching on their heating systems because of the cost, or if they haven’t got a heating system at all.
If you find a home with no heating, contact your local authority – you can find details of every local authority in London by using our search facility at the top left of this page. Many local authorities have funds to help vulnerable householders install new, efficient heating systems.
If someone has a heating system but doesn’t want to use it, you can ask them to think about how else they use energy in the home and see if they can make a trade off. Switching off an electrical item for a couple of hours might save them enough money to put the heating on instead. Thinking about an “energy budget” can be helpful, especially if you can explain the relative costs of electricity and gas and different types of appliance.
It may be that the household qualifies for the Warm Home Discount, which can provide £140 off the cost of energy over the course of a year.
2. Get the moisture out
This is one that can be done! Containing moisture (eg, by putting lids on saucepans when cooking) can help to minimise the amount that floats around the property. Using extractor fans and making sure that trickle vents are open can help get rid of wet air. A dehumidifier can help to take moisture out of the air too.
An important thing to note: insulation will help to keep your property warmer (and therefore reduce the likelihood of damp). However: if a property has been insulated, a resident may need to use their ventilation more to ensure that damp air gets out, especially when cooking or washing.3. Report serious damp to the local authoritySerious damp problems can count as a hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System. Local authorities will investigate issues in private sector housing and encourage / require landlords to make improvements. 4. Admit that the damp existsThis should probably have been number 1, but it’s a good way to end:A lot of people find it embarrassing that their property is damp, so they live with it. This leads to home environments that are both unhappy – who wants to look at patches of mould? – and unhealthy. There’s a strong body of evidence connecting respiratory problems – such as worse symptoms of childhood asthma and COPD – with the incidence of damp and mould at home. Encouraging someone to acknowledge that there is damp at home – and even admitting it yourself – is an important step in demystifying the problem and making sure that we get better information, guidance and support to make our homes healthier.