In this expert guide the built-environment specialists at WTS consider how dampness and mould can affect your health both at home and in the workplace. The guide looks at what causes mould, how common the problem is and what can be done to prevent it.
How can mould affect your health?
It’s no secret that exposure to toxins within our homes and places of work can have serious consequences for our health.
Most of us spend around 16 hours a day at home, and the remainder either at work, or travelling.
If you’re aged under seven or over 65, you probably spend much longer at home.
Poor ventilation and damp buildings are the main causes of mould inside a house or office building.
If you inhale mould spores, this can cause inflammation in the lungs and airways, leading to a blocked nose, wheezing, a feeling of tightness in the chest or irritation in the throat.
In colder climates around 15% of all homes have some form of damp, with 5% suffering with mould problems.
If you are exposed to mould and damp conditions over a prolonged period, this can have serious implications for your lung function and cause health problems such as asthma.
If you already suffer from asthma or allergies, symptoms will often get much worse when exposed to damp or mould.
Figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) indicate that a high proportion of the 300 million cases of childhood asthma can be put down to exposure to indoor mould or damp.
What is the most dangerous type of mould found in the home?
The most dangerous type of mould found in the home is the infamous “black mould”, or Stachybotrys chartarum to give it the full Latin name.
This type of black coloured mould grows readily on building materials which have become affected by water, and produces toxic spores that can cause significant health problems.
Spores become airborne and can then either be breathed in or land on skin and cause irritation that way.
Unfortunately there is no simple way to eliminate black mould – or other types of mould – from our homes.
The only way of dealing with the health risks of black mould is to deal with the raised moisture levels and dampness problems first.
What about other types of mould?
There are also other types of mould which might grow in damp homes and workplaces.
Although perhaps not as dangerous as black mould, other moulds which are grey, green, orange or brown should also be tackled to remove them and their associated health risks.
Who is at risk from black mould?
The trouble for medics is determining whether breathing difficulties and other health problems have been caused by the mould itself, or from the general damp conditions which have allowed the mould to grow.
Measuring indoor mould exposure is not straightforward, and doctors are still working on developing a reliable test.
How common are mould and damp problems?
Worldwide in colder climates, it is estimated that around 15% of all homes have some degree of damp, and 5% suffer with mould problems
The situation is more acute in hotter countries, where up to 25% of all properties are affected by one or another type of mould.
Dampness is also statistically more prevalent in houses which don’t have proper heating, or which are overcrowded, poorly-ventilated and not insulated.
Because of this, damp housing is often more of a problem in the rented sector, or in low-income communities.
The effects of climate change
Climate change, leading to warmer weather, heavier rainfall and flooding might also in the future lead to a higher numbers of homes suffering from damp and mould.
How to treat mould in the home and workplace
Treating mould in the home or at work involves a number of steps.
The first step in addressing mould problems is to tackle the issue of dampness in your home or at work.
Look for the typical signs of dampness – recognising that you may have a problem in the first place is important.
Mould growing on walls or around windows is one of the most visible signs that you have a damp problem in your home of workplace.
Other signs to look for include a musty smell, problems with condensation, wall paper or paint which starts to crack or peel, water staining or puddles of standing water in a cellar area or around the property.
Simple ideas for dealing with dampness
There is also lots you can do to deal with the root causes of dampness and make your home or office dryer and warmer.
In colder climates such as the UK, the main ways of tackling indoor mould are adequately heating and ventilating your property.
Another important aspect is insulation… a well-insulated home or workplace will help retain heat, and reduce humidity levels and condensation inside the home.
Good ventilation is particularly important in moisture laden areas such as the kitchen, bathroom or utility room.
Open the window when taking a shower, or when the tumble dryer is running.
This will allow the damp, warm air to escape from the room.
If you don’t have a window in the bathroom, fit an extractor fan which will remove the dampness instead.
Dehumidifier machines can also be used to remove water from the air.
Try not to dry laundry inside the home, and if you have to, open the window too.
Water leaks and poor drainage
If you know you have water leaks or poor drainage around your property, tackle these problems rather than ignoring them and hoping they will get better.
If you are making holes in the roof for a vent, a skylight or new window, take care to seal properly around the opening to ensure it is watertight.
What about rising damp?
In older properties, rising damp may be causing various problems including mould growth.
This type of damp is caused by a lack of or damaged damp proof course, where water is drawn up into the building’s walls from the ground unchecked.
It’s more common in older buildings, constructed at a time when the Building Regulations and quality standards weren’t as strict as they are now.
Dealing with rising damp can be expensive as it will involve introducing a new damp course or waterproof barrier into the walls and floors.
Visible mould in your home or office should be carefully removed when you spot it, as long as you are taking steps to work out why it is growing in the first place.
A good quality bleach-based cleaning product is best for killing and removing mould and all large supermarkets and DIY stores will stock a range of suitable products.
With softer materials such as carpets or bath mats, it’s often better to throw them away and buy new.
If you are still unsure about what to do, or how to tackle mould in your home or at work don’t hesitate to contact WTS for expert advice.
Specialist mould testing and remediation solutions
WTS offer a comprehensive range of mould testing and remediation solutions to support business owners, landlords and property managers, health and safety professionals and home owners.
Our air quality and mould experts can provide advice and support to develop the most appropriate strategies for the identification, investigation and remediation of mould problems in homes, offices and other workplaces.
With offices in London serving the South and South East England, Manchester (North West), Birmingham (Midlands), Bristol (South East England and Wales), Leeds (North and North East) and Glasgow (Scotland), supported by regional teams of specially trained technicians, in-field specialists and consultants we can offer professional, cost effective environmental solutions throughout the UK and internationally.
Contact us today to learn how our mould testing and remediation solutions can help keep you, your staff, loved ones and other people safe from exposure to mould, spores and other indoor air pollutants.
More information about our mould testing and remediation solutions.