The Reality of Damp and Mould Predictions

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Predicting and diagnosing the causes of mould and damp in homes is simple enough.  You just need to have enough data and good analytics. The hard part is trusting the data and changing our learned responses.

It is that classic sat nav problem. You have been taking a route for years without the need for assistance.  Your phone tells you to take another route to save 45 mins and get to the meeting on time.  But you don’t recognise the route. Do you trust it or stick to what you know?  

In the social housing sector, sticking to what you know in a changing world, often doesn’t end well. Money is wasted on repeat repairs or legal disputes about who and what is to blame. The problem isn’t because of lack of trying, it is often due to lack of resources and time. As one council told us;

“We simply do not have time to look at data. The backlog is too big. We know there are problems, we just need guidance on what the cause is and the best ways to solve it” 

We worked with a private landlord who wanted to break the cycle and get to a lasting resolution.  They were renting out a 6 bed house of multiple occupation (HMO).  They had already spent £1000 investigating a suspected leak, they knew the walls were poorly insulated and had a suspicion the manual fan wasn’t being used in the shower room.  They needed a clear diagnosis and an action plan that they and the tenant could agree to and follow.

We did all the calculations about the insulation performance of the building, the heating and ventilation profiles and came up with conclusions and suggested actions.  That bit was easy. The hard part was to engage both landlord and tenants so that they could all be part of the solution.  

We decided to have an online session to explain everything to everyone at the same time and let the landlord and tenants come up with their own, collaborative action plan.  It was a bit of a risk as there would inevitably be some dispute over blame before agreement.  But it was better to let it happen than ignore it.

The metrics told us:

  • Three bedrooms were a model of good ventilation and heating despite it being a Victorian home.
  • The walls in one of the bedrooms had a very low uvalue (extension to the building) and the surfaces often got to the dew point temperature of the room.  Vapour would condense and appear as water on the wall.  It was not a leak!
  • The temperature was too low and the relative humidity was at a high level for a significant proportion of the time that would encourage and sustain mould growth.
  • The ventilation rate of the shower room was very low indicating the fan was not being used. Vapour was condensing on the ceiling for mould to grow
  • Increasing temperature, applying ventilation that could remove moisture peaks of 5g/m3, and improving insulation quality to 0.55 uvalue would make a significant difference to cost, comfort and reduction of risk.

The agreed actions:

  • Medium term – improve the insulation quality of the wall, replace the window style so it could be opened easily
  • Short term – Replace the fan with a constant running one. The landlord increased their contribution to heating so that the temperature would keep the room and the walls warmer for longer.  The tenant would keep the door to the shower room closed

For this landlord, a 3 week “diagnosis and road to recovery” was money well spent.  

“It felt like going to the doctor to get a full health check and discovering what we were doing right, what could be improved, and working out a personalised prescription that worked for me and my tenants”

The diverse homes we live in, the dynamic patterns of life and the difficult financial choices we have to make, means we must do more with data than flagging issues.  For us, fair resolution is the only goal and that requires good data, explained well, with predictions of positive outcomes rather than just issues.

Thank you to the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) members and their tenants who took this new approach and ran with it. They certainly taught me a few things about the realities of being a landlord. 

For more information or a survey, contact us

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