How Condensation Claims Are Taking Councils By Surprise
By Wendy Thomas, Residential Product Manager
For a property to fall into disrepair, it must have fallen from a previous good state of repair: well-maintained and structurally sound. Problems associated with condensation dampness are a grey area for two reasons:
- While condensation dampness is often caused by the tenant’s lifestyle; drying clothes on radiators, not opening windows, or not adequately heating the property, the results can affect the structure of the property. Damp and mould damage plaster and rot woodwork. In this instance, there may be a breach of the obligation contained in the tenancy agreement, in which the landlord is responsible for structural repairs to the property.
- Severe condensation dampness makes the property unhealthy. The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) Operating Guide classifies damp and mould growth as a hazard that threatens the health of occupants, especially those aged 14 and under. It cites the threat as “the prevalence of house dust mites and mould or fungal growths resulting in dampness and/or high humidities."
When Condensation Is a Crime
If the conditions are bad enough, they may begin to affect the tenants’ health, triggering asthma and respiratory illnesses. Here, the housing provider may be guilty of a crime of allowing a statutory nuisance or hazard to persist in the property. So while the housing provider has made every effort to maintain the property, they may still find themselves at the brunt of a costly disrepair claim. And costly they are. A recent rise in social housing disrepair claims has seen local authorities in England pay out tens of millions of pounds in compensation and legal fees.
According to a freedom of information request made by the BBC last winter, disrepair claims rose from 1,694 in 2011-2012, to 2,440 in 2015, while 75 local authorities disclosed payments made for disrepair claim compensation and legal fees totalling £35m.
More Damp Through 'Decent Homes
To further exacerbate the issue, the rolling programme of energy improvements to meet ‘Decent Homes’ standards means that more and more social housing properties are being sealed up with loft and cavity wall insulation, new windows and doors, and better heating systems. Making homes warmer and more airtight saves energy but also increases dust-mite pollutions and mould growth if the relative humidity exceeds 70%.
Changing the way tenants use their homes to reduce humidity is beneficial. However, it’s not enough to simply encourage tenants to open windows and dry clothes outside, especially during colder months. Whole-home ventilation and adequate heating are the most effective way to reduce relative humidity and avoid structural or health issues that can lead to disrepair claims.
An Effective Solution for Tenanted Homes
Using a mechanical ventilation system is vital in ensuring that modern, well insulated properties have good air quality. Continuous low-level ventilation ensures that a rate of 0.5 air changes per hour is maintained. To achieve this, the most effective solution is to install a Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) system. PIV is a proven solution for curing condensation damp problems and improving the indoor air quality. It works by displacing the stale, humid air with fresh, tempered air throughout the home via a unit in the loft through a discreet, ceiling-mounted diffuser. This has been the go-to solution for dealing with condensation since it was developed by Nuaire over 45 years ago.
Nuaire’s Drimaster-Eco PIV system includes relative humidity and carbon dioxide sensors, which automatically adjust its running speed above set levels to maintain good indoor air quality, ensuring optimum comfort for the occupants. A remote monitoring device allows a housing officer to check how long the unit has been running, enabling the social housing provider to ensure that measures put in place to alleviate condensation issues are being adhered to, without having to enter the property. Other wireless switches within the range offer flexibility for the occupant to provide the most appropriate level of comfort for their needs. By tackling the cause of condensation dampness with the installation of PIV, social housing providers can not only minimise disrepair claims, but can reduce calls to problem properties by taking this preventative measure. PIV both treats and prevents dampness and it known as a fit-and-forget technology which requires minimal maintenance.
To support social housing providers, Nuaire offers free training, CPD's and support to teach customers how to spot condensation dampness, how PIV can tackle it, and how to install PIV systems in-house. This support allows for a faster and more flexible approach to tackling mould problems which ultimately reduces the risk of costly disrepair claims.