Condensation nightmares

Rental properties, particularly older properties, have seen an increase in cases of black mould growth. Ironically, the cause of this rise is often down to improvement and refurbishment of these older properties. Improved insulation, the installation of UPVC double glazed windows, better draft exclusion and greater wall insulation has lead to properties becoming increasingly air tight. It is the stopping of draughts that has meant insufficient air flow has increased the prevalence of problem condensation.

Condensation is not damp. The causes of damp in a property can be many, they are generally structural, and are usually the responsibility of the landlord. Condensation problems are a result of the way a property is ventilated. This is more often down to the behaviour of the tenant, and not necessarily the direct responsibility of the landlord, although it is often in a landlord's best interest to advise or assist with the issue.

Condensation in itself isn't a problem, but the black mould that can result from excessive condensation is a serious problem because of the health risks associated with mould spores. Moisture is present in pretty much every building material and the act of evaporation controls the majority of this moisture content. If a building is sealed then it will not be able to breathe and if it canít breathe then moisture cannot evaporate and it will simply sit there and present further damp and mould problems in your walls.

When the moisture created within a rental property is not effectively ventilated, then it will seek to condense on the coldest available surface within the property, typically the interior surface of an outside wall. Often tenants assume the grey stains that have appeared on a wall are caused by damp, sometimes it is, but most likely, these mould patches are a result of condensation. For many tenants their primary concerns are to keep a place warm and to reduce their energy bills. Opening a window to let out the moisture from the clothes they're drying on radiators, or leaving an extractor fan running to de-mist the bathroom runs contrary to these aims. Vents and airbricks are designed to increase ventilation and reduce condensation but often tenants block them to reduce draughts.

Another reason for the increase of condensation is that houses and flats have become smaller and more compact. A studio flat might only be one room, but it has all the same moisture contributors, (shower, cooker, hob, sink, dishwasher and washing machine) as a large house. Tenants need to be aware that the moisture created within a property must be managed. Landlords should encourage their tenants to air and ventilate the property with advice and help. Tenants should know that where they use the radiators to dry clothes they need to increase the ventilation by opening windows. Drying clothes outside is always preferable or using a tumble dryer which vents externally will all help reduce the moisture released into the building.

Where the condensation problem is particularly persistent then a dehumidifier which extracts moisture from the air may help counter the problem but it is not a landlordís responsibility to provide one. Mould inhibiting paints and sprays may also help prevent the growth of unsightly black mould although they will not cure the root cause of the problem. Where mould does appear, encourage tenants to act quickly to remove mould to prevent it spreading. This can be done by using a disinfectant or a proprietary mould remover. A mild bleach solution on a damp cloth is a good way to control mould growth. Mould should never be allowed to carry on growing and can need regular treatment by the tenants.

In conclusion landlords need to take condensation problems seriously as the property will deteriorate if the problem is not addressed. Solutions may include installing fans in bathrooms and kitchens, there are also extractors available that bring fresh air in to a property while recovering the heat from the moist stale air being extracted but these extractors are more costly. None of these devices will be useful if the tenant turns them off, so landlords need to work with tenants to solve the condensation problem.

Parkinson Property

26th November 2015


The Property Ombudsman Lettings   Find details of all our properties at - The UK's number one property website   The Deposit Protection Service