Maintenance, Social Housing

Breaking the mould: Using a digital approach to tackling damp in social housing properties

With new research revealing mould and damp are a growing problem in social housing, Steve Boggis, Trade Business Unit Director, discusses how housing providers can use new digital technologies to respond to problems quickly and proactively.

Over the last few years, more than a third of social housing tenants have reported problems around condensation, damp and mould in a council property.

And between 2019 and March 2021, the Housing Ombudsman examined 410 complaints related to damp and mould. In total, the Ombudsman found maladministration issues related to damp and mould in 40% of the 410 cases it looked into, making 373 findings and issuing 286 orders.

As lockdowns caused facilities such as launderettes to shut, humidity and damp problems are likely to have worsened in the past 18-months with more people forced to dry washing inside.

Damp living conditions can lead to serious health implications, with asthma sufferers especially at risk due to mould spores triggering symptoms. But the elderly, the very young and anyone who is immuno-compromised are also at risk of health complications – with many people from these vulnerable groups living in social housing.

Why is tackling damp currently proving difficult?

With the guidelines outlined in the Charter for Social Housing white paper putting more pressure on housing providers to offer high quality, safe homes in good repair, there’s less room for error, and that means tackling the problem of damp fast and efficiently. But there are a number of reasons why these issues can be difficult to fix.

Current methods for dealing with damp, condensation and mould are usually expensive, time-consuming or even ineffective. Anti-mould wall coatings and regular roof and gutter maintenance only go so far, and even installing cavity or external wall insulation (often necessary to meet energy efficiency regulations) isn’t always effective in reducing damp.

Research even suggests a correlation between incorrectly-fitted insulation and increased damp and mould problems.

With waiting lists and placement times getting longer by the day, there’s intense pressure on housing providers to fix problems quickly and move new tenants in. This, along with poor advice and limited access to specialist knowledge, can lead to only surface issues being treated. Mould and damp are then likely to reoccur, leaving housing providers at risk of targeted ‘no win, no fee’ claims from personal injury lawyers.

Successful remediation work requires in-depth investigation to find the root cause, fix it, and protect against future issues, but it’s a lengthy process that can leave properties empty for long periods, costing housing providers considerable sums of money in lost rent.

However, a recent case in south London saw a tenant secure a £3,500 settlement after living with poor conditions including damp and mould. It was the second time the resident made a housing claim against the London borough due to ‘recurring issues’.

A smart approach to maintenance and monitoring

damp and mould in council property

New solutions are now available that enable housing providers to monitor humidity and temperature levels in a property to proactively tackle condensation, damp and mould. Introducing Internet of Things (IoT) sensors provides real-time data on a property environment, enabling early interventions to pre-empt the problem.

These unobtrusive temperature and humidity sensors create a holistic view of the environment. Available as independent sensors, as well as being included in FireAngel’s recently launched Home Environment Gateway, the devices capture humidity and temperature data and provide real-time information for housing providers to actively review and spot any environments where mould or damp could easily develop.

Installing a sensor in every room allows housing providers to adopt a proactive strategy, with a view to prevent any damp spots from growing. Based on repeated patterns and/or data-driven insights, housing providers can then deliver tailored advice to relevant tenants and provide accurate information about where they need to adopt better ventilation or heating practices.

By acting early, housing providers can also stop costs escalating. Damp is less likely to become an expensive headache to fix, and with better living conditions, tenants are less likely to make expensive legal claims. Sensors provide a simple solution for understanding and proactively meeting residents’ complaints.

Smart sensors can also provide a clear audit trail, recording accurate and regular environmental readings specific to each property and room. And because the data can be analysed remotely, there’s less need for intrusive on-site investigations.

Preparing properties for smart cities of the future

Data collected from IoT sensors will also play a role in future regeneration projects. Analysing the data for trends and patterns can show housing providers which regions or properties are particularly prone to damp (such as those in coastal areas) and ensure those properties have the right insulation and ventilation installed.

However, all this requires the right technology.

With FireAngel Connected, housing providers can create a tailored network of sensors and devices to detect everything from fire and carbon monoxide to water leaks and room occupancy.

IoT devices and sensors are wirelessly connected to the platform through our Home Environment Gateway using Smart RF and Zigbee technology.

Housing providers can then access each device’s data using our intuitive dashboard, allowing them to easily identify environments that could lead to damp and mould. Humidity and temperature data can be integrated into housing providers’ existing asset management systems, enabling them to easily spot trends and allocate resources more efficiently.

And as we’ve designed our gateway to use cellular signals alongside a wi-fi back-up, housing providers can be confident that it’s always on and always connected.

To learn more about how FireAngel Connected can prepare your properties for a smarter, safer future, please get in touch.