Mould on a minute
How to spot those killer spores.
What is mould?
Mould is a type of fungus that grows well in damp environments. Moulds spread by releasing toxins called spores. If these spores land on damp areas, they then grow into mould patches. We are all exposed to small amounts of mould in the air we breathe and this small exposure isn’t a problem. Large amounts can cause health problems, however. In general, mould should not be present in more than trace amounts in your home.
What causes mould?
- Condensation and dampness. Condensation is basically water vapour. This water vapour is released during cooking, showering, clothes drying and even cold weather. Cold weather can fuel mould because some water vapour collects on surfaces when it is cold.
- Lack of proper ventilation and light in a house, for example a bathroom without an extractor fan or rooms that are never aired.
- Fish tanks. Mould tends to settle in these.
- Plants. Mould grows on the leaves of plants.
- Structural problems. There could be a leak in the roof or even in the walls.
- Neglect by yourself or previous tenants. Even if you look after a house well, it could still get mouldy. Previous tenants may have allowed mould to grow by not opening windows etc. Unfortunately, once mould gets into a property it tends to stay there.
Mould can cause the following health issues
- Respiratory problems, such as breathing difficulties, stuffy noses, sinus infections.
- Aggravation of existing asthma. In extreme cases, mould exposure may trigger asthma.
- Frequent colds and infections.
- Memory and concentration issues.
How to identify mould
- Smell. Mould has a musty odour. If your house smells odd, work to identify the source of the smell and don’t just cover it up with air fresheners.
- Mould can be a variety of colours: black, white, yellow, red, orange and blue. If it has a fuzzy appearance, it is highly likely to be mould.
- Be careful if you are moving into a freshly painted house. The landlord could just have painted over the mould and tried to cover up the problem without treating it properly.
What to do if you have mould
- Even if the patch of mould is only small, DO NOT clean it up until you have taken photographs. This way, you have evidence of the problem.
- If you are renting a property, get your landlord in to view the mould before cleaning it. Ask them what they are going to do to address the issue. If your landlord won’t do anything to help, remind them that they are legally bound to make sure your house is in a habitable condition.
- If the mould area is large, it’s best not to clean it yourself.
- Use a mask and gloves when you are cleaning.
- Clean the mould off with a specially designed anti mould product.
- Once the area has been cleaned, re-paint the walls with anti fungal paint.
- Be aware that if mould is growing in one area of your home, it may be growing elsewhere.
- Be aware that cleaning it yourself may remove the visible mould, but then spread the spores into the air, which could make you very ill. This is why it is best not to clean large area of mould yourself.
- Ideally, it’s best to get a mould removal company in to clean large areas of mould.
- Once mould has been cleaned, you need to take preventative steps to stop it happening again. Such steps would include installing extractor fans, using a dehumidifier and airing rooms out regularly.
What if your landlord won’t help?
- If you are sick all the time, contact your GP so that there is documented evidence of your sickness.
- Contact Threshold or the Private Residential Tenancies Board for advice if the landlord won’t help.
- If worst comes to the worst, you could call in an Environmental Health Officer. If they declare your home inhabitable, they will send your landlord a notice to have it cleaned up within a certain period of time. Unfortunately, Environment Health Officers may not be of much help if you have already cleaned a lot of the visible mould off. They won’t be able to see the spores in the air, although they may smell it.
- If your landlord won’t clean the flat for you, and the Environmental Health Officer declares it inhabitable, you can legally break your lease and move out. You will not owe the landlord any money.
- If you cannot move out, and you are stuck in a mouldy home, you could try to ease your symptoms a bit by purchasing a dehumidifier and spending as much time as possible out of your home.
- Some landlords will let you break a lease, but it’s best to have this in writing before you move out, as otherwise they could hold you legally responsible for the rest of the lease period.