ONCE you own a home, it becomes apparent that it’s always going to be a work in progress. So, the paintwork in the kitchen is a little flaky, the carpets could do with replacing in the hallways, and when will we ever dump that hideous suite your mother gave us?
Few of us enjoy the privilege of walking into a sap-scented, velvet plastered A-rated dream home crafted by the RIAI.
Even such wonders wear and degrade without care.
There are some issues beyond standard upkeep and decorating that should not be pushed off or ignored, problems that may signal their presence discreetly, but which can spell more extensive disaster in a future structural survey.
Some may even impact your family’s health and physical safety further down the road. A little savvy goes a long way.
Black mould (Stachybotrys chartarum) is a perennial problem in many Irish homes, and summer is the ideal time to knock it on the head before sealing the house up for the colder months ahead.
We are not just chatting here about a chronic aesthetic nuisance.
In 2009, US actress Brittany Murphy, star of movies Clueless, 8 Mile and Sin City, died suddenly at home at the age of 32.
She was found to have passed away due to a respiratory related illness contributed to by the presence of black mould in her home in LA.
Having managed her suffering with an inhaler and cough medicine, reclusive by nature and housebound, Murphy was living in deplorable conditions.
There are large areas of our walls and floors that once sealed up behind fittings and furniture are seldom seen again.
So a little greenish black powdery mould visible can signal swathes of the stuff behind bath panels, sections of wall and under the flooring.
Stachybotrys has a distinctly earthy smell, so if you catch an unusual whiff of rotting leaves, investigate further.
So where does mould get in? Spores are free floating in the cleanest air, and are opportunists looking for a suitable environment to set up camp and thrive. If damp is present on indoor surfaces, and the humidity in the room is not being managed and moved outside with sufficient frequency, a cocktail of naturally occurring moulds can occur.
These can include benign spores and serious allergens, like mycotoxic Stachybotrys, which can attach to organic substances like plaster, wallpaper, even carpet.
It’s largely identified in high corners, creeping along grout and flashed around windows in wet rooms, such as the kitchen and bathroom.
In a really damp house with cracks in exterior render, loose tiling and cold bridging causing condensation to pool on windowsills, mould can be everywhere.
Pulling furniture out can reveal unexpected hiding spots. This is bad news for anyone’s lungs, but for someone with a condition like asthma, it’s very dangerous and is implicated in the suppression of the immune system of vulnerable individuals.
EVEN if you clean off the mould diligently and just prop open the windows from time to time, mould regenerating from persisting spores can reappear working its way into timbers and plaster causing structural damage. Mould of any kind is symptomatic of a damp problem — softly screaming “fix me”.
Cleaning off the mould is putting a band-aid on the tear that took down the Titanic.
Still, for small areas of mould 1sq m or less, caused by shabby ventilation, there’s every chance to tackle the problem with a few small changes.
Elect someone without breathing issues or eczema to do the job as the conditions might be exacerbated by being even close to any type of mould.
Wearing a protective mask and rubber gloves, clean walls with a proprietary mould cleaner. If you want to keep off the heavy chemistry, try four parts water to one part bleach. Use a wiping motion and paper towels to remove the stain. Brushing or scraping will raise spores.
Finish by drying the wall with a pat down with a clean rag. Put all your tools into a plastic bag, seal it and put it in the black bin rubbish. Patiently monitor any reappearance. Don’t paint any remedy over an area of active mould. If you read the tin for any damp or mould fighting wall solution, it will state, that they are not intended to simply mask the underlying issue.
In the long-run, the damp will circumnavigate the patch treatment, and the mould will be back too. Don’t be talked into daubed on, quick-fix by your landlord if you are renting. Simultaneous to clearing off the mould, check external wall vents for debris that may be hampering the air exchange indoors and install permanent vents in windows if necessary.
A mechanical fan reduces moisture in high humidity areas where you don’t enjoy other forms of modern ventilation like MHVR. Hopefully, you’re now clear and once the wall is dry and mould free, you can redecorate and get on with your life.
If the mould is extensive (greater than 1sq m) or reappears after addressing the ventilation of the area to the best of your own abilities, have a contractor trace the underlying moisture problem.
There may be a pernicious drip from a failing gutter working its way down through the house from outside, a cracked pipe or faulty joint in the plumbing, any number of things going on.
Improving the insulation in the attic, can warm up the ceiling and reduce condensation. Improper dry lining can allow issues including mould growth to continue uninterrupted and out of sight for considerable periods before they breach the internal finish of the house. For large areas of long growing mould, the plasterboard may have to be removed from the area and put back in fresh.
Air purifiers and dehumidifiers are sometimes the only answer with old houses and unused rooms and inconsistent ventilation.
Mould inspection surveys/abatement and DIY test kits start from €150 from specialist companies including mouldbusters.ie and mouldlab.ie.