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Damp and mould problems

Since we have just experienced the longest, coldest and wettest winter for decades, many householders are facing unprecedented evidence of damp and mould inside their homes. There are various reasons for this and certain preventative measures which can be taken.

New-build or old-build properties in Malta lack overall constant central heating and thus will always be humid and have varying degrees of evident damp
- Sonja Kralj

One of the factors influencing the formation of mould and damp is the climate in Malta which has very high humidity levels coupled with high temperatures in the summer and low temperatures in winter. This means that, even in summer, damp and condensation can be visible.

When it comes to winter, the humidity combined with the drop in temperature increases the incidence of damp and mould hundredfold. Mould occurs as a result of moisture in the atmosphere condensing on cold surfaces.

If windows are kept closed because of the cold and if rooms are unheated, then any moisture in the atmosphere converts to mould in dark grey/greenish patches, principally in corners but also on ceilingsand elsewhere.

If mould is left untreated, it can have serious consequences, both for the health of the property and that of the occupiers. Mould is a fungal growth that can usually be visible in dark, damp or steam-filled rooms, such as the bathroom, kitchen or laundry room.

The incidence of mould on the walls and ceilings can damage the paint and stonework and also, of course, stains are very unsightly. Worse still, mould in the atmosphere can lead to health issues and mould allergies. Symptoms include watery, itchy eyes, chronic cough, headaches, breathing difficulties, rashes and otherallergic reactions.

One of the key requirements to help prevent mould is ventilation and heating. This is why it is so difficult to prevent mould coming out in Malta.

The fact that there is no central heating and that, usually, only the room occupied is heated, is a major contributory factor in the spread of mould. Coupled with this is the fact that, during the cold winter months, people are reluctant to openwindows even a fraction. Very oftenone has to dry clothes on aclothes horse indoors if the weather isinclement and this adds further to thedamp problem.

If you are using a tumble drier, it is essential that some form of ventilation is allowed. Another common household feature that can contribute to the build-up of mould are clothes and clutter.

Never store clothes that are damp and avoid keeping lots of clutter, as mould can grow on fabrics, paper, wood and almost any surface that collects dust and holds moisture.

One of the partial solutions to this problem is the installation of a dehumidifier. If you are away from your house for a length of time, it is a good idea to leave big bowls of salt in each room. These will act as an absorbing agent for any moisture in the air.

To prevent mould appearing in your home, there are two essential factors.The property must be kept warm in every room if possible and windows must be opened, even if just ajar, to keep ventilation flowing, because it is the cold and thefact that there is no air for the moisture to escape that are responsible for the spread of mould.

As most people know, it is the application of neat bleach with a damp cloth that removes the unsightly mould stains.

Some people might prefer to mix bleach and water but, to be really effective the neatapplication is more efficient.

Once all the stains have been removed, make sure the room is dried out completely before painting it. The only trouble is that, there is always the danger of a re-occurrence of the mouldy stains the following winter.

There is another aspect to the problems of damp and that is water penetrating the walls from outside when it rains. New properties seem more prone to these leaks and perhaps one of the solutions might be the application of a water repellent on the external walls.

It is also advisable that all doors and windows are expertly sealed, as this could cause water penetrating into the house and spreading to adjoining walls causingrising damp.

Until fairly recently, one of the major problems and reasons for all this water penetrating the walls from outside was the fact that properties were built with a single skin. Nowadays there are new construction methods, whereby there have to be double walls with a gap in between to provideinsulation and prevent the water from seeping through. The benefit of insulation is not limited to winter time as good insulation will help keep summer temperatures lower and more comfortable.

The most effective way of insulation is externally but this is often too difficult to achieve in existing structures.

However, the simple truth is that new-build or old-build properties in Malta lack overall constant central heating and thus will always be humid and have varyingdegrees of evident damp.

All this begs the question: is it the building method at fault? Should there be new investigations and new legislation to tackle this problem of damp and mould?

If only the facility of piped gas was available in Malta, and central heating became the norm, then it is highly likely that the problems with damp and mould would become a thing of the past.

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