Guide to Condensation

Posted: 23rd Nov 2016

As the seasons change to winter, certain common problems faced by many landlords of buy to let property begin to raise their heads once again.

One of the most common headaches is condensation – a problem which the Residential Landlords’ Association (RLA), says is probably the single most frequent cause for complaint by tenants to their local council.

But the risk to landlords is not only the possibility of complaints by tenants, but the action that might be taken by local authorities in response to those complaints. If your let property is a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) or subject to the local council’s selective licensing regime, it is almost certain going to be subject to an assessment under the Housing Health & Safety Rating (HHSR) system, which may also be used in respect of any property for which the tenant has asked the council to perform or one which the council itself considers necessary.

If you fail to take remedial action on problems raised by an HHSR, the council issue an enforcement notice to ensure that the repairs or alterations are made, warns the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.

The cost of such remedial action and repairs and modifications made is not an item covered by your landlord insurance – even when provided by buy to let insurance specialists such as ourselves here at Cover4LetProperty.

Condensation and damp

Condensation occurs naturally and happens when warm, moist air, produced by the thoroughly normal business of cooking and bathing or showering, meets with cold surfaces such as exterior doors and windows.

Unless the space inside a building is properly and efficiently ventilated, that damp air finds its way to the nearest cold surface and condenses. When the temperature of the air cools because it has reached the cold surface of an outside window, wall or door, it condenses in droplets of water. This is the point at which the moist air reaches what is called its dew point.

As the British weather reaches that time of the year once again and temperature begin to fall, problems with condensation become more pronounced.

The reason for many complaints from tenants and the inclusion of condensation in any HHSR inspection is because of its potential health hazard. Condensation, and the frequently damp conditions it produces, encourages the growth of mould on the walls of infected buildings.

Mould is made up of minute spores which contain allergens (which can give you an allergic reaction), potentially toxic substances and irritants. So, when you breathe in or touch those spores, they can prompt and allergic reaction, leading to a runny nose, skin rashes and red eyes. The spores may also bring on asthma attacks in those suffering from the condition.

The National Health Service (NHS) is unequivocal in its view that mould and damp represent significant health risks, such as respiratory problems, respiratory infections and other breathing problems, asthma and allergies – to which the young, elderly, those with existing respiratory conditions or asthma, and those with low immune defences may be especially vulnerable.

Dealing with condensation

So, how can you fight these allied enemies of condensation, damp and mould?

Here are a few tips and suggestions:

  • described as one of the most common problems found in properties in Bristol, for instance, mould growth and damp may be responsible for fungal growth, mould and dust motes, but the risks might quite easily be mitigated by making sure that the heating system is working efficiently, the installation of extractors fans and by ensuring that windows open properly for greater ventilation;
  • but there are also ways in which you might encourage your tenants to help themselves over problems involving condensation;
  • bathing, washing and cooking of course are some of the principal sources of water vapour in the air – which then condenses – so you might concentrate on ways of reducing the volume of water vapour produced;
  • encourage tenants to turn off the shower and taps once they’ve finished using them and to consider opening a window when they are taking their bath – and, of course, using any extractor fan you might have installed;
  • the same goes for their use of the kitchen, when an open window or use of the extractor fan is going to help reduce the amount of steam inevitably generated in the process of cooking;
  • after doing their washing, of course, your tenants are going to want to dry their clothes, but tell them not to do this by draping them over the radiator, since this produces a considerable volume of water vapour – if you install a vented tumble drier, therefore, you might not only be doing your tenants a favour, but also helping to keep your let accommodation free of condensation;
  • surveyors Miller Metcalfe, however, suggest that more serious problems with condensation – particularly in tracing its causes – may be something on which you need professional advice;
  • depending on the principal causes the problem, remedial measures might include an upgrade of your let property’s heating system, the replacement of windows and doors, or general improvements in the effectiveness of ventilation in the home;
  • maintaining an even, ambient heat in the property might be especially important in cold weather, since it reduces the sharp difference in temperature as air hits cold walls, doors and windows – and maintaining this ambient temperature might be more important still when the occupants are out at work for most of the day;
  • persuading your tenants to spend money on relatively expensive fuel costs may of course be difficult for you to do as their landlord, but the more efficient the heating system you install and the more sophisticated the control systems available to tenants, the more likely are they to play their part in helping to mitigate risks of condensation.

Condensation, damp and the growth of unsightly and health threatening mould pose a triple-pronged headache for landlords of buy to let property. But it is the health hazard of condensation and growth of mould that it encourages that is most likely to prompt complaints by your tenants to the local council, which might in its turn investigate the problem and impose measure you must take to remedy the problem.

It is in your tenants and your own interests, therefore, to understand the sources of condensation, ways of mitigating its effects, and taking appropriate measure to prevent or at least control the problem.