When it comes to ventilation, many landlords have no strategy at all. This is strange because damp is a widespread problem. It not only affects tenants, who have to put up with the musty odour and unsightly black patches, it affects the landlords who will have to repaint, refurbish, or even re-plaster the walls where it is particularly bad.
Without proper ventilation, you are inviting damp into your property. During the winter, the temperature difference between the interior and exterior causes water to condense. This is why damp is most often found surrounding windows and doors – these areas are where warm, humid air meets a cold surface, causing pools of water to collect.
Damp can affect not only windows and walls, but it can lie hidden under wallpaper, beneath carpets and floorboards, and often in the loft as well.
By creating a strategy, you can overcome the tendency of homes to become muggy and stale smelling during the winter. For the best results, start early, and try thinking long-term.
First of all, it's essential to have a ventilation system in place. This can be as simple as having an extractor fan in the bathroom, or as extensive as installing a condensation-control unit in every room. It's important for you to assess the needs and usages of your household in order to calibrate your own preferences for a system.
On the other hand, if you're more inclined to sit back than to strategise – like an armchair general who focuses mostly upon the armchair – you can give yourself peace of mind with a whole house ventilation system. You can’t always anticipate the kind of tenants you’ll have.
If you're less concerned, you might merely want an extractor fan for the kitchen to control the build-up of damp around the back-door frame.
The point about ventilation strategy is simply that you have one. Because many landlords do not pay this any mind, they end up paying the price instead. By being savvy, you can keep ahead of the savings curve, free up more money to spend on future repairs, and maintain much happier tenants – who are invariably concerned by ghastly mould patches.
Mould is the biggest turn off for tenants considering moving into a property, and 13% of people would rather move out than deal with issues of mould in their own home. Interestingly, this percentage was highest in 16 to 25 year olds and lowest in those aged 55 and above. Since landlords are increasingly letting to students, eliminating mould should be a high priority. (http://www.envirovent.com/specifier/news/article/research-shows-mould-is-biggest-turn-off-when-choosing-a-home/).
Not only is mould a turn off, it is also a positive risk to a tenant’s health. Research shows that it affects those who are allergic to mould, but can also induce respiratory problems in those without any allergies. Furthermore, researchers found a direct link between damp, and coughing, phlegm, and wheezing, with babies and the elderly more affected than others (http://www.nhs.uk/chq/Pages/Can-damp-and-mould-affect-my-health.aspx?CategoryID=87).
Just because mould is not always visible, that doesn't mean it's not there. It can be as pungent as animal smells. Since smell is a factor that influences tenants in their decisions to rent, it is vital to stamp out damp altogether, rather than simply trying to scrub away the visible signs.
Because delays in heating or utilities repair are one of the few instances where tenants are entitled to withhold rent, it is imperative to have a robust ventilation system in place before anyone moves in.
At the moment, this usually refers to broken down boilers or thermostats. However, recent regulations over energy efficiency in homes suggests that government control over the quality of building stock and quality assurance for tenants is increasing (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/05/landlords-draughty-homes-ban).
The UK Green Building Council is introducing these measures to protect the existing stock of buildings in the UK. Damp is a serious problem that can cause plaster to crumble and floorboards to moulder. This means that it is better to have a long-term strategy in place, because it's likely that tenants will soon be able to challenge landlords over a greater number of inadequacies.
The best way of reviewing your strategy is to look over the floor plan of your house. As the summer cools down, try getting up early to check the windows in your property. Condensation means that humidity levels are too high, so if you already have extractors in your bathroom and kitchen, you need to consider broadening your strategy.
However, damp is an elusive creature, so the window test is not conclusive. Be sure to check inside wardrobes, behind cupboards, and under fridges and freezers. Try to imagine the cold parts of your home and check them, because this is where you're likely to find the condensation.
Try to combine your ventilation strategy with your insulation strategy. Not many landlords realise that efficient insulation goes hand in hand with effective ventilation. This is because, as you install energy-efficient double glazing, or seal your pipes, you are cutting off the interior air from the air outside. This allows your property to retain heat effectively. However, it also means moisture cannot escape. A good rule of thumb to follow is: the more heat efficiency you have, the more ventilation you need.
While these two strategies require investment in the short-term, they secure massive savings in the long-term.
If you've found your property failing any of these tests, consider either a smaller insulation unit such as a Mr Venty for an affected room in the house – because lofts are particularly affected by damp, you may want to start there. However, if you prefer peace of mind to piecemeal, you should aim to install a whole house ventilation system. These systems can connect to and ventilate every room in the house, keeping them feeling fresh and smelling sublime.