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Five Tips to Minimise Mould Risk After Lockdown

Five Tips to Minimise Mould Risk After Lockdown
17 March 2021

The temporary shutdown of a building can create hazards for returning occupants, one being mould where there is humidity and lack of ventilation. 

Stuart Kerr, Managing Director at Restorations UK, provides a step-by-step guide for facilities managers on how prevent mould growth in buildings during the winter season to maintain a safe working environment for returning occupants.

Stuart has been involved in the restoration industry for over 25 years and started his own company Restorations UK which is part of Swift Cleaning Services Ltd in 1992. Since then Restorations UK became one of the largest independent fire and flood restoration companies in the UK, specialising in high net worth claims, large commercial claims and claims that need dealing with quickly reducing costs to the insurance companies.


"After a temporary shutdown, or reduced operation, a building can develop issues that become hazards for its residents. During periods of inactivity, all kinds of hazards can discreetly develop within properties, especially where maintenance has been inconsistent."


Mitigating Mould Hazards


Understanding how to mitigate mould hazards after a building has been shutdown can be the difference between living with risk or being without it. 

After a temporary shutdown, or reduced operation, a building can develop issues that become hazards for its residents. During periods of inactivity, all kinds of hazards can discreetly develop within properties, especially where maintenance has been inconsistent.

From contamination, down to plumbing corrosion, hazards multiply when a property is vacant. Yet, one of the most frequently occurring hazards is mould, which often develops even after brief periods of inactivity. The cause is most often attributed to humidity and lack of ventilation. A building only has to be inactive for a matter of days before mould can develop, which will largely depend on the conditions of a property, the season (especially wintertime), and different weather.

Experts in mould removal and remediation rely on trusted processes to manage unwelcome growths of fungi. The best solution is always prevention – but mould can develop discreetly. If this happens, then remediation describes the process of treating an environment until it’s naturally cured of toxic or damaging mould and other fungal outgrowths. Minimizing mould risk is a crucial task for a facility manager. If a building has been left unattended, especially during the winter, consider these expert tips to help it recover from hazards and mould damage. This will help when it comes to preventing future outbreaks.


Why is Mould a Hazard?


Typically, mould is identifiable by its signs of property damage or effects on human health with cold-like symptoms. Mould develops visibly as a rash of spores, which forms on interior walls and corners. Mould is certainly unsightly, but it’s often identifiable through changes in the natural smell of a property, too. If it seems musty or damp, then mould could be developing nearby.

Mould has long been considered a health and safety hazard, which can develop on a variety of surfaces, including tiles, on carpets, wallpapers, and other fabrics. This is often because of certain conditions within the property, particularly if the building is exposed to dampness, excessive moisture, or condensation. Often innocent leaks or more serious floods can create conditions for mould to thrive and develop within a property.

Mould develops problematically, undermining a building’s integrity and compliance with safety codes. Where mould feeds on organic matter like wood, it creates unsightly surface damage to a building’s interior. Where this is mostly superficial damage, albeit still costly for facilities managers, mould can be a symptom of buildings with higher levels of moisture. This can, if left untreated by experts, accelerate deterioration and rot, which runs deeper than surface imperfections, but creates costly structural damage.

Mould is just as hazardous on a building’s health as it is for the residents of a property, whether they are employees or inhabitants. According to the Centre of Disease Control (or CDC), mould is ‘toxigenic’ and can undermine human health either by causing allergic reactions or by polluting air quality for those with asthma and other repository conditions.


Preventing and Minimising Mould Risk


Whilst prevention is the best method when it comes to minimizing mould hazards, the discreet nature of fungal developments can make it harder to identify, especially if a building has been vacant or inactive for a long period of time. This is a crucial task for a facilities manager and should form part of their early inspections after returning to an inactive building.


1. Manage Humidity Levels


Mould is more receptive to certain conditions, particularly when humidity levels are opportunistic for fungal growth, or above 50 per cent. Property managers should regularly assess and evaluate indoor humidity levels, using the proper equipment, such as a digital hygrometer. This process of monitoring for mould based on humidity levels should be consistent and performed as routinely as once or twice daily, especially because mould growth can be accelerated under humidity and spread within days.


2. Perform a Risk Assessment


No matter the length of the shutdown, an unoccupied building should be inspected for mould growth, dampness, any signs of fungal growth, or other irregularities. Assesses the premise thoroughly with expert guidance and if mould is identified treat it through a specialist process of remediation.

Identify mould or other compromises in a building should be a starting priority for its reopening, long before any members of the public or staff are invited back. Risk assessments should quickly identify areas affected by mould, which will need specialist treatment to ensure future outbreaks can be prevented.


3. Assess Plumbing


Similar to ventilation, mould breeds and multiplies when the conditions are favourable. Plumbing failures, like leaks, are opportunistic for this kind of hazard. That’s because moisture will help mould materialise in hard to clean spots. Areas that seep or leak moisture are hotspots for mould growth – this is commonly around piping or unsealed window frames or doorways. These areas are most likely to attract mould, so evaluate any places impacted by moisture.

If moisture levels climb, then a restoration consultation will guide you through the process of recovery, returning your building to its former state.


4. Assess Ventilation


All systems - including HVAC – are great hideaways for mould, which can make this damage seem invisible, especially if fungal growths are disguised behind vents. If a building has been temporarily shut down, the HVAC systems are likely to be dormant, and thus creates a breeding ground for unhygienic activity. This is worsened if the system is then activated after dormancy, because the fresh air will pollinate other spaces within the building with mould spores, allowing it to travel.

When it comes to identifiable inflammations of mould in vents, ensure the building’s ventilation is cleaned thoroughly. Containing the mould growth is key after identification because you have a window of opportunity to prevent it spreading. 


5. HVAC Programme


Develop a strategy for your HVAC and ventilation system, which will impact the building’s air quality. Ensure it is tested and balanced, working to a satisfactory operation standard and efficiency. There is an opportunity, when a premise has recovered from a mould outbreak, to build an HVAC programme that helps prevent future hazards. This should take into consideration hygiene, operational efficiency, and inspection of all system parts.

A strong ventilation system is the lungs of a building, allowing it to freely breath oxygen and thus promoting better human health of its occupants.

Picture: a photograph of the corner of a window with some mould

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 17 March 2021


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