When we first came to look at our flat, before we bought it, it must have been summertime. Everything looked absolutely fine and there were no signs of anything worrying. However, the son of one of my friends had previously rented the flat and my friend informed me that there was a bit of a damp and mould problem. It was hard to believe given that there were no obvious signs of this at all.
We bought the flat anyway, and we moved in in October. As the colder, wetter weather crept in, it quickly became clear that she was right. We started to see small signs of mould on the inside of the exterior walls in the second bedroom, particularly around the ceiling and around the window. It wasn’t a massive problem by any stretch of the imagination, but given that we were expecting a baby in December, and this particular room was to be the baby’s bedroom, it was a worry.
Over the next few months, I did a lot of research about the kinds of things we could do to help reduce and eliminate the mould problem. For example, the extractor fan in the bathroom was old and ineffective so when we renovated the bathroom we replaced it with something much more powerful. We did the same when we renovated the kitchen. We replaced the extractor with one that automatically detects humidity levels and switches itself on accordingly. And we also replaced the cooker hood and vented it outside.
Last year, we also renovated the little room under our stairs and made it into a utility room. This meant that we could move the washing machine and tumble dryer out of the flat. The tumble dryer, which was a condenser dryer, had always chucked huge amounts of humidity into the air and when it was on, the air was noticeably thicker, heavier and warmer.
Once we had made these changes we noticed a big difference in the amount of mould that was forming. We went from having to clean it off the walls every few months to only having a few tiny spots up near the ceiling above the window.
However, being the paranoid mum that I am, I just couldn’t stop worrying about whether all these factors could be affecting our indoor air quality and consequently our health. The situation had definitely improved but I was still concerned that we needed to improve our air quality. The girls were frequently waking up with a blocked nose which would clear after a few hours and I was worried it was caused by the air quality in the bedroom.
We spend up to 90% of our time inside buildings. During that time, we breathe over 11,000 litres of air per day. It’s time to find out exactly what is in the air we breathe.
I mentioned to my husband back in January that perhaps we should look into getting an indoor air quality test and strangely, within a few hours, I was followed by a company called Airtopia on Twitter.
Airtopia is a service designed to make people aware of the need to care for their internal air by offering Home Health Checks. I explained the conversation I’d just had with my husband and the reasons why I was worried about our air quality and Airtopia asked if I would like to try their indoor air quality test in return for sharing the experience with my readers.
In the UK, we have soaring rates of asthma, allergies and respiratory conditions. It is estimated that up to 50% of all illnesses are either aggravated by the home or can be attributed to the home environment.
Now, I know that a lot of people in the UK live with the effects of damp and mould caused by condensation. In fact, according to Envirovent, one in five households in the UK are affected by condensation. As we attempt to make our homes more energy efficient by adding double glazing, cavity wall insulation and loft installation, we reduce the natural ventilation. We are effectively sealing ourselves inside our homes causing high levels of humidity which eventually lead to condensation and mould issues. There is even a name for it – Toxic Home Syndrome – and it affects 15 million homes in the UK alone (source: Envirovent).
For Clean Air Day (21 June) last year, Airtopia commissioned a survey to help them discover the levels of understanding around indoor air quality in the UK and the results showed that nearly half of UK adults are not aware of the causes of indoor air pollution. In fact, only a third of those individuals have ever even thought about indoor air pollution.
Given these shocking figures, I knew that sharing my experience of an indoor air quality test would be an interesting post and would hopefully provide some food for thought for people who weren’t aware of the risks. I’d already had a great response to the post I write about whether your mattress could be triggering your allergies. So I knew that this was something that may interest you guys.
So on the 8th January 2019, we had a visit from an Airtopia Analyst who came to perform our Home Health Check. Kelly was a lovely gentleman who was very attentive and took every care to make sure I knew what was going to happen during the test and why. The visit started with Kelly placing some equipment in various rooms in my home. He said he needed to let it run for a specific amount of time so that he could collect the necessary samples for the indoor air quality test.
The machines measure various things:
- humidity and temperature
- Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)
- Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds (MVOCs)
- Carbon Dioxide
The process took a while as the machines had to be moved from room to room to make sure the test was as comprehensive as possible. While we waited for the gizmos to do their thing, Kelly asked me a series of questions from a detailed questionnaire which helped to build a picture of the health of our home environment.
The questions included things like how often we do our laundry, if we ever dry clothes on the radiators, how often we shower, cook, if we use air fresheners or light candles, how often we open the windows etc. Basically, the survey is designed to find out what kind of activities go on in your home that may lead to air quality issues.
I was really quite worried that the results might show that the health of our children was being put at risk due to poor air quality and the resulting issues with condensation and mould. But I knew that by going through this process we would at least learn how to improve matters further and turn our home into a healthy and safe place to live and breathe.
Once Kelly’s machines had finished taking their samples and we had finished the questionnaire, he packed up all his equipment and informed me that the results would take a few weeks to come back as the samples had to be sent off to the laboratory for analysis. But he did reassure me at the time that he hadn’t spotted anything alarming. That was a relief.
The full report came through in the first week of February. I was so happy to finally see the results and have my mind put to ease. The results are shown in a really easy-to-understand format. The colour-coded scale is similar to what you find on electrical household goods or on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC).
The results that I was most pleased with were the humidity test and the mould and damp test. I’m pretty sure the humidity would have been a lot worse before we made the changes I described earlier, so it was nice to know that our actions had been worthwhile.
Whilst I was chatting with Kelly, he did give me some personal recommendations that I could implement to further improve things. He suggested that we open the windows and air the flat out every day. Now, this is something I knew I should be doing but up to that point we hadn’t. The reason was that I didn’t want windows open in the middle of winter when the girls were at home but if I opened them in the morning before we all left for work and school, they would have to stay open all day and all the heat would escape from the house.
However, I started working from home in January, so now I simply open the windows as we leave for the school run, and shut them again when I get home 45 mins later. This has made a huge difference to the air quality and we can tell simply from breathing. The air is definitely fresher.
Kelly also recommended that we keep all the doors open at night when we are asleep and even to crack a window to let fresh air in at night. He said that lack of fresh air can impact your sleep and leave you waking up very cranky. Well, our girls were previously waking up in foul moods, but since we have been doing this they definitely seem happier in the morning. So that advice is something we’ll be following from now on.
All in all, the experience of having our indoor air quality test by Airtopia is definitely one that I would recommend. Indoor air quality may not be high on your list of priorities, but if you have any concerns at all, it is certainly worth looking into. Most people don’t associate health problems with the air in their homes. They often get used to regular headaches or stuffy noses or streaming eyes. Because you can’t see the toxins in their air, it’s easy not to realise that this could be causing poor health.
Have you ever had your indoor air quality tested? Do you think you might consider it? Let me know in the comments below.