Maintaining or adapting your home

A healthy home

Our immediate environment plays an important role in our health. There are a number of things that you can do to keep your home safe and healthy.

Cold
21°C is a healthy room temperature. A temperature that drops below 19°C introduces some small health risks. Anything below 16°C can lead to more serious risks for heart and respiratory conditions because cold air causes problems for breathing and puts strain on the heart. At temperatures below 10°C there is a risk of developing hypothermia.

During the winter months, the death rate in England increases. Most of these deaths are due to heart attacks, stroke and respiratory problems. This is greater for people over the age of 45 and the risk increases with age. People over 85 are at substantially higher risk.

You must therefore keep warm during the winter. If you are elderly and struggling to pay your heating bills you may qualify for a winter fuel allowance.

Damp
Damp occurs in the home when there is a build up of condensation or excess moisture. This is a problem because damp can help bacteria and fungus grow leading to mould build up. Damp can also attract pests. It can be caused by leaking pipes, rain leaking in from the roof or window frame, or by a faulty damp course.

To prevent damp you should try to make sure your home is well ventilated, by opening your windows more for example. You should also make sure you cover any boiling water or foods and dry your clothes outside. If the weather means you have to dry clothes inside, dry them in the bathroom with the door shut and the windows open. Making sure your loft is well insulated will also help control damp.

Mould
Mould is a fungus that grows on damp surfaces. Mould can build up in your home if the air is damp and surfaces are not kept clean and dry. It is most common in places like window sills, carpets and walls, especially in the kitchen and bathroom, where it may appear as black, green or brownish discolouration in corners, between tiles and on surfaces.

Having a build up of mould in your home can pose health risks because the mould releases spores which are small enough for us to breathe in. Being around a lot of mould can lead to:

  • throat, eye and nose irritation
  • coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath
  • allergic reactions

Children, the elderly, people will poor immune systems and those with respiratory problems are particularly at risk of the effects of mould.

To prevent mould affecting your health you should reduce moisture in your house by keeping the rooms well ventilated. Keep surfaces clean and dry, and open windows after taking a shower or bath or when cooking, to let steam escape.

You should clean away any mould you find with soapy water and dry immediately. If mould has built up, you can use a special mould-killing spray, but be careful to follow the manufacturer's instructions and use only in well-ventilated areas.

If you have mould growing frequently in your home, you should inform your landlord or your local environmental health team, as this may be a sign of an underlying problem such as damp or a malfunctioning extractor fan.

Dust
Having a dusty home can lead to breathing problems and allergic reactions. You should dust regularly using a damp cloth (if you use a dry cloth, you risk moving the dust from the surface into the air). You should also vacuum regularly. To prevent dust and dust mites in your bed, you should use mattress and pillow protectors and vacuum your mattress on a regular basis.

Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas which can have fatal effects. It is emitted from heating appliances, cooking appliances and exhausts. When these appliances are working properly, carbon monoxide should be safely vented into the open air, but if vents or flues become blocked, it can build up inside the home.

Symptoms of low level carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • headache (the most common symptom)
  • dizziness
  • nausea/vomiting
  • difficulty breathing
  • tiredness
  • confusion
  • stomach pain

More severe symptoms occur at higher levels of poisoning such as:

  • ataxia (poor motor coordination)
  • feeling intoxicated
  • seizures
  • loss of consciousness
  • death from poisoning

Pregnant women, babies, young children, the elderly and people with heart and breathing problems are especially at risk of poisoning. If you or anyone you know is showing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, you should seek medical advice immediately.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning you should install a carbon monoxide alarm and make sure appliances are well ventilated and serviced regularly. You should never use outdoor cookers/heaters indoors and never start cars, trucks or lawn mowers in enclosed spaces.

Pest control

If you have a problem with pests you could try reading an online advice guide to take action yourself. The British Pest Control Association (BPCA)provides an A-Z of pests with advice on how to deal with each pest (such as insects and mammals).

If this does not work you may like to call in a professional pest controller.  When looking for a pest controller, make sure you:

  • get at least three quotations
  • find out if there is a call out fee or fixed charge
  • find out what service and guarantee they will provide you
  • check they have insurance cover
  • check their qualifications (a certificate in Pest Control from the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health (RSPH) or the BPCA)
  • are happy with them and understand the advice they give
  • consider personal recommendations from friends, neighbours or colleagues

If bait is used your pest controller will need to visit a few times to inspect the bait and keep it topped up. He or she should also carry out a final inspection once the programme is complete to ensure no bait is left behind.

If rodenticides are used, your pest controller should carry out an environmental assessment to consider the possible threats to wildlife and domestic animals. 

Council tenants

If you are a council tenant and you are concerned about pests, please contact your estate manager to report the problem.

Private sector tenants

If you are renting in the private sector and you are concerned about pests, in the first instance you should contact your landlord to report the problem. Depending on the pest problem it may not be your landlord’s responsibility to deal with the pests however they may be able to help you find a solution. Alternatively if you need to deal with the problem yourself please follow the advice for householders above. 

Hoarding
Some of us are more prone to clutter. This can be harmless, but if it becomes excessive it can be a health and safety hazard as it becomes difficult to clean and dust, can help pests spread and can pose a risk for trips and falls. The thought of de-cluttering or tidying can be very overwhelming if you tend to hoard things, but it's important to try to keep your home as clutter-free as you can. For more information see the page on clutter and hoarding.

Health or hygiene issues with your home
If there is a problem in your home that you think poses health risks, you should contact your landlord. If you feel that your landlord is not taking your concerns seriously you can contact your local environmental health team.

For more information on getting help with health, hygiene and other issues in your home, visit our page on your rights to a healthy home.

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