“Going Green” in more ways than one: The Condensation Conundrum

Is the emphasis on going green making our homes more open to the threat of condensation?

codensation

This article is certainly not going to disparage the effort the government is making to get the country going green. However, amongst all of the green retrofitting measures that are constantly being released, more and more households seem to be suffering with condensation. Bearing this in mind, is the emphasis on green construction making our homes more open to the threat of this mould-inducing defect?

Unfortunately, there are no statistics to prove that condensation is now more evident than ever. It would certainly be a difficult survey to initiate and for this reason, you’re just going to have to take the word of this article – and probably most building surveyors out there. Alternatively, if you take a look at this page, you’ll see that a lot of older properties are being affected by the condition – with this due to the fact that alterations made in attempts at going green have over the years prevented them ‘breathing’ as efficiently.

The purpose of a lot of green schemes is to improve the thermal efficiency of a home. The following lists some of the most common actions at the moment, and highlights how they are all contributing to the big condensation problem that is evident in the country.

Double Glazed Windows

They have been deemed the saviour of British housing and personally, I’d struggle to live in a property without double glazing at the moment. However, they have only contributed to the ‘envelope effect’ – i.e. making a house absolutely air tight so it’s almost impossible for natural ventilation to occur.

Super Insulation Panels

SIPs are an even bigger threat in this regard. Take a look at most modern buildings being erected around you and you’ll see most of them using super insulated panel technology. Will it make them more thermally efficient? Absolutely, in fact, it will drive energy bills down substantially. Unfortunately, in going green this way they are sealing the property even more and significantly increasing the risks of condensation.

On the subject of SIPs it should also be said that a lot of local authority initiatives are installing these panels on existing properties. It’s usually classed as solid wall insulation and if you were to analyse the figures from the Energy Saving Trust, it can knock hundreds of pounds off the typical energy bill. Again, it comes at a cost though…

Wood Burning Stoves

The previous two technologies both encourage condensation by sealing the house and this also happens to affect wood burning stoves. Similar stoves were used centuries ago and householders didn’t have any such concerns, as construction of the homes meant that there were tiny air holes around openings which always meant there was a natural form of ventilation. Needless to say, these no longer exist and due to the immense heat that these stoves provide, excess moisture will start to gather on the cold spots around windows and external walls.

While only three green technologies have been touched on, it’s obvious to see that the effects of condensation could be attributed to many more. Any form of draught proofing will naturally promote the problem further, as will most insulation systems.

The problem is more related to the design of properties, rather than the green solutions themselves. For example, older buildings were not designed to be altered in such a way that limits their breathability. The same can be said for newer properties although with developers now more aware of the perils of condensation, most new buildings arrive armed with extensive ventilation measures such as trickle vents and mechanical systems. Part F of the building regulations is also addressing this.

What Can Prevent The Condensation?

Obviously, people aren’t going to stop going green now that we are all becoming aware of the importance of our environment. Additionally, the government are not suddenly going to withdraw support just because a selection of homes are struggling to deal with the effects of condensation.

Unfortunately, the problem will exist for centuries to come. New homes will be better prepared, but older properties that have had to adapt to modern heating methods will be lumbered with condensation problems until they are demolished.

Of course, there are ways around the problem. First and foremost, if your condensation has already started forming, be sure to treat it immediately. It’s now possible to purchase sprays capable of removing black mould, and this is essential as any standard cleaning methods are rendered useless in relation to mould-growth. While water might temporarily fix the problem, over time it will actually worsen it and the mould will start to spread.

If you’ve yet to reach the above stage, you’re obviously in luck and it’s time to use everything at your home’s disposal to live with green solutions, but prevent condensation at the same time. If your property has trickle vents, make sure they are regularly used as these will do an ample job of ventilating a room which is being heated. Similarly, don’t be tempted to do the famous trick of blocking ventilation squares to prevent a draught. There’s a reason why wood burning stoves are governed by tight regulations, it’s to stop this practice occurring as it’s a sure fire way to promote condensation (and potentially poison you, although that’s another matter).

Elsewhere, it’s all about living sensibly. The modern family dries washing, showers and heats water on a day to day basis and this all contributes moisture to the air. As we’ve reiterated through this article, this moisture is now unable to escape due to the envelopes that homes are now built in. This means that you have got to aid the ventilation yourself, whether it’s opening those trickle vents, keeping a constant temperature in your home or just opening windows.

A Closing Thought

It should again be reiterated that this is not an anti-green contribution. Unfortunately, the development of construction technology and green solutions means that condensation is something that has to be accepted in a lot of older buildings. Newer homes are being designed slightly differently to accommodate advancements in heating solutions, yet anyone who has taken advantage of something that has ‘sealed’ their home should be prepared to alter their lifestyle and accept the potential condensation repercussions that can occur.

Article written by Mike Richardson

Image by Mary Hutchison

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