You will need to start with a clean slate if you want to banish mould
Peeling wallpaper, condensation, patches of damp? You may have a mould problem. Tanya Sweeney gets some expert help
Irish homes can often be a paradise for mould. Our climate is warm and damp, and many of our houses are old or not properly ventilated, making mould, dampness and condensation perennial issues.
Spores are free floating in the cleanest air, and are opportunists looking for a suitable moist, damp, environment to set up camp and thrive. According to quantity surveyor Oliver Hold, many Irish homes provide just that.
"Often, mould is linked to the weather - we have a colder climate - but it's also linked to the way houses are built," he explains.
"Older houses have less insulation and poorer heating systems, and are not adequately ventilated. In many apartments, electric storage heaters don't provide sufficient heating in some rooms - the right heating system should circulate the air and form a convection current that forces the air to move into other rooms.
"The causes of condensation can be anything from cooking and drying clothes to taking showers - the things we have to do on a day-to-day basis. Our homes are just not set up adequately to deal with this moist air."
Architect Paula Murphy adds: "Mould happens when you have too high a level of moisture in the air, and it hits against the surface. If you don't have the essential ventilation in a room, that will create a damp stagnant air.
"You will have difficulties with a poorly insulated house and if you have an older, poorly insulated house where you introduce a hyper-modern heating system.
The issue can range in severity - some homeowners might experience 'effervescent, furry' patches of spores, right up to swathes of black spores, says Deirdre Farrelly, of Mould Solutions (mouldsolutions.ie),.
"We often get correspondence saying 'we have a little bit of mould', and you open the picture they send and you're looking at a whole wall covered in black," says Farrelly.
"It's a minefield as every property is different, but apartments and new builds are particularly at risk - the latter are made airtight because of new building regulations. When no air is circulating, moulds can fester and build up. And these days, it's not unusual to see six or seven people living in a small rental property."
And a busier home means more showers and meals and… well, you get the gist.
Coupled with our lifestyles, the lack of ventilation also means that damp air and condensation are not sufficiently removed from rooms.
As pesky problems go, house mould isn't just an unsightly nuisance; it can be a bigger health hazard than many of us even realise.
Naturally occurring moulds can range from benign spores to serious allergens, like mycotoxic Stachybotrys, many of which can attach to organic substances like plaster, wallpaper and carpet.
In some cases, exposure to damp and mouldy environments may cause throat irritation, coughing, skin irritation and even lung issues for those with mould allergies or asthma.
Herein lies the rub for many Irish homeowners: temptation is rife to scrub the mould-infested area down with warm soapy water and possibly cover the offending area with a lick of paint.
"People often don't do anything until they see black spots [on walls or windowsills]," explains Oliver Hold.
"As a start you need to get some bleach spray and remove it, but ultimately you will need to get to the root cause."
Mould regenerating from persistent spores has a high risk of reappearing; essentially, the property structure needs to be assessed professionally in order to pinpoint a moisture problem. Improving the insulation in the attic can help warm up the ceiling and reduce condensation.
Many homeowners, too, note that the use of a dehumidifier, which can collect up to 10 litres of water a day from the air in a typical damp house, can be a help when it comes to controlling air moisture.
Some people install a plastic ceiling mould over their original ceiling: "You'll still get the condensation forming, but you'll be able to wipe clean that surface more easily," says Hold.
"But it certainly doesn't tackle the issue. Ideally, getting the right advice from a quantity surveyor is a good place to start."
Murphy is in agreement that damp and mould issues need to be tackled on a level deeper than the merely cosmetic.
"If you have mould, you have to solve the source without just covering it up," she notes. "Often, people are only touching at the surface - there's a very good chance that mould might be in behind walls or wardrobe panels that we just cannot see."
Job done on addressing the underlying problem, some wall/ceiling finishes might be more beneficial than others. "Gloss paint finishes are oil-based so that would be a more resilient, wipe-clean surface, whereas emulsion paint surfaces are more porous and absorb the condensation or damp, making it a nice growth area for mould and black spores," adds Hold.
Household products are available in local supermarkets, but as Deirdre Farrelly notes: "Most people have tried that by the time they get to us. We have derived a formula that washes on to walls. We leave it there to treat, and often we may take up a carpet or need to throw out soft furnishings. Typically, we'd install a vent next to an external wall. Painting with a fungicide coating is only effective once you've killed the mould first. You need to start from a clean slate so that you're giving it every chance to stay away."