Let’s talk about mould…
A few years ago I was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease called CIDP, the chronic version for Guillain-Barré syndrome. It started with pins and needles in both feet, migrated to the rest of my legs and started in my fingers and hands with a gradual loss of sensitivity. Then came muscle weakness and loss of balance and before the final diagnosis (after a few scans and tests, and a good 3-4 months down the line from the first symptoms) I was hobbling and finding it hard to do all the things a mum of two young children was supposed to do.
What’s this got to do with mould I hear you ask? To be honest, I don’t know for sure. But after 5 years on steroids, and a very disfiguring flare-up of rosacea (also classed as auto-immune), I decided it was time I tried to find out what was really wrong with my body. After various inconclusive exclusion tests, experimenting with diet, I decided to pay for an expensive state-of-the-art blood test that looked at secondary antibody reactions to a very comprehensive list of foods and proteins.
Among the more usual suspects (gluten, egg) were some curve balls, not least a very clear reaction to yeast. My nutritional therapist informed me, much to my dismay, that this included wine and vinegar, aged cheese, any fermented food in fact. But it also meant there was a link to household mould, which, although I thought I kept generally at bay as much as a busy working mum could, I had never really worried too much about (those patches where the water stagnates on the bathroom window sill, the badly ventilated corner of the extension, the window frame in the bedroom, the door seal of the washing machine…).
And even though it was my job to design good ventilation for other people’s buildings, and introduce those same standards to large-scale residential projects, the reality was that most people’s homes were just like mine: new and old houses alike that are poorly ventilated and damp are prone to mould growth that is known to be damaging to health and may even have impacts like the ones I had experienced on my immune system, presumably as part of a perfect storm of a genetic predisposition, stress and lack of sleep.
This is one of the reasons why I am making it my mission to introduce as many people as possible to the Passive House standard. Because although it is primarily known for its energy credentials – Passive House certified buildings on average consume approximately 70% less than their business-as-usual counterparts – it originated as a quality standard for the indoor environment: by insisting on controlled ventilation (with heat recovery) and higher surface temperatures on the inside (a direct result of triple glazing and high insulation performance), mould growth is perpetually inhibited.
It’s time we lifted the curtain on badly conceived, poorly constructed and ill-maintained dwellings, as more and more of us try to make the house we live in a healthy home fit for the future.