A healthy home
We all know the environment around us plays an important role in our health. There are a number of things that you can do to keep your home safe and healthy.
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.
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 certain 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 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, eyes 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 an environmental health officer, as this may be a sign of an underlying problem such as damp or a malfunctioning extractor fan.
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 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)
- Difficulty breathing
- Stomach pain
More severe symptoms occur at higher levels of poisoning such as:
- Ataxia (poor motor coordination)
- Feeling intoxicated
- Loss of consciousness
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.
There are many different kinds of pests that can invade your home at any time of year. Whether it's rats, mice, cockroaches, flies or anything else, they all pose risks to your health.
To avoid any unwanted infestations you should try to keep a tidy home and make sure you block any holes or gaps through which pests might get into your home. Make sure you keep your food packed away in plastic or metal containers, and as high up as you can. You should also avoid leaving any pet food out over night and make sure any rubbish or compost is covered and sealed. Preventing damp should also help you to avoid pests because some insects are drawn to moist conditions. If you feed birds in your garden, be sure to use a birdfeeder as opposed to just throwing bread or seeds on the ground. Any food that is accessible to other animals will attract pests to your home.
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 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 you try to keep your home as clutter-free as you can.
To make the task less overwhelming and more achievable, try making a schedule of smaller tasks and then work through each task in order. Start by sorting things into piles and sort each pile before moving on to something else. It might help if you tackle a different room each day to make the task more manageable.
If you think you have a hoarding problem, or you're worried about someone, you should speak to a GP who may recommend treatment, perhaps in the form of counselling, to help with the hoarding behaviour. Hoarding can sometimes be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder or anxiety.
A person with hoarding issues may be eligible for support from the local council to address the problem following an assessment of the person's needs.
You can find out a lot more about hoarding from the NHS website.
Hoarding can greatly increase the risk of fire in your home - the London Fire Brigade have produced a leaflet with tips for hoarders on how to reduce the risk of fire.
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.
Kensington and Chelsea
Homes4Health supports residents of Kensington and Chelsea who live in homes where there are problems with cold, poor insulation or damp, dangerous electrical installations, broken steps or banisters, or other issues which could pose a risk to the health of residents.
They can offer information and advice, and in some cases may be able to access grants to help you to improve the condition of your home.
Hammersmith and Fulham
Green Doctor is a partnership of London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham with Groundwork London to help make your home warmer, saving you money and improving your health. Green Doctor visits provide guidance on efficient energy usage in the home, understanding heating systems and installation of small energy measures.
A Warm Homes Advice Service is available to residents of Westminster, and provided by Groundwork. Green Doctors offer energy advice, small measures (draught proofing/changing light-bulbs), and potentially larger measures e.g. insulation. The service is available to anyone over the age of 65, on a low income or who has a long-term health condition or disability. The Green Doctors will also explain how to make your home energy efficient, install energy saving devices and offer impartial advice on switching energy providers.
The City of Westminster also has a Home Improvement Agency, which supports residents to maintain independence and live comfortably and safely in their own homes. This includes providing assistance with repairs, improvements and adaptations in your home as well as specific grants for helping victims of burglary and domestic violence.
If you would like to receive independent advice on housing, or on benefits, legal issues, accessing care and support, your rights as a carer, and a range of other issues, then you can contact Citizens Advice Westminster