'Mould food': Former Tasmanian lecturer says modern housing creates unsafe conditions

Mould under carpet in a Housing Tasmania house in Devonport. When it appears within the house, it has likely been present for years prior. Picture: Brodie Weeding
Mould under carpet in a Housing Tasmania house in Devonport. When it appears within the house, it has likely been present for years prior. Picture: Brodie Weeding

An architectural scientist who carried out condensation research in Tasmania says an inadequate Australian construction code is failing to stop mould infestations from occurring due to the design of modern houses.

Dr Tim Law, of Victoria University, found the emergence of energy efficiency codes in Australian housing in 2004 had resulted in houses that were "tighter and warmer" using timber, plywood and paper-based plasterboards.

Combined with inadequate roof ventilation, Dr Law said these conditions were acting as "mould food".

"You just have to add water," he said.

Tasmanian mould remediation expert Tim Wolstenholme found mould widespread beneath a Housing Tasmania house in Burnie - a situation he says is common.

Tasmanian mould remediation expert Tim Wolstenholme found mould widespread beneath a Housing Tasmania house in Burnie - a situation he says is common.

When mould becomes evident on walls, it is usually years after the infestation has started within walls and ceilings, and could already be having health effects on residents.

"We are allowing people to vent laundries and showers into the roof space on the condition that the roof space then vents it out naturally... but our Australian standards do not allow those roof spaces to be ventilated properly," Dr Law said.

He was among seven architecture, design, maths and physics lecturers from the University of Tasmania who completed a scoping study in 2016 into condensation in residential buildings.

Of their recommendations, just three have been adopted into a revision of the construction code this year.

MORE ON MOULD IN TASMANIAN HOUSING:

Tasmania was considered a leader in study into mould in housing after the state-based regulator commissioned several reports and published new guidelines recently, but without "mould-aware" doctors in the state, adverse health effects remained under-reported. Decisions on vacating premises have also been left to council environmental health officers who were reluctant to take action.

In Canada, mould is regarded as a major health risk and its building code has been updated to prevent any conditions that can allow it to develop.

A row of Masonic Care houses in Newstead which are believed to contain mould infestations, resulting in a vacate notice for residents. Picture: Scott Gelston

A row of Masonic Care houses in Newstead which are believed to contain mould infestations, resulting in a vacate notice for residents. Picture: Scott Gelston

Dr Law said Australia was taking a "piecemeal" approach to its national construction code that was transferring problems "somewhere else".

"What we have is not good enough," he said.

"It's got to be minimum standards to prevent mould. And even then, the minimum standards would still be too low but we're not even at that level now."

A group of elderly residents were told to vacate their Masonic Care homes in Launceston last month, despite only being constructed eight years ago, due to suspected mould infestations.

Dr Law said it was encouraging to see some action taken in this instance, but it was rare.

"Nothing in the treatment protocol works whilst you are still being exposed to a mouldy building," he said.

This story 'Mould food': Modern housing creates unsafe conditions first appeared on The Examiner.