Black Mould Problem Raises Concerns About Leaky Buildings

Black mould has the potential to cause serious health issues. Yet many Australian buildings do not have adequate safeguards against it. Leaky buildings lie at the heart of the problem.

The rate of apartment building in Australia is at an all-time high as its continually growing population creates more demand for housing. The combination of immigration and Australia’s birth rate has led to a boom period for the residential construction industry.

You need only look at the rate of building across the East Coast. Sydney has seen a meteoric rise in apartment construction to meet the demand from tenants.

At first glance, that all sounds good for the building industry. But there is a problem:

Attempting to keep pace with this increase in demand has led to many builders rushing their projects. In the worst cases, this leads to building code oversights. Builders have less time to spend on checking the quality of the materials that they use. This means they are relying on the manufacturers to offer materials that meet Australian building codes and standards.

A 2013 survey of building professionals noted that this is not happening. In fact, 90% of construction companies have non-compliant materials in their supply chains. A 2010 survey of strata owners reinforces this notion, concluding that there are problems with 85% of the apartment buildings built in Australia since 2000. Other estimates claim that this means that up to 70% of these buildings struggle with leaks.

This creates terrible living conditions for residents. Take the story of the Palermo apartment complex in Wentworth Point as an example. A resident named John says that he had to get rid of 120 litres of water that found its way into his apartment following a storm. The problem became so big that it led to him building a dam to provide against it.

Residents should not have to build homemade solutions for their building problems – it’s the responsibility of those in the industry to create the safest buildings possible. Leaks that are caused by careless construction or incorrect use of ventilation windows or louvre windows can lead to property damage. And this has led to a more serious problem – the development of toxic black mould.

What is Toxic Black Mould?

Leaky buildings create the perfect growing conditions for toxic black mould. Often found on walls, ceilings, and window frames, this mould presents a serious health risk. Toxic black mould releases its spores into the air surrounding it, spreading quickly.

As the amount of mould increases, so does the number of spores in the room’s air. Residents breathe these spores in unwittingly. This is an issue if the mould develops inside the building’s air conditioning system. Every time a resident uses the system, it circulates more spores through the building. This means they breathe even more in, contributing to the mould’s spread.

The toxic black mould name is also something of a misnomer. Its colours range from a dark green hue to grey, rather than black.

On the bright side, this unique colouring makes it easy to identify. Few other fungi share this colour, so residents do not struggle to find the source of the problem. The more pressing issue is that the problem should not be there in the first place.

Toxic black mould also has a very distinctive odour. It is somewhat musty, as you would expect of something that appears as a result of moisture. Some also say that it smells like mildew. However, the smell does not spread far without the help of an air conditioning unit.

What is most worrying about toxic black mould is the array of health problems that it can create. The mould emits mycotoxins, which leads to the following minor symptoms:

  • Coughing and sneezing fits
  • Irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Itchiness and redness, particularly focused around the mouth, nose, and eyes

But a more serious concern are the long-term health problems that toxic black mould causes. If left untreated, the mould leads to breathing difficulties and can also exacerbate existing breathing conditions such as asthma. It affects concentration levels, sometimes to the point of causing memory loss. It may also stop the immune system from functioning normally and can also cause issues with bladders and kidneys.

Tackling toxic black mould means cleaning any areas where it grows. Fixing leaks and building-related moisture issues also helps. It is this latter problem that is of such major concern to the industry.

The Scale of the Problem

As mentioned, the problem of leaking buildings is much larger than many may believe. Up to 85% of buildings built since 2000 may have problems. This is an indictment of the lax standards some companies follow in their efforts to build as fast as possible.

But the truth is that nobody really knows just how widespread the issue is. Bill Randolph, who serves as director of the City Futures Research Centre, expands on this. “Nobody keeps records of this stuff,” he says. “Quite a lot of the defects do not get anywhere, they don’t get to the court, or owners just pay up and get on with it because they can’t be bothered to cover the cost of taking a builder to court.”

This quote speaks volumes. A lack of reporting may lead to many regulators assuming that there is not a problem. Without reliable data, there’s not enough information to justify changing the regulations. As a result, leaks go undetected and often don’t lead to repercussions for the builders responsible.

All of this contributes to the rising number of cases of leaky building syndrome.

What is Leaky Building Syndrome?

Leaky building syndrome refers to how watertight a building is. If the building does not provide adequate draining and water deflections, it is more likely to suffer from leaky building syndrome.

It is a problem that designers must work on from the moment they start developing their buildings. In fact, it often comes down to faulty design or failing to use compliant louvre windows, just as much as non-compliant building materials. Certain building designs lend themselves more to leaks than others. They do not handle drainage well or they allow water to get inside without any means of escape.

For example, Mediterranean-style buildings often struggle with the problem as these often use different cladding systems to traditional buildings. Incorrectly applying this cladding,

which is often made using plaster on a cement or polythene sheet, leads to cracking which allow water to seep into the cladding, but don’t allow it to dry out.

There are several signs that a building may have leaky building syndrome. These include:

  • Bubbles in the plaster or the coating used to cover the plaster
  • The cladding has a high moisture content
  • Experts detect high moisture readings throughout the property

The causes include:

  • Failure to account for the possibility of moisture penetration during the design process
  • The incorrect installation of cladding
  • Poor testing of any new building methods
  • The use of non-compliant building materials
  • The use of the wrong type of timber when creating the building’s structure
  • Using batt insulation to fill cavity walls
  • The use of air-tight seals on windows and in cladding

The problem affects countries all over the world. It cost the Canadian building industry over $4 billion. New Zealand’s leaky building syndrome cost them up to $23 billion.

Until recently, this was not believed to be a problem for the Australian building industry. However, that opinion may change in light of the previously mentioned data. The problem is already causing issues in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. In the latter, balconies on high-rise buildings lie at the root of the problem. If these issues continue to go unnoticed, Australia’s building industry may face multibillion-dollar losses.

What Standards Are Currently in Place?

Part of the problem appears to lie in how few standards there are to prevent water ingress. Windows have to meet a penetration requirement, but this doesn’t appear to be extensive enough to prevent the problem. The same goes for other building standards – they are there, but they’re not solving the issue.

That relates to the problem highlighted in the Australian Industry Group’s 2013 survey. Those in the industry believe the current regulations aren’t strong enough. They do not prevent non-compliant building products from entering the supply chain. Even a well-designed building could fall victim to leaky building syndrome because of this.

Nevertheless, builders may face legal action if they do not meet the current standards. They may also face civil action from tenants who have fallen foul of the issues that leaky building syndrome causes.

At present, such ramifications are quite rare. However, if the problem is as widespread as the data suggests, legal action may become more common in the coming years.

Potential Solutions to the Problem

So, what solutions are there for the problem of leaky building syndrome? It will take a combination of regulation change and builders meeting higher standards. Those in the industry must do the following:

  • Ensure the building code compliance of every material being used. This is particularly important for doors and windows, as these are often the most vulnerable materials. Both the materials used and the seals must protect against water ingress. Safetyline Jalousie’s louvre windows are a good example of this in action. They carry a Water Penetration Resistance rating of 800pa. Look for similar descriptions in all of the materials that you use.
  • Be aware that the leaky building syndrome problem can arise from design faults. Account for it from the moment that you start designing a building. This also means that you face less chance of running into an issue that you have to fix once construction starts.

Furthermore, the following regulatory and industry changes may have an effect:

  • Changes to the current building codes to account for water ingress more directly. Many argue that there aren’t enough regulations in place to ensure buildings remain watertight in severe conditions.
  • Stricter enforcement of the building standards that are already in place. This is something that many in the industry are already calling for.
  • A slowdown in property development. This may not be possible while Australia’s population keeps growing. However, there is no denying that rushed construction is a cause of the leaky building syndrome problem.

Conclusion

Leaky building syndrome may not seem like it is a problem right now. But a lot of the data we have suggests that it is growing. If left unchecked, the issue could cost the industry billions of dollars. Moreover, civil suits could cost your company directly.

You need to prevent that from happening, which is why you need quality building materials. Safetyline Jalousie can provide compliant louvre windows for your projects. Just do the following to get started:

References:

1. Leaking buildings, mould and court battles: The dark side of the apartment boom – ABC News

2. Black Mold Symptoms and Health Effects – HGTV

3. Window & Glass Regulations – Build

 

 

 

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Ali Asmar

Business Manager - VIC & SA

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As the most recent addition to the Safetyline Jalousie family, Ali is still coming to terms with the fact that a typical telephone conversation will often be answered with “You’re calling from Safety what”? followed by having to sound out and spell the name “ja-lou-sie” (it happens to us all). Born in Lebanon, Ali has moved around a lot over the years, living in Cyprus, Sydney for most of his Schooling, as well as China and Hong Kong. He currently resides in Melbourne where he spends a lot of time in his garden or doing some sort of work around the house. (Not too dissimilar to many other Melburnians following the onset of Covid). With a very obvious cultured background, Ali is warm and talkative and he’ll get you talking too.

Romile John

National Business Manager

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One of the Safetyine Jalousie originals, Rom (often mistaken for John) holds a great passion for the product. He says its “its innovative, a market leader and ever-evolving, very much like the company itself”. When you meet Rom, it is apparent that he is well-educated and well-travelled. Coming from a family of medical professionals, they moved around extensively and often. Last count was 125 countries. So nearly all of them! It’s really no surprise that Rom has mastered packing a weeks-worth of clothes and necessities into a carry-on bag. And when we say clothes we actually mean meticulously prepared outfits and accessories. When Rom enters a room, you’re sure to know it!

Adam Racomelara

National Manager – Partnerships & Strategy

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Adam is our strategist and big ideas generator whose somewhat reserved nature could have some mistake him as a bit of an introvert. But that’s only until this quiet thinker is given a whiteboard and a marker – and then there’s no stopping the dialogue! 7 Years in at Safetyline Jalousie, Adam is continually expanding on his knowledge of the construction industry and is incredibly driven in his pursuit to help create better buildings via the use of better products. When Adam’s not on his quest to improve Australia’s built environment he’s spending most weekends escorting one of his 4 young kids to birthday parties, sometimes multiple parties. He has some stealth survival tips for other parents currently in the same predicament.

Michael Cocks

Factory Manager

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Michael has become recognised at Safetyline Jalousie for his continually changing hairstyles (facial hair included). Buzz cut, undercut, dreadlocks, even a mullet. We’ve see it all. His current man bun could even be gone before we finish this sentence. Always up for a laugh, friends and colleagues love a chat with Michael, and his easy-going and approachable nature has earned him the respect of all staff. In fact, he even has a cohort of followers on the factory floor sporting his same hairstyles. Outside of work Michael has recently turned his attention to mountain bike riding. His very first ride ended with a pretty serious accident resulting in a deep puncture wound to his leg– it’s been a sore topic for his leg and his ego.

Jonathan Gueudinot

National Logistics & Production Manager

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Our South American Native, Jonathan is more simply and better known as “Chilli” (no need to try and guess his country of origin). After 16 years of military service, Chilli joined the Safetyline Jalousie team for what he describes as “a change of pace”. Although his average work day might look very different these days, there’s no doubt that Chilli’s previous experience has contributed in shaping a culture of commitment, community and comradery within the production team – the very important engine room of our company. Driven by a sense of accomplishment, in addition to running Safetyline Jalousie’s production line with military precision, Chilli has recently been studying hard to complete his Master’s Degree in Business and Logistics.

Mandy Saliba

Marketing Manager

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Mandy has been with Safetyline jalousie since day one so would technically be considered a geriatric in “Jalousie years”. Whilst her role has changed and evolved over her time with the business, one thing that hasn’t is the happy and fun, team culture that she says “continues to make each day at work a joy”. As a mum of two little ones, Mandy thrives on new challenges and a little bit of chaos. Although, as a self-proclaimed clean freak, she ensures that all forms of chaos are kept in a very neat and tidy manner. We’ve also observed that Mandy appears to have an inherent fear of colour and will almost only ever be seen in black or white (or sometimes grey if she is being really out there).

Lisa Spinks

Office Administration Manager

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As a busy mother of 4, Lisa is highly skilled in organising, delegating, and troubleshooting – the proficiencies which she also demonstrates in her daily management of the Safetyline Jalousie office. Lisa tells us that she lives by the saying “What doesn’t break you makes you stronger”. (No doubt she’s had to use this little piece or personal encouragement from time to time to deal with our infinite requests)! Always on the go, Lisa has a very active lifestyle and starts every day with a walk to the beach with her husband and two dogs. Of an evening she still has the energy to spare for star jumps and squats in her makeshift gym/ (our office) before heading home to her other full-time job as “mum”.

 

 

 

Nathan Rust

Founder & National Operations Director

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The younger brother of the co-founding sibling duo, “Nath” is the go-to for just about every technical, install, and manufacturing enquiry that comes via the business. Very early on, Nath’s product knowledge and problem-solving ability saw him organically take on the role of Operations, overseeing the design and management of Safetyline Jalousie’s behind-the-scenes work. When he’s off duty (and not answering a million questions), Nath enjoys spending time with his wife and 3 young kids. You’ll find him cheering on his son at weekend sports, enjoying the water somewhere along the Northern beaches and this lover of food is generally always planning his next big meal. Preferably a Lebanese banquet if anyone can suggest a restaurant he doesn’t frequent already.

Leigh Rust

Founder & Director

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Leigh aka “Wolfpack” is one-half of the driving force behind Safetyline Jalousie and comes with two decades of experience within the Australian manufacturing and construction industry. The multi-award-winning entrepreneur and father of three youngsters is a passionate advocate for supporting Australian-made goods and improving the built environment for future generations to come. Always up for a challenge, Leigh never sits still and is constantly pushing himself to test his physical and mental endurance. He’s given just about everything a go. From amateur MMA fights, triathlons, or personal development endeavours, Leigh stands by the motto, ‘I never lose, either I win or I learn’.

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Safetyline Jalousie Design Manual Version 3

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Safetyline Jalousie Design Manual Version 3