According to the time-old saying, our homes are meant to be our castles: places we feel safe, comfortable and confident. Yet for those of us struggling to keep a grip on the slippery rungs of today's property ladder it can be a very different story.
The hike in UK housing prices over recent years has made the possibility of becoming home owners little more than a pipe dream for many of the nation's younger population, with first time buyers already having spent up to £64,400 on rent before they even have a hope of moving into a place of their own.
The problem is at its worst in London, where the recent #ventyourrent trend on social media revealed the dark side of the current housing crisis to the world. Common trends in complaints included mould, heating problems, carbon monoxide problems, rude housemates and, of course, sky-high prices.
Not only can issues like these have a big effect on your pocket, but they can also take a huge toll on your physical and mental wellbeing. We took a look at ways you can tackle these problems head-on and at no extra cost in order to keep your head, health and house happy.
A common tribulation that most renters will be all too familiar with, mould definitely tops the list of problems with the 'ew' factor. From its slimy texture to its 'growing' nature, there is nothing nice about this fungi and it can go a long way in making youunhappy at home.
It's not just the look that's off-putting. Mould spores can fill your indoor air with toxins, which can potentially cause respiratory, skin and immunity problems. Some people are more at risk from exposure to mould than others, including babies and elderly people, people who suffer from asthma or allergies and people with eczema or other similar skin conditions.
Mould and damp are caused by excess moisture at home, whether that be a leaking pipe or a badly ventilated bathroom. The main way to go about tackling damp in your home is to make sure you keep the place as dry as possible, explains airborne allergiesexpert Max Wiseberg.
"Tackle the root cause of the damp if it's being caused by a leaky roof or windows and speak to a damp proofing expert if you think you have a problem. It's also important to keep your home well ventilated, and to avoid drying clothes on radiators as this increases the humidity in your home. A humid home provides an ideal environment for mould to grow and also allows dust mites to thrive."
First of all, if you think this is a problem caused by a leak or something similar, be sure you tell your landlord about it. These sort of things are usually their responsibility and therefore the cost of fixing them should not be down to you. Similarly, make sure the fan in your bathroom is turned on and works properly.
On warmer days, keep your windows open to let in fresh air and sunlight into your house to promote air circulation whilst you are showering or cooking. You can also try and kill your mould using vinegar, tea tree oil, or vodka, all of which are natural fungicides. Simply fill a spray bottle with your chosen substance, and get to work. Let the spray sit on the mould for a while before wiping it clean. It's a bit disgusting but should do the trick!
2. Carbon monoxide
Despite new legal requirements for landlords, research by npower reveals that 35% of privately rented homes are not fitted with carbon monoxide alarms, and worryingly only 4% of private tenants can actually identify the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.
Every year, over 200 UK residents are admitted to hospital with suspected CO poisoning, with around 40 people dying from it. This might sound quite low, but these deaths are entirely preventable, and there's nothing stopping this 'silent killer'happening in your home if you aren't clued-up enough.
Matthew Cole, Head of Domestic Policy & Social Energy Action at npower, commented on the lack of public knowledge surrounding this colourless, tasteless and ultimately poisonous gas:
"It's concerning to see these results as they show there's a serious gap between awareness of CO poisoning and understanding what the symptoms are, which appliances can be a cause and also what people should do if they suspect they are suffering from CO poisoning. There's clearly an opportunity for increased education to help reduce the numbers of completely preventable deaths from CO poisoning each year."
Carbon monoxide is produced when there is not enough oxygen to bond with carbon-producing compounds, so the incomplete burning of gas or LPG (liquified petroleum gas). It occurs naturally, but in enclosed spaces like the home it is usually the result of faulty gas appliances like heaters, boilers, and fireplaces. CO can also be produced by oil, wood, petrol and coal, and has been known to occur when chimneys, flues or vents are blocked.
CO is pretty much impossible to detect, which is why it's important to be vigilant with your appliances and know the symptoms, which can be similar to those of a hangover of flu. The top things to look out for are:
Collapse / loss of consciousness
These symptoms are quite common with a number of conditions, so to be sure CO really causes them check if other people or pets in your house feel the same, and whether symptoms disappear once you leave the house.
The key to preventing carbon monoxide is regular maintenance of your appliances, so make sure that everything is serviced and checked on an annual basis. Telltale signs that your appliances might need checking for CO include yellow or orange cooker flames (they should be blue), soot of yellow/brown staining on or around appliances, boiler pilot lights that are inconsistent or blow out a lot and more condensation than usual on the inside of your windows.
Even if your home is structurally sound, it can still have a negative effect on your health. The environment of your house – the temperature, state and overall 'feel' of it – plays a huge factor in making us feel comfortable. Dr Ramya Mohan, a Senior Consultant Psychiatrist and Medical Educator with the NHS, says that something as common as untidiness could be taking its toll on our minds.
"A cluttered home can affect one's mental state adversely - it can increase stress and anxiety levels, looking at clutter visually or when disorganisational difficulties surface."
Furthermore, such factors can also take physical tolls on your body. One of the big deal breakers seen with #ventyourrent was problems with radiator systems, leaving people unable to heat their homes during winter months.
"Cold environments can contribute to sleep difficulties, illnesses like flu and worsening of respiratory conditions in susceptible individuals – all of which impact emotional and mental health adversely if they are not dealt with in a timely manner. Long-standing discomfort can cause stress, tiredness, low energy and negative thoughts that are not conducive to mental health."
In extreme circumstances, problems with temperature can prove fatal. Indeed, a study conducted by University College London (UCL) found that, over the winter of 2015/16, an estimated 9,000 people died in England and Wales as a result of living in a cold home.
4. Financial worry
Money problems are the biggest cause of stress in the UK, with 40% of adults citing financial angst as their top concern in a study conducted by market researchers Mintel. This isn't really surprising, what with the cost of homes forever on the increase, and landlords stepping up rents for seemingly no reason at all.
"Any sort of worry or stress releases stress hormones like Cortisol. Whilst short bursts are useful for productivity and efficiency, long-term release of stress hormones upsets the delicate feedback mechanism and mutual support system between the brain and body," says Ramya. "Anxieties and worry can trigger depression, flaring up of health problems like asthma, eczema etc, tiredness/low energy, aches/pains and a whole host of other problems reflective of internal worry and stress."
The only way of dealing with this sort of problem is by being open about it. Discuss your worries with your support system: close friends or family who might be able to help you figure out what to do next. Seek practical support from voluntary agencies for anxiety or depression if you feel socially isolated and explore the options that are available to someone in the midst of financial difficulties.
"Consider taking advice from an independent financial adviser for practical solutions/tips to manage your money better, and try to stay as organized as possible. Simple steps like planning your schedule ahead and sleeping on time can reduce anticipatory stress/anxiety. Make a visual list of achievable and practical do's and don'ts to handle stress around your money day to day."
'Mindfulness'activities, such as drawing, listening to music or writing poetry, are scientifically proven to help relieve stress. Try to incorporate creativity into your life to help distract yourself from more disturbing thoughts like money, as it supports a less materialistic understanding of the significance of living life moment by moment.
5. Poisonous housemates
This is a big one. Many people who are renting – especially those living in inner-city properties – face the prospect of having to move in with complete strangers. It may be that you've found the place through 'a friend of a friend', or perhaps you've used a renting site such as spareroom.com. This can be a very convenient solution when you can't afford a place of your own, but moving in with people you know nothing about can be problematic.
"Those with sensitive temperaments, low self-esteem or confidence and vulnerabilities may develop mental health problems linked to emotional trauma or adjustment whilst living with a difficult housemate. Living with someone who externalizes their anger, frustration or problems onto others is hard and could cause a recurrence or emergence of mental health problems."
First of all, it's important to know yourself; your vulnerabilities and strengths, and what exactly it is about this person or people that's really getting you down. Do you feel personally 'attacked'? Are they affecting your self-esteem? Do you feel unable to stand up for or assert yourself? Once you have worked this out, Ramya recommends talking about it.
"Be prepared to be blamed or targeted if a confrontation happens, and think before you retalliate. Staying calm, silent and neutral or even walking away when you are expected to react can be a powerful stance. If you decide to carry on living together, open communication is vital. Conversations around practical issues should take place at a calm time, perhaps at a neutral place like a café. Agree on the terms and tenor of conversation, for example sticking to facts and not blaming / shaming."