The popularity of showers over baths continues to grow in the UK and bathroom design reflects this trend, with many people now opting for a wet room or large shower cubicle rather than a traditional bath. However, when assessing Legionella risk in a rental property, it’s important to recognise the potential issues associated with showers and have measures in place to protect your tenants.
Why are showers high risk?
Legionella bacteria is dispersed in airborne water droplets, so the spray created by a shower is the perfect delivery mechanism. Anyone using a contaminated shower risks breathing in the bacteria and developing Legionnaires’ disease as the bug takes hold in the lungs. If your tenants are over 45, smokers, heavy drinkers or have a health condition such as heart disease, asthma or diabetes, they are at even greater risk of developing an infection.
Assessing the level of risk
There are a number of factors which determine the risk level of your shower. Firstly, where does the water come from and how is it heated? If the shower is fed by a water tank, you need to make sure that the tank is clean and in good condition. Rust, corrosion, biofilm and debris in the tank all provide food for Legionella bacteria, so make sure you inspect the tank at least once a year and clean it out as necessary. Your water tank should also have a well-fitting lid.
If your water is heated by a calorifier, this needs to be serviced regularly and kept clean. If your property has a combi boiler the risk is a little lower as hot water isn’t stored but heated up on demand, but if you do have a hot water storage tank it’s vital that the water is held at a temperature of more than 50°C to ensure that bacteria are killed.
Another risk factor is water hardness as limescale also provides food for bacteria. If your property is in a hard water area, stipulate that your tenants must descale showerheads and taps at least once a month to reduce limescale build-up.
If you have a shower (or other water outlet) which isn’t used regularly, there is a risk associated with stagnant water. It’s not uncommon for water to collect in parts of a domestic water system which aren’t used very often and bacteria can develop in such pockets of stagnation. Then, when the little-used outlet is switched on, out comes the bacteria-laden water to be breathed in by the unsuspecting person showering. A guest shower room is perhaps the most high risk area of a domestic property for this problem, so request that tenants run any infrequently-used showers for two minutes at least once a week, ensuring that they leave the room while the water is on.
It is interesting to note that there are a number of technological developments now coming onto the market which help to reduce the Legionella risk in showers. One is Steri-Spray, a special showerhead which zaps incoming water with UV to kill any bacteria as it passes through the shower. A sensible option for high risk users such as the immuno-compromised or elderly, this is likely to become more popular as life expectancy continues to grow. Another product is an automatic flushing unit fitted on showers, which is particularly suited to sports facilities where showers are used intermittently. For rental accommodation this could be worth considering for student housing which is left empty for long periods out of term time.
If you’re concerned about Legionella control in your rental property or would like a no-obligation quote for our services, please get in touch.