It may not feel like it right now (since much of the country is basking in a late summer heatwave), but winter is just around the corner. And that means it’s time to make sure your rental property is in good condition before the days get shorter, colder and wetter. Statistical patterns prove that weather, temperature and climatic conditions can have an effect on the incidence of Legionnaires’ disease so as the seasons change it makes sense to get prepared.
According to the Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 2015, “studies have identified small but statistically significant increases in the risk of legionellosis with increased rainfall.” Since Legionella is found in water sources throughout the natural environment, flooding can also have an impact as it brings higher levels of the bacteria into buildings thus potentially compromising the domestic water system.
The first step is to do an external inspection of the property. Do you have a water storage tank outside or underground? Check that tank lids are in good condition without any cracks or chips. Does the lid fit securely? If there are large trees nearby, make sure that root growth or falling branches won’t damage your tank. Take preventative action if you’re concerned. Look at any external pipework and check for rust, damage and cracks. If there are any blind ends or dead legs in the piping (pipes which could collect stagnant water), call in a plumber to have them removed or capped off from the water system.
It’s also a good idea to unblock any drains and consider the level of flood risk at your property. With UK rainfall patterns showing increasingly wet autumns and winters, building owners should be prepared for the worst.
Have a look at your roof too. Many water storage tanks are in loft spaces, but if you have loose tiles or a leaking roof you’re providing a way in to your property for vermin and other contaminants. Leaf debris, animal droppings and other organic matter are perfect food for any Legionella bacteria in your water storage tank so keep a clean, tidy and weatherproof loft to minimise the risk.
Once inside your property, inspect your bathrooms, paying particular attention to showers. Legionella bacteria is carried in fine droplets of water which is then inhaled to cause infection in humans, so taps, showerheads and flushing toilets are often the means of dispersal. Descale where necessary as scale feeds the bacteria.
When was your boiler last serviced? Controlling water temperature is one of the simplest ways to reduce the risk of Legionella so make sure that your cold water is cold and your hot water hot (read our blog about checking water temperatures).
Lastly, have a chat with your tenants and make sure that they understand the control measures you have in place. It’s important that they remove any water or plumbing problems to you, and that they play their part in keeping your water system clean and functioning properly, for instance by descaling shower heads regularly and not fiddling with thermostats. It’s worth putting together a simple factsheet or guidance for them (such as this).