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Shortage of renovation experts to fix mildew-infested properties

Mould, mildew and bad air quality are widespread problems in Finnish schools and apartment buildings, and there aren't enough skilled people to address the problem. One university in Häme is now offering a refresher course in cutting-edge building technology to instructors of future renovators.

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Mika Metsäalho knows the importance of good ventilation. Image: Miki Wallenius / Yle

The Miemala school in Hämeenlinna, like so many others in the country, had problems with the quality of its indoor air. The facility needed renovation badly, but the city lacked the funds. A cheaper alternative was born out of necessity.

"We installed a ventilation unit and ductwork in every classroom and sealed the structure's seams," says the city's technical expert Mika Metsäalho.

Making things airtight kept microbes from entering the room through cracks in the wall and floor, improving the quality of the indoor air.

Cooperation is the way

Fixing mildew and indoor air problems is a tricky business, and there simply aren't enough people in Finland with the know-how required.

Future construction workers must understand that effective renovation requires in-depth study of both old and new construction techniques.

"It's no longer enough to take one set of measurements and then run on assumptions. We need to rely on building technology studies, research and broader interdisciplinary cooperation," says lecturer Taina Idman from the Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK).

HAMK is currently offering a course intended for instructors in the construction sector, teaching the latest developments in the ever-evolving field of renovation and building technology.

"Learning to address indoor air quality issues and moisture damage should be an integral part of basic construction education these days," Idman says.

The value of old and new

The bulk of Finland's buildings and structures is aging. At the same time, legislation about air and building quality is being tightened. Add to this the generational change: baby-boomer masters of the old ways are retiring in droves, taking their expertise out of the industry.

Pekka Vesterinen teaches future construction workers in the central city of Jyväskylä and is one of the twenty or so instructors participating in the HAMK course.  He relates how pipe layers in his city fell off the map in quick succession as they began to collect their pensions. Once the knowledge deficit was recognised, his school ended up calling them back in to teach the next generation how things are done.

The HAMK course brings the instructors to inspect structures that are at risk, observe how damage begins and see the state of dilapidated buildings that are beyond repair.  It also offers a refresher course in the latest indoor air quality research and approaches to renovation.

The southern city of Hämeenlinna has a long history of battling mildew-infested schools, but the hard times have fostered expertise.

"We utilise measurements as well as research and quality control methods, so we're more or less up to scratch now on what to do and how," says Metsäalho.

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