Now we understand what hoarding is and the many possible reasons why it may start, it’s time to look at the hidden and not-so-hidden dangers that this behaviour can allow.
From fire hazards to vermin, from crush injuries to animal faeces, hoarding poses a variety of health and safety risks, not only to the hoarder themselves but to visitors and neighbouring properties too.
Fire is perhaps the most dangerous risk. Many hoarders find that their situation gets so out of control, that obvious entrances and exits fast become obstructed.
Large piles of items block doorways, windows are often inaccessible and it is not uncommon for there to be no clear pathway through the home, or from room to room. Not only does this impede the hoarder from leaving their home in the case of a fire, but it also hinders firefighting attempts and puts the lives of the fire crew at great risk.
The likelihood of a fire is also increased. Whether it’s from piles of flammable material left close to a heat source such as a cooker, or covering electrical equipment so that it cannot ventilate and subsequently overheats, the potential risk of ignition is increased.
Neighbouring properties are also at increased risk. With the abundance of flammable material within a hoarder’s home, a fire can quickly spread to neighbouring properties. Nearby buildings are also at risk of soot and smoke damage as this can spread a significant distance from the source of a fire.
Trips and Falls
Trip and fall hazards are also a very real risk. A carelessly stacked pile of items can fall and land on the person or a visitor, causing injury. The chances of a trip or fall are also highly increased when clear passageways do not exist, especially on a staircase.
It has been known that often the pile of items is so bad, that a tunnel has been made through the clutter – this is obviously highly risky with the huge potential for collapse, resulting in serious injury or even death.
Collapse and Structural Integrity
Not only is there a risk of highly piled clutter collapsing, but the added weight of so many items can jeopardise the structural integrity of the building.
Upstair floors are not often designed to withstand the amount of weight that severe hoarding can accumulate and the resulting effects can be fatal; whole floors could collapse, floorboards could weaken and immense strain can be put onto floor joists.
Add this scenario to communal buildings, such as apartment blocks or flats, and numerous properties could be affected.
Mould is also a real concern. With a large amount of clutter, ventilation is not often adequate and leaks will generally go unnoticed. The damp from unnoticed leaks will go on to cause rot and decay to the building’s fabric, while mould eats organic material.
Besides the safety risks already mentioned above, hoarding does not come without health risks.
The mental wellbeing of the hoarder and the hoarder’s family are compromised. As mentioned earlier in the series, hoarding is often linked to mental health issues – whether as a symptom or the result. The family living with the hoarder also suffer and can go on to experience mental health issues such depression, loneliness and social isolation.
Respiratory issues are also commonplace amongst hoarders and occupants. With the increase in clutter comes the inability to clean and dust thoroughly and regularly. Naturally, this allows more dust to settle which can aggravate existing conditions such asthma and allergies.
Mould can also contribute to respiratory problems. With unnoticed leaks, spillages and water penetration being a real risk within a hoarders home, it is highly likely there will be mould. You can find out more about the health and structural risks of mould in our blog here.
It is not uncommon for hoarders to also have pets. For some, animals are the thing they hoard.
In extreme cases, the person is unable to fully take care of the pet, or access to the outside for the animal is blocked. This results in the animal – such as a cat or a dog – from being unable to defecate or urinate outside and instead having no choice but to go inside.
Cats and dogs are naturally clean and thus will usually attempt to cover up their business. This may initially go unnoticed by the hoarder but it can fast become unmanageable to clean up, especially considering the other circumstances we’ve already outlined.
Animal urine and faeces that’s not cleaned up will cause a host of health risks to both pet and owner and makes the perfect breeding ground for infection-transferring bacteria.
Neighbouring properties are also at risk. Not only from the spread of fire and structural issues, but also from vermin.
Huge amounts of clutter (and not uncommonly, food waste), combined with mould and decaying building materials, will attract a pest (for example, rat, cockroach, mice, fly, etc) infestation, which can quickly affect neighbouring and adjoining properties. It is widely known that many pests carry with them diseases, putting the health of neighbours at risk.
As you can see from the above, hoarding is not without its dangers. And that’s true for attempting a clean, too. Whether it’s from the passing of a hoarder, or as part of the recovery process, there are certain precautions and considerations that should be taken.
Mould and pest infestations are usually only uncovered once the cleanup process has begun. To safely handle these hazards, the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) must be worn. The same applies when there is animal waste present, too. Disease carrying bacteria can live on faeces for a substantial time, so it’s imperative that the person cleaning is protected and that the right processes are used to fully eliminate the risks.
A professional restoration company, like Ideal Response, will not only clear the clutter, but will ensure its safe and proper disposal before cleaning, disinfecting, sanitising and restoring the property back to a safe and habitable standard.