Indoor air quality is vital to the health of our nation. Statistics tell us that the average UK citizen spends a staggering 90% of their time indoors, and 70% of this is in their own homes. So it is not surprising that indoor air quality is vital to the wellbeing of our population.
With properties now designed to be as close to air tight as possible – to keep energy bills to a minimum and to prevent warm air escaping – there is evidence that adequate ventilation is compromised. With that in mind, it is no surprise that the stale, contaminated and humid air that we are breathing in our homes is bringing serious illnesses to many.
Toxic home syndrome refers to a person’s health deteriorating as a result of the air circulating in their home. The condition affects more than 15.3 million homes across the UK. Air-tight homes – created by double glazing, insulation, draught-proofing, blocked chimneys and other modifications – bring with them problems of mould and condensation that provide an attractive environment for pollutants.
Mould can germinate in as little as four days and wreaks havoc in our homes. Some moulds producing toxins that severely compromise indoor air quality and can affect our immune systems. The World Health Organization published a paper that concluded that the air we breathe is polluted with, at its worst, a mixture of cancer-causing substances. Other effects include respiratory illnesses, nasal stuffiness, coughing and wheezing, eye irritation, rashes, headaches and fatigue.
The UK press has recently published articles bringing these issues and warnings to the fore of the public’s mind, graphically depicting the air pollutants and contaminants that share our homes.
For those involved in owning and managing housing stock, dealing with the consequences of poor ventilation can be costly and severe. There’s a vicious circle at work in poorly ventilated properties – condensation problems lead to investigations that result in repairs and treatments that then prompt others to complain. A well thought through ventilation strategy can help reduce maintenance budgets and the risk of tenant complaints in rented properties.
This situation has a relatively simple solution – effective ventilation that relies on a balance between energy efficiency and indoor air quality. Good ventilation controls moisture and reduces air pollutants, in addition to other benefits including reduced condensation and air draughts, and control of the dust mite population and allergenic materials.
Within new builds – be it a residential, multiuse or commercial building – it is imperative that indoor air quality requirements are considered at the very beginning of the development and design process.
Bringing indoor air quality and ventilation needs into the discussion early makes it easier and more effective to provide good indoor air quality at no added cost or at reduced cost through a ventilation system that considers all the potential issues and loads from lighting, glazing and building material selections.
Alan Macklin is technical director at Elta Group