Energy-efficiency could worsen household air quality – study

Better regulation needed to improve air quality inside UK homes and avoid an ‘asthma epidemic’, University of Reading Professor argues

Better regulation is needed to improve air quality inside UK homes and avoid a “potential asthma epidemic” as buildings become more energy efficient, a University of Reading Professor’s report argues.

Indoor ventilation image

Image from the report showing common indoor air pollutants in the home

The UK is currently committed to an 80% carbon emissions reduction by 2050, and to meet this target homes will need to become more airtight in order to become more energy efficient.

However, a report by Prof. Hazim Awbi — an indoor air quality expert from the University of Reading’s School of the Built Environment — argues that building regulations have not properly considered the adverse impact of improved energy efficiency on indoor air quality on the health of occupants.

His report — ‘Future of Indoor Air Quality in UK Homes and its Impact on Health’ — explains that increasing air-tightness limits ventilation and air-exchange in the home, thereby allowing air pollutants to accumulate.

Prof. Awbi claims that current building regulations do not enforce an adequate air exchange rate. And, as energy efficiency measures increase, the situation is expected to “significantly deteriorate”.

As result, the report states that levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) could rise as high as 60% above World Health Organisation (WHO)-recommended air pollution limits for a 24-hour exposure period, while nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations could rise up to 30% above WHO annual limits.

This could result in an 80% increase in the number of asthma sufferers — currently 5.4 million — the report claims.

According to the report “simply opening windows is not enough as it doesn’t allow the necessary level of air exchange” and tighter regulation is needed to ensure that “effective and properly installed mechanical ventilation systems” are installed in homes.

The report recommends a legal requirement that new homes, and guidance for retrofitted homes, should have an air exchange rate of at least 0.5/hour in order to protect human health.

(L-R) Report author Prof. Hazim Awbi with Prof Peter Howarth

(L-R) Report author Prof. Hazim Awbi with Prof. Peter Howarth, Allergy UK’s President of Trustees

Prof. Awbi said: “To avoid a serious and significant increase in asthma cases — which could be up to 80% – and other health conditions related to poor indoor air quality, homes must be adequately ventilated. In addition to the need for mechanical ventilation systems I would also advise that a minimum air exchange rate that new homes must meet is enforced and there is tighter regulation to ensure systems are adequately installed, operated and maintained.”

Also commenting on the report, Shadow Communities Minister, Labour MP Liz McInnes, said: “The issue of poor indoor air quality on health and particularly its impact on sufferers of asthma is sometimes overlooked by policy makers and health professionals. GPs play a crucial role in providing information and guidance to patients, but increasingly important is the role of local councils who are now responsible for public health. The conclusions of Professor Awbi’s report need to be fully considered, and government, health professionals, local councils and social housing associations need to work together on finding solutions.”

The report was prepared on behalf of trade association Beama, which represents manufacturers of electrical infrastructure products, environmental systems and services in the built environment.

Related Links:

Report: ‘Future of Indoor Air Quality in UK Homes and its Impact on Health’


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