Indoor air quality — the next big issue in homes

Nuaire, indoor air quality, IAQ, ventilation

While improving the airtightness of homes improves heating efficiency, the potential poor ventilation can cause a host of other problems. Andy Mudie of Nuaire examines the issues.

The quality of the air indoors in homes across the UK is attracting increasing attention. What effect is it having on the population at large? Could it be the cause of significant problems in the years ahead?

Housing associations continue to manage a huge amount of retrofit activity to enhance the energy efficiency of their properties, but is it possible this work might actually give rise to other negative issues for tenants? Making homes more energy efficient through fabric improvements will certainly address the issues around fuel poverty positively and improve the overall condition of housing stock. But is there a cost to this activity? Indeed, are the tenants at risk of falling ill?

For new build-homes, SAP has made a big difference to energy efficiency, and new technologies have been seen on social new build — in fact they have been seen as an ideal test bed for new technology in many cases. It is estimated that 22 million existing homes need to be retrofitted by 2050 to meet carbon-emission targets so there are still huge amounts of work to do, but should that work be undertaken with a little more thought perhaps?

What is the likely outcome of effectively ‘sealing’ existing homes to stop the heat leaking out from them? Schemes such as the Green Deal — before it was axed — and Retrofit for the Future have looked at improved insulation, including external cladding of course, but what happens to the indoor air quality if stale warm and, possibly, moist air cannot circulate and escape from the property? When a well-meaning fabric change is made to a home, does the ventilation system get reviewed to see if it is adequate? In reality, not very often it seems.

NHBC has previously warned that a lack of adequate ventilation in homes could result in a build-up of pollutants released by furnishings and building insulation materials, alongside humidity and condensation. What this really means is possible side effects of an increase in asthma and severe respiratory conditions. By sealing homes so efficiently, we have stopped air getting in and out of homes— with a subsequent rise in problems arising from humidity, mould and condensation. The problem has moved in many cases from heating deficiencies to ventilation deficiencies.

Sadly, many people take indoor air quality for granted. It’s clear that people would not drink brown water from a tap in the kitchen as it’s visibly dirty, yet what is the condition of the air that you people are breathing right now?

The problems of poor ventilation include an increase in asthma and severe respiratory conditions, mould and condensation.

We have recently seen the launch of the campaign called ‘My health, my home’ which highlights the issues around indoor air quality. Why not take a look at www.myhealthmyhome.com and then sign the healthy-air petition? It’s a serious issue that needs planning and awareness raising. Especially as it’s such an obvious one when you think about it in the clear light of day.

What is clear is that as we tighten our buildings we need to make sure there is sufficient ventilation to ensure we all remain healthy. In built up areas this may even mean we have to treat the air going into homes to remove pollutants.

Rather than address these issues head on, there is a tendency to do so retrospectively and address the problems when they arise. We wait for mould to grow and condensation to affect newly insulated properties and then seek a solution, rather than planning for the likely outcome of the work we’ve had done to our homes.

The problem is greatest in the ‘condensation season’, which tends to run from September to February each year. It’s all down to outside moisture levels and as temperatures fall in the autumn, condensation issues begin to raise their ugly heads.

The main health effects of poor indoor air quality are the same as poor external air quality — to the lungs and heart. And of course children and those who are already ill are most at risk, wherever it is experienced.

Nuaire is one of the leaders in the ventilation sector and addresses ventilation for new social housing and repairs and maintenance.

For new build homes, it could be about providing filtration on systems at the entry level to a property — filtering the incoming air at the grille on the outside of the home. Particularly in urban areas, the levels of toxins — in particular nitrogen dioxide and particulates from heavy traffic — can cause havoc with those susceptible to asthma and other breathing related issues.

For existing properties, it’s about having a retrofit solution that is not intrusive so options such as positive input ventilation (PIV) work well. PIV sees air pushed into the home at a constant rate, forcing air circulation around the home. A properly installed unit will ensure that old, contaminated and moisture-laden air in a home is continuously diluted, displaced and replaced with good-quality, fresh air. The result is an environment in which condensation dampness cannot exist, and where allergens and pollutants are kept to a minimum.

For more information on ventilation options and ways of improving indoor air quality, take a look at our web site.

Andy Mudie is marketing director with Nuaire.

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