The UK is falling behind its European counterparts in this vital area

Lynne Sullivan

More and more public bodies are investing in the upgrading or retrofitting of social housing in order to improve health outcomes and thus cut costs to the NHS.But, with the focus on measures such as insulation, are we forgetting about indoor air quality?

Following the recommendations of the Low Carbon Construction Innovation & Growth Team’s report for indoor air quality and health and wellbeing of occupants, I chaired a study for Zero Carbon Hub and the NHBC Foundation exploring concerns associated with ventilation in new homes and the behaviour of pollutants or Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in the indoor environment.

We found that while good practice standards for ventilation rates and CO2 buildup in commercial premises were well established, with US studies showing how productivity in offices rises with good ventilation and indoor air quality, there was very little evidence to reassure us that building regulations ventilation standards capable of limiting the accumulation of pollutants are being delivered in homes.

For example, a small study of new homes delivered for the Department of Communities and Local Government in preparation for the 2010 ventilation regulations review showed that in more than 50% of cases total VOC levels exceeded guidelines, and other pollutants were present at excessive levels in 35% of cases.

A recent study by Glasgow’s Mackintosh Environmental Architecture unit showed that 75% of households studied had moisture levels which could lead to dust mite growth and risk of asthma.

While the study was based on existing properties, it highlighted that more and more people dry their laundry within the home - which produces an average 1.5 litres of water per load - and that lifestyle choices and fuel poverty affect indoor pollution levels.

Our research also showed that in other European countries there are mandatory or voluntary standards covering indoor air pollution while UK concern about this appears to be a minority interest.

To deliver healthy new homes it is vital we address control of pollutants, delivery and quality of ventilation, lifestyle variability issues and usability.

The global consumer electronics show in Las Vegas this January illustrated rising interest in personal health monitoring and it is now possible to have an air quality sensor in the home which displays on a mobile phone. Perhaps consumer expectation will soon demand a standard which the industry will be challenged to meet!

Lynne Sullivan is a founding partner of Sustainable By Design