Subscribing to our award-winning Hub enables readers to receive regular emails with the top articles most likely to interest them

HA Magazine’s Joe Bradbury investigates the impact of indoor air quality and looks at what social housing providers can do to help

When we are in a house, an office (or any other type of building, for that matter), we are at the mercy of gas, chemicals, toxins and many other pollutants that can cause headaches, eye irritation, allergies and fatigue.

Prolonged exposure to more serious pollutants can even cause certain types of cancers and other long-term health complications.

5.4 million people in the UK are currently receiving treatment for asthma; that’s 1.1 million children (1 in 11) and 4.3 million adults (1 in 12). On average, 3 people a day die from asthma in the UK. Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.

Not only can poor indoor air quality make the symptoms of someone who already has asthma worse, but it may also play a role in the development of asthma in more susceptible people, like small children.

If air quality is so crucial, then it stands to reason that we should be doing everything within our power to ensure the cleanest air to breathe for people both in and out of the home.

The biggest way of alleviating pressure on tenants is by ensuring warm, healthy and efficient homes.

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Digital Editor of HA magazine

Fuel poverty makes it worse

Fuel poverty is often thought of as a financial problem, but it actually poses several health and wellbeing issues for an affected tenant. Cold damp homes can lead to an increase in mould, which can affect people suffering from allergies and asthma.

Whilst researchers, medical experts and politicians acknowledge the serious health implications of an inadequately heated home, action is often delayed or dismissed entirely, resulting in an increased pressure on our tenants, and our NHS.

Needless to say, healthy and renewable methods of heating the home, such as heat pumps, are part of the solution.

By extracting renewable energy from outdoor air, heat pumps are best suited to more continuous running, and provide a more constant level of comfort for vulnerable residents.

Heat pumps allow tenants to heat all of their homes cost effectively, rather than just one or two rooms, which is better not only for their property but their health also. 

The scale of the issue

An estimated 28,300 excess winter deaths occurred in England and Wales in winter 2019 to 2020, which was 19.6% higher than winter 2018 to 2019. Respiratory diseases continued to be the leading cause of excess winter deaths that occurred in 2019 to 2020.

England alone currently has around 2.5 million fuel-poor households. That’s one in ten families that cannot afford to heat their home.

Fuel poverty is a perpetual annual cycle of misery for those affected; one that feeds a steady stream of patients through the revolving doors of a hospital.

How can the housing sector help?

In a bid to try and struggle through the winter many tenants resort to either using their central heating sporadically, or using small space heaters instead.

Unfortunately, this has a detrimental effect on the air quality and often leads to high levels of condensation within a household, where small sections of the house are warm and the surrounding rooms are cold.

Where cold air meets warm surfaces is the perfect environment for mould and damp to flourish, leaving poor health implications and damaged property in its wake; plaster soon crumbles and requires replacement after being subjected to excess moisture for long periods of time, furnishings can be ruined by mould.

There are so many consequences to an inefficient home. Indeed, if left unchecked for long enough, damp can actually damage the structural integrity of a house. The house can then be condemned until it is fit once more to be inhabited.

It has been estimated that for every £1 spent on retrofitting fuel poor homes, the NHS could save an estimated £0.42p by reducing the health risks associated with fuel poverty and draughty properties.

Evaluations undertaken by both ‘Warm Front’ and ‘the Scottish CHP’ indicated that residents with bedroom temperatures at 21°C are 50% less likely to suffer depression and anxiety than those with temperatures of 15°C.

According to the NHS, keeping warm over the winter months can help prevent colds, flu or more serious health conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and depression.

How can the housing sector help the NHS?

With this in mind, it seems that the biggest way the housing sector can alleviate some of the pressure that we are all undeniably responsible for by ensuring its housing stock consists of warm, healthy and efficient homes.

But we cannot do it alone. Housing professionals need to see real commitment from their government to help tackle the issue of fuel poverty going forward with more sustainable and long term solutions, such as encouraging housebuilders and landlords to implement energy saving and efficient heating products into their housing stock.

Our tenants and our NHS could very well depend upon it!

Joe Bradbury is Digital Editor of HA magazine