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HA assistant editor, Joe Bradbury looks at the damage poor indoor air quality can cause

According to a recent survey, the average person in Britain spends just 8% of their time outside on a week day and most of this time is spent walking to the shops or to a car.

This means that they spend less than two hours a day outdoors and, needless to say, the quality of the indoor air is paramount for the health and wellbeing of its occupants.

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).

The UK has some of the highest rates in Europe and on average 3 people a day die from asthma. 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.

People now expect to be able to enjoy comfortable temperatures inside. They should also expect similar protection from rising air pollution

Joe Bradbury Joe Bradbury Assistant editor of Housing Association Magazine

Clean air matters

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.

Most of us are in agreement now that we must continue to take progressive steps as an industry to reduce our carbon footprint going forward.

The construction industry is a major source of pollution, responsible for around 4% of particulate emissions, more water pollution incidents than any other industry, and thousands of noise complaints every year.

We need a solution that is effective, efficient and clean.

Effective ventilation

Airtightness in buildings has improved to such a degree in recent years and ventilation has had to play catch up.

Adequate ventilation in airtight buildings is essential and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) systems offer that effective, efficient and clean way of ventilation so sorely needed by people living in poor quality air across Britain today.

MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery) provides fresh filtered air into a building whilst retaining most of the energy that has already been used in heating the building.

Heat Recovery Ventilation is the solution to the ventilation needs of energy efficient buildings. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), heat recovery ventilation (HRV) or Comfort ventilation are all names for the same thing. A heat recovery ventilation system properly fitted into a house provides a constant supply of fresh filtered air, maintaining the air quality whilst being practically imperceptible.

MVHR works by extracting the air from the polluted sources e.g. kitchen, bathroom, toilets and utility rooms and supplying air to the ‘living’ rooms e.g. bedrooms, living rooms, studies etc.

The extracted air is taken through a central heat exchanger and the heat recovered into the supply air. This works both ways, if the air inside the building is colder than the outside air then the building will retain its nice and cool temperature.

Pollution protection

In a previous article on The Hub, Paul McLaughlin, chief executive of the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) said “a well-sealed building envelope combined with effective filtration of incoming supply air can reduce particle penetration by 78%.

"Considerable investment has already been made in improving the airtightness of buildings to reduce energy consumption and that same process can be used to manage air quality. The general public already understands the impact temperature has on healthy and productive conditions inside buildings — we now need to stress that the same principle should apply to air quality.

“When it is too hot or cold outside, people now expect to be able to enjoy comfortable temperatures inside. They should also expect similar protection from rising air pollution."

As an industry, we are responsible for the comfort and wellbeing of the occupants of the buildings we make and maintain.

It’s also our duty to ensure we are taking adequate steps towards renewables. MVHR can tick both of these boxes, so it’s time to sit up and take note."

Joe Bradbury is Assistant Editor of Housing Association Magazine.