You don’t have to be a medical professional to know that the air we breathe can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing, but if you thought that the levels of outside pollution was the main cause of concern it might be time for a rethink.
A number of recent studies have revealed that the quality of the air inside our homes and work places is often falling well short of what might be considered ‘clean’.
Research at Southampton University has concluded that indoor air can be 13 times more polluted than the air outside a building, while a new report from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that the poor quality of air within UK homes and buildings represents an imminent risk to everyone’s health, and particularly for those with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
Heating professionals are better placed than most
Youth is no protection
Focusing on younger members of the population, another report, this time from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), has highlighted the fact that children in the UK are spending more of their lives indoors and that the health impact of the air quality within homes and schools needs serious attention.
Including a review of over 200 case studies, the study again links air pollution to cancer, asthma and cardiovascular diseases, and points to evidence that air quality tends to be significantly worse in low quality housing where properties are often inadequately ventilated.
For the most unfortunate inhabitants, the inevitable consequence is impaired lung function and reduced life expectancy.
Beware the VOCs
Without fully functioning ventilation, everyday activities such as showering and drying clothes can generate excess moisture, leading to damp conditions and the appearance of mould, while the use of household cleaning products such as aerosols, bleach, polish and detergents can trigger the release of fine dust particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
These can cause minor irritations for occupants, such as headaches, itchy eyes and nose congestion, but in more serious cases can cause outbreaks of eczema and can be linked to dementia and other mental health issues.
Not too surprisingly, studies suggest that indoor pollutants are much more likely to be rife during the winter months than summer, when open windows and doors will ensure that air is replaced on a regular basis.
Time to step in
Few people would argue against the need to improve insulation levels and the energy efficiency of our homes and offices, but it’s important to remember that more air-tight homes also need effective ventilation – and heating professionals are better placed than most to ensure that any potential issues are addressed at the point of installation.
Whether replacing a property’s heating system or enhancing an existing one with more sophisticated controls or energy-saving appliances, why not have a conversation about ventilation and explain how the latest solutions can deliver the required air movement without any loss of heat loss and only minimal running costs?
The new guidance published by NICE emphasises the need for a balanced approach to ventilation, insulation and heating to achieve better indoor air quality, but solutions are only likely to be realised if energy saving measures and improvements to a building’s fabric are not completed in isolation.
With air filters, purifiers and energy efficient whole house ventilation units – alongside digital monitoring devices – the technology already exists to ensure that we are not breathing in substances that would do us harm, but all parts of the industry need to work closer together if we are to avoid the design of energy saving, air-tight buildings having unintended consequences.