Social housing providers are becoming more aware of the issue’s residents face with regard to poor air quality which can worsen respiratory conditions, such as asthma, and other health conditions including a resident’s mental health. Many homes have undergone energy-efficiency upgrades in the past decade without adequate consideration being given to improving the ventilation in the property. Poor air quality and excess moisture in a home can lead to mould growth and produce the perfect environment for dust mites to thrive.
With people spending an estimated 90% of their time indoors (this figure has only increased due to the current government advice to Stay Home) and with nearly 1000 different pollutants found in British homes, it is critical that there be a significant improvement in the quality of indoor air within people’s homes.
A major issue with improving airtightness through both new build design and retrofitting is that it results in trapped pollutants in the home. This increases the concentration of pollutants unless the property is adequately ventilated. An approach that the new PAS 2035 Retrofit Standard has been designed to address along with the current Building Regulations Document F.
It has long been understood that Moisture build-up, mould and bacterial growth can occur as a result of structural building faults, inadequate heating, insulation or inadequate ventilation.
Volatile organic compounds (VOC), including formaldehyde, may be emitted slowly from indoor building materials, furniture, paints and carpets. VOCs also may be released by smoking and detergent or enter the home from integral garages or outdoor sources. These can contribute to acute conditions (e.g. poisonings) as well as cancers and asthma. Compact fluorescent lights commonly contain mercury and thus must be handled with care to avoid exposures, particularly when broken.
Additionally, in some areas of the UK, Radon is also an issue. This is a radioactive gas that emanates from certain rock and soil formations, concentrating in the basement or ground levels of homes in the absence of inadequate ventilation or evacuation systems. Recent studies on indoor radon in Europe, North America and Asia indicate that lung cancers attributable to radon may range from 3–14%.
Risks of indoor air pollutants can be lowered by adequate natural ventilation as well as through the use of healthier building materials, including replacement or phasing out of hazardous building substances wherever possible.
Where are the risks
Housing conditions that put people at increased risk of exposure to poor indoor air quality include:
- Location: External factors such as high levels of outdoor air pollution, or where noise or security risks mean residents do not open windows.
- Physical infrastructure: Such as small room size, inadequate ventilation and the building's layout and orientation.
- Standard of housing: For example, with damp and mould or physical disrepair including flood damage or with unfluted or poorly maintained fuel-burning appliances
- Overcrowding: The overoccupancy of a building
As such, social housing providers have a duty of care to their residents in ensuring effective management and monitoring of the above is in place to comply with the current HHSRS regulations and the Homes Fitness for Human Habitation legislation.
To fight the battle against poor air quality within our homes and communities the Mayor of London implemented a zero-carbon homes standard in all new major residential developments, with developers committing to carbon emission reductions of 37% more than national building regulations.
As more housing providers step up the challenge of delivering more new homes, through new build programmes and also striving to upgrade their existing housing stocks via large scale retrofit programmes there is an opportunity to tackle many of the Environmental inequalities which arise where specific communities, such as the most deprived, experience a poorer environmental quality. Understanding and tackling such inequalities is important in the context of sustainable development, where socio-economic issues need to be considered alongside environmental ones, and in view of the emerging agenda on air quality.
Property Managers more than ever need to adopt the use of Technologies such as Switchee, whose IoT solutions can provide some important benefits, including early indicators of humidity, air pressure, poor air quality as well as heating and insulation performance. Switchee brings this ability to Housing Managers more efficiently and cost effectivity by directly connecting to their housing portfolios and providing insights and alerts, which also addresses concerns such as health, and by joining the dots between regulatory requirements and residents we can help to improve air quality within the home.