Why air quality really matters

Posted by Paul Langford on 30/04/20 11:00

We have known for some time that indoor air quality at home can be a problem, but a new report produced jointly by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) highlights just how serious an issue this can be. In particular, it says, poor indoor air quality can impact child health.

It links indoor air pollution to a range of childhood health problems including asthma, wheezing, conjunctivitis, dermatitis and eczema. There are a number of potential causes of indoor air pollution. They can include smoking, damp, the burning of fossil fuels and wood, dust, chemicals from building materials and furnishings, aerosol sprays and cleaning products.

There are two issues that cause this problem. One is the presence of pollutants, whether from damp and dust, or ‘introduced’ pollutants such as smoke or air fresheners. The other is ventilation – or rather the lack of it – meaning that the pollutants that have been generated remain within the home, building up.

Homes are, rightly, more airtight than in the past, when porous walls and gaps around single-glazed windows meant that ventilation was not an issue, whatever the other problems. Now, though, it is essential to get this right. And poor ventilation is, disproportionately, a problem of poorer people in poorer quality homes, the report finds.

It makes three recommendations:

  • Legally binding performance standards for indoor air quality to include ventilation rates, maximum concentration levels for specific pollutants, labelling of materials, and testing of appliances

  • Air quality tests when local authority construction is complete and before the building is signed off

  • Compliance tests after construction stages and assessment of buildings once occupied – this may require ring-fenced resources for local authorities to take enforcement action

While some of this is to do with reducing pollutants, much of it deals with ventilation. The report also recommends that local authorities should follow the NICE guidelines on indoor air at home. While many of these involve informing occupiers about the importance of ventilation, and telling them how to do simple things like turn on extract fans, that guidance also says it requires: ‘architects, designers, builders and contractors comply with building standards when working on both new and existing homes, and follow manufacturers’ instructions on how to use paints, adhesives, solvents and other materials that can pollute indoor air.’

It seems that ventilation is becoming a subject of more significance and about time too. It is no good worrying about the food we eat and the air quality in the streets if we are then to be poisoned indoors. It is not a simple subject, and is one where expert advice will be needed.

While this advice on the impact of poor ventilation in homes is both new and worrying, there has been a long-standing realisation of equivalent impacts in the workplace. This can range from poor concentration as a result of ‘stuffiness’ to sick building syndrome and even, in the worst instances, to Legionnaires’ Disease. The solutions for the workplace and the home are not always the same, but the approach is the same – take the problem seriously, and seek expert advice. Colt is here to help. Find out more.


Topics: Climate Control