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Public health at risk from poorly ventilated homes, warn GSA experts

Houses housing newbuild
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A lack of ventilation in modern, airtight homes is causing a build-up of indoor pollutants harmful to health, specialists have warned

Experts at the Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit (MEARU) at the Glasgow School of Art found that 63 per cent of trickle vents monitored in a recent survey of new homes were kept closed and only one in five people left their bedroom windows open at night.

The research, undertaken with architects Anderson Bell Christie and residents of 400 homes in properties built in Scotland to modern airtight standards since 2010, also uncovered that 83 per cent of mechanical extract systems were underperforming, with 42 per cent below Building Regulations requirements for moisture control.

It was also revealed that there was no public perception of indoor air quality, with 82 per cent of those surveyed saying they had received no advice on ventilation.

According to the research unit, households harbour a range of common pollutants including formaldehyde, which is used in pressed wood products such as MDF, and phthalates used to make plastics like PVC more flexible.

Since the survey MEARU has launched a film to make people aware of the impact of poor ventilation on health and general living environments, and the need to ventilate their homes so as to reduce exposure to pollutants and chemicals that contribute to the risk of conditions such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). It will be made available to housing association tenants in Scotland as part of their household introduction packs.

Professor Tim Sharpe, head of the MEARU, said it was hard for people to detect poor indoor air quality, particularly in bedrooms. ’Modern homes are increasingly airtight and can also contain a great number of pollutants and chemicals, many of which can have serious health effects,’ he said. ‘It is clear from this research that buildings are simply not well ventilated and this could seriously impact on occupants’ health, especially vulnerable people such as those with COPD and asthma.’

‘Buildings are simply not well ventilated and this could seriously impact on occupants’ health’

As a result of MEARU’s research, all newbuild properties in Scotland must be equipped with CO2 sensors to give residents an indication of how well their homes are ventilated.

Julia Evans, chief executive of BSRIA, the test, instruments, research and consultancy organisation, said MEARU’s warning served as a useful reminder to new homeowners.

She added: ’[We]… promote the importance of good ventilation. The undesired side effects and health issues people are exposed to when they don’t adopt this are tragic, especially asthma, which costs the NHS millions of pounds a year alone.’

Kenneth Shepherd, development officer at Hanover Housing Association, which took part in the research, said that going forward, all new residents would be provided with information ‘on the best way of ensuring that they ventilate their homes properly’. 

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The lack of ventilation seems to be related to people's closing of the trickle vents rather than inherent in the homes themselves. Research by VELUX suggests that UK residents air their home much less often than their EU counterparts. Google 'Healthy Homes Barometer' for the research report. Also see the recent Zero Carbon Hub report on recently completed homes where the mechanical ventilation systems were poorly installed/commissioned. Hopefully the growing use of internal sensors will help to combat this.

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