The importance of improving indoor air quality in the fight against air pollution.

Carl Fivash argues we should be fixing the problem from the inside out.

If we are to protect a generation of young children from serious harm, time is running out to clean-up the toxic air pollution choking many of Britain’s towns and cities. That was the urgent warning issued recently in a letter to the Prime Minister by the campaigning group Doctors Against Diesel, and it’s a concern shared by many scientific and medical experts. It will take years to reduce the number of diesel vehicles on our roads, but we can protect ourselves from air pollution’s harmful effects right now by concentrating on the air we breathe in our homes. After all, we spend more than 80% of our time indoors.  External air pollution impacts on indoor air quality, but there are also many other airborne particles floating around our homes that need to be removed.

In fact, according to findings from the recent Beama initiative ‘My Health, My Home’, more than one-third of all UK homes are at a high risk of containing polluted indoor air and 81% of people are at risk from suffering a respiratory or dermatological condition because of poor air quality at home. It can also have a serious impact on our professional lives, with a Harvard study showing that people working in offices with lower levels of indoor pollutants are more productive at work.

This means the adoption of mechanical ventilation and air filtration systems for buildings deserves as much attention right now as the longer-term talk of ridding our roads of diesels and other air pollutants.  This is fundamental in homes, and particularly new homes that have density planning restrictions and that are situated on brownfield sites.  Ventilation is the means of removing hazardous gases, pollutants and odours from the home, providing vital protection for the people in those homes. In new properties, ventilation must take on a more holistic whole house approach, mainly because of the improving energy performance of homes. This approach will not only drive the removal of harmful particles, but will also help overcome issues such as overheating, mould and condensation.

This issue is particularly important when air quality planning restrictions are in place; with over 700 AQMAs around the UK, this is an increasing issue. Recognising the importance of the mechanical ventilation unit and additional air filtration requirements at design stage will drive the ventilation strategy, which is crucial to get right when you are dealing with human health.  The correct solution shouldn’t be value engineered so that performance is compromised – the solution should always be providing the very best air quality and comfort levels for homes and the people in them.

There are also calls for the government to create a new Clean Air Act, in place of the legislation originally introduced 60 years ago to tackle urban smog. If a new Act is introduced, it needs to take account of filtering clean air into modern buildings. This is becoming a hotly debated topic both in the heating and ventilation industry and beyond. The Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) recently observed that “while tackling emissions from transport is vital, much could also be achieved in a shorter time frame by focussing on how building occupants can be protected from rising external pollution.”

As well as focusing on nitrogen dioxide from diesels, the government needs to think seriously about what BESA describes as “the role of buildings as safe havens from pollution.” The more we can do to tackle indoor pollution, through whole house filtration and ventilation solutions, the more we stand a chance of protecting future generations from the effects of air pollution.

Carl Fivash, Technical Services Manager, Zehnder Group UK

Carl Fivash is Technical Services Manager at global indoor climate solutions specialist Zehnder Group UK, advising customers on the specification, installation and maintenance of the Group’s diverse range of HVAC products and solutions. He has been at Zehnder (formerly Greenwood) for 22 years, and is a leading voice on heating, ventilation, air quality and energy efficiency.

© 2017: Carl Fivash and the AECB (for Terms and Conditions click here)

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