Arrange a Survey

Discover how M&E consulting engineers influence children's health by designing for superior indoor air quality

Select a category

Designing for Better Indoor Air Quality: The Role of M&E Consulting Engineers in Improving Children's Health

By Ruth MacEachern

Product Manager

Sep 29, 2023

The role and responsibility of house builders no longer ends upon handover of the keys to a new property. New government legislation and guidelines highlight the importance of healthy buildings,  in terms of low emissions  to protect the environment and the health of future generations who will inhabit the future Earth  as well as the dwellings we are building here and now. With this in mind, this article will focus on the impact of poor indoor air quality on children in particular, highlighting the challenges faced, strategies by which to tackle the problem, and the role of M&E Consulting Engineers in designing healthy homes.

Why are children more at risk from poor indoor air quality?

According to the Royal College of Physicians in London, there is “growing evidence that respiratory problems among children may be exacerbated by indoor air pollution in home”.

Furthermore, a publication from the European Environment Agency highlights children and adolescents as being particularly vulnerable and yet particularly limited with regard to their ability to protect themselves. According to the publication, this heightened vulnerability applies “from when they are in the womb to when they reach adulthood”, urging the adoption of “air quality policies [to] protect the health of children and adolescents by explicitly taking into account differences in their biology and exposure pathways”. So, what are these differences that render children so susceptible to the effects of airborne pollutants and allergens? The European Environment Agency publication highlights the following reasons:

  • Children’s respiratory systems are still developing and they have a weaker immune system. Consequently, they are less equipped to cope with elevated levels of pollutants.
  • Children’s breathing rates are higher than those of adults and they also take in more air per kilogram of body weight.
  • Because of their lower physical height, they breathe air closer to the ground where some pollutants become concentrated.
  • Children inhale a larger fraction of air through their mouths than adults. Due to this increased oral breathing, pollution penetrates deep into the lower respiratory tract, which is more permeable.

A 2021 report by Housing Matters reinforces this viewpoint, stating that “Research shows exposure to air pollutants increases the risk of severe respiratory illnesses, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma, in young children and may cause headaches, drowsiness, and concentration loss, affecting school performance”. This report highlights that the majority of studies conducted regarding the effects of indoor air quality on children have thus far been conducted in schools. Studies are required with regard to indoor air quality in domestic dwellings, since children spend more of their time at home. Furthermore, “higher concentrations of indoor air pollutants were found in homes than in schools”, with homes responsible for 88 percent of the pollutants analysed.

UK regulations and guidelines regarding indoor air quality in dwellings

This report calls for tighter regulations and guidelines on the monitoring and prevention of indoor pollutants. House builders and consulting engineers will no doubt be aware that such legislation is already a reality in the UK, in the form of amendments to Approved Document F, Volume 1 (governing ventilation and air flow in residential properties) and the Future Homes and Building Standard, a set of rules set to come into effect in 2025 that will require CO2 emissions produced by new homes to be 75-80% lower than those built to current standards.

So, what can you as a house builder or consulting engineer do to improve indoor air quality and protect the health of future generations?

There are a number of strategies by which to improve indoor air quality in residential properties and design a healthy home. Regardless of the building design and the budget, in all situations, ventilation is key.

For information on the role of ventilation in preventing hay fever, consult our article on the subject here.

If retrofitted, the majority of mechanical ventilation systems require extensive costly refurbishment work, and so M&E consulting engineers have a crucial role to play in designing the optimal ventilation system with a view to creating healthy living spaces for house buyers and their children.

A whole house mechanical ventilation system, such as  mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) involves the installation of a central unit (often in the attic), which extracts contaminated air and replaces it with filtered and heated air from outside the building. This is then distributed throughout the entire home via a system of ducts and vents. Consulting engineers must ensure that the installation is suitable for the building in question, that the unit is appropriately dimensioned, and the routing of ducts is efficiently designed. Other ventilation solutions are available such as mechanical extract ventilation where it is  crucial that window trickle vents are installed in sufficient quantity and that the l units  are fitted in rooms with high moisture levels, such as kitchens and bathrooms. The EnviroVent website offers a wide range of tips and ventilation strategies, such as our article on how to best ventilate rooms with no windows.

With household budgets increasingly stretched and evidence suggesting that poorer households are more adversely affected by poor indoor air quality, it is essential that building designers select the most efficient and cost-effective solution possible. For information regarding the installation and running costs of our ventilation systems, consult our website or contact the EnviroVent experts.

Request a local CPD in person, at your office We offer Domestic Ventilation Strategies & Best Practice Compliance CPDs with our local ventilation experts!