In our previous article on “The Role of M&E Consulting Engineers in Improving Children's Health”, we discussed how children are more at risk from poor indoor air quality than adults. This highlights the issue as a genuine long-term problem and a concern with regard to public health planning for years to come. The European Environment Agency suggests that health risks associated with indoor air quality span the period from pregnancy, right through to adulthood, stating, “Before birth, ambient air pollution increases the risk of babies being smaller during pregnancy (a condition known as ‘small for gestational age’, or SGA) (Pun et al., 2021; Health Effects Institute, 2022; Nyadanu et al., 2022), having a low birth weight (Yang et al., 2020; Ghosh et al., 2021) as well as having an increased risk of pre-term birth (US EPA, 2020; Nyadanu et al., 2022; Yu et al., 2022). All of these can increase the risk of different health problems later in life”.
The article continues by highlighting symptoms that can result from indoor air pollution in later childhood and adult life, including the exacerbation of allergies, the impairment of lung function and development, and chronic conditions such as asthma. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences discusses both the short and long-term effects of exposure to indoor pollutants, explaining that “long-term exposure to radon and other indoor air substances that increase the chance of developing lung cancer include second-hand smoke, asbestos, arsenic, and some forms of silica and chromium”. With sustainability the order of the day, it is not only building materials that are required to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. It must also be possible to maintain good indoor air quality with a view to ensuring the long-term health of occupants and rendering the provision of health services sustainable. An article on the effectiveness of ventilation systems in preventing health conditions such as hay fever can be found here.
A great deal has been published regarding the link between outdoor air pollution, health impact, and the cost of property. The Guardian highlights a notable advertising campaign in London with the slogan, “These houses cost an arm, a leg and a lung”. However, the issue of indoor air quality is also of increasing concern to house buyers, and this is in turn affecting property prices. A working paper published by Dr Edward Pinchbeck at the University of Birmingham found that “exposure to radon risk in England reduces property prices by around 1.6%”.
The direct impact of other pollutants on house prices largely unknown, but with health impacts widely documented, the article calls for the prioritisation of studies into “the extent and incidence of the costs of other indoor air pollutants”. A study on buildings in Singapore found that “the return on investment in IAQ could be substantial (78.56%), while property values could increase by 1.28% to 3.85%”. With a wide range of sensors and detectors now readily available and affordable, it is likely that we will see an increase in the monitoring of IAQ, and that this will have a similar effect on house prices. The authors of a paper published by the London School of Economics and Political Science calculate that “the average willingness to pay to avoid the risk of indoor air pollution is 1.6% of a property’s price”.
This must of course be offset against the installation and running costs of adequate ventilation systems. An article addressing the running costs of ventilation systems is available here. However, it goes without saying that no price can be placed on occupant health and wellbeing. Adequate ventilation solutions are a worthwhile investment that merit due consideration and careful advance planning.
In summary: what are the long-term benefits of investing in indoor air quality?
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