When most people think of air pollution, they picture smog and traffic fumes, but did you know that indoor air quality can often be worse than outdoor air quality? Given that the majority of us now spend most of our time indoors, improving indoor quality can have a dramatic effect on our health and our quality of life.
This summer, the British Lung Foundation will hold its Breathe Easy Week from 18th to 24th June. This aims to raise awareness of lung conditions as well as funding research and important campaigning work. Lung and respiratory conditions can be caused or exacerbated by poor indoor air quality, but getting rid of pollutants and bringing in more fresh, clean air can help the whole family breathe easier.
Recent research published in the journal Science of the Total Environment highlighted the dangerous effects of indoor pollution on human health.
Dr Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey and founding director of the Global Centre for Clean Air Research (GCARE) explained: “When we think of the term ‘air pollution’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling grey smoke. However, there are actually various sources of pollution that have a negative effect on air quality, many of which are found inside our homes and offices. From cooking residue to paints, varnishes and fungal spores the air we breathe indoors is often more polluted than that outside.”
Pollutants in the air that we breathe can include volatile organic compounds (VOCs), smoke particulates and allergens such as house dust mites and pet dander. Breathing in these things can cause or contribute to a wide range of health issues, including respiratory conditions, asthma and allergic reactions. Hidden build-ups of naturally occurring radon gas can even cause lung cancer. Cancer Research UK says that this invisible gas accounts for 4% of all cases of lung cancer in the country.
Concrete health benefits aside, improving your indoor air quality can also help get rid of stale smells and provide a generally more pleasant living environment.
Ventilation simply refers to the movement of air between the inside and outside of a building. It is essential for indoor air quality as you need a movement of air to dilute and disperse the pollutants and contaminants that otherwise build up inside every home.
Good ventilation can also help prevent damp taking hold in your home. Condensation is a common problem in many UK homes and is caused when moist, warm air comes into contact with a colder surface such as a window or outside wall. This can lead to damp and black mould, which can be detrimental to your health and be damaging to your home. Ventilation can help by dispersing and getting rid of the damp air before condensation can occur.
The most basic type of ventilation is natural ventilation. This is achieved through fixed vents, air breaks, small gaps in the building materials, or just from opening windows and doors. This does not always provide adequate ventilation, however, especially in modern, energy-efficient buildings that are becoming increasingly airtight.
Extractor fans are good for removing stale, dirty or damp air from individual rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms. To improve the indoor air quality throughout the building, however, you will need to look at whole-house ventilation.
As the name suggests, whole-house ventilation gently moves air throughout the whole building.
There are a number of ways to achieve this. One of these ways is through Positive input ventilation (PIV) which draws air from outside, usually through a unit installed in the loft or roof space. It is filtered for impurities, and the extra pressure creates a constant gentle airflow through the property. Negative pressure ventilation pumps air like extractor fans, but not as common for whole-house systems.
Balanced systems combine the approaches, gently drawing fresh filtered air into the building while pumping out stale, polluted air. This can even be combined with a heat recovery system, which draws heat from the outgoing air and transfers it to the incoming stream.
This can help improve your energy efficiency at the same time as it improves your indoor air quality.