Improving indoor air quality for long-term gain

John Moss from EnviroVent discusses condensation and mould growth, and what social housing providers can do about it

The English Housing Survey (EHS) has revealed recently that damp continues to be a problem for at least one million homes in England, the data showing that people living in rented properties were most likely to be living with issues such as ‘damp.’

Condensation is a direct result of everyday activities, such as taking showers and baths, boiling kettles, cooking, drying clothes and even breathing – where moisture is created and is not able to escape from the home. A family of four will contribute approximately four pints of water per person each day into the environment – 112 pints of water vapour a week.

Before the days of double glazing, and cavity wall and loft insulation, humid, stale air would find its escape route through ill-fitting windows and doors, lofts and so on. In contemporary thermally-efficient homes without adequate ventilation, when warm air hits a cooler surface and the water vapour within it condenses, leading to mould. This places a burden on housing maintenance teams, particularly in the colder months.

There is a whole host of problems that a lack of ventilation can cause. Here are some of the reasons why it is important to ensure adequate air flow.

1. Condensation is unsightly and can be damaging to the fabric of the building

Condensation is a common problem in homes across the UK. On planned maintenance visits to properties it is advisable to check for the early signs of condensation – usually found on windows and door panes, leading to rotting frames, peeling paint and unsightly grey-black walls, as a result of mould growth. Condensation and mould growth are bigger issues in the winter, caused by excessive moisture in the house condensing on the cold windows. An effective ventilation system will improve the air quality within the properties affected and control humidity levels in a home, preventing condensation from forming in the first place.

2. Health benefits of improved ventilation

Research by Professor Awbi at the University of Reading in the report Indoor air quality in UK homes and its impact on health revealed a major increase in asthma cases as a direct result of poor indoor air quality. The report stated that: “Poor indoor air quality is associated with a range of undesirable health effects, such as allergic and asthmatic symptoms, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, airborne respiratory infections and cardiovascular disease.” When energy-efficient refurbishments are carried out, it is important to ensure that a property has an effective ventilation system installed, otherwise improved airtightness can trap pollutants, as well as humidity, in the home. A whole-house Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) system will gently draw in fresh air from outside, reducing humidity levels, diluting and reducing the overall number of potential toxins.

3. Adequate ventilation helps to relieve symptoms of asthma

The same report by Professor Awbi predicted an 80 per cent increase in asthma sufferers from current levels by 2050. The effects of severe asthma can be debilitating, and even fatal. In 2016, 1,410 UK citizens were reported to have died from asthma related events. Mould spores and minute particulate matter associated with damp, pollution, cigarette smoke and airborne detritus from house dust mites can all trigger attacks or make an existing problem worse. A well-ventilated home can help to reduce the symptoms and the likelihood of such attacks.

4. Reduce pollen levels

And it’s not just in the colder months that inadequate ventilation can cause a problem. In the Spring-Summer months, hay fever can cause aggravate thousands of people. Many hay fever sufferers stay indoors when pollen levels are high, and a ventilation system can reduce the need for residents to open doors and windows.

5. Reduce Radon levels in affected areas

An increasing concern for tenants and social housing providers in some areas is radon, a naturally occurring gas that is formed by the decay of uranium, which is in all rocks and soil. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that radon is linked to between 3 and 14 per cent of all lung cancers in a given country, depending on the national levels of Radon and the prevalence of smoking. An effective ventilation system can reduce Radon levels and minimise risks to tenants, as well as providing better indoor air quality.

6. Lessen the impact of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

Toxic home syndrome was identified as a problem in homes a couple of years ago, when studies by My Health My Home found that 15.3 million homes were at risk of health deterioration as a result of poor indoor air quality. There are natural and man-made airborne pollutants that exist in homes, known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These are present in some soft furnishings, cleaning products, aerosols, candles and air fresheners. When these VOCs build up in a confined space, they can start to lead to a deterioration in indoor air quality. One way to lessen the impact of VOCs is to reduce the use of these products; the other option is to control the levels via a ventilation system. Active whole-house ventilation systems are being seen as the answer as, for a relatively small investment, a resident’s home can be free from condensation and mould growth. Failure to provide adequate ventilation can lead to serious consequences for the health of buildings and their occupants.

John Moss is head of social housing sales at EnviroVent