Did you know the average British person spends 22 hours a day inside? That’s around 90% of their overall day. The reasons cited for this are many, from adverse weather conditions to work commitments. Developing technology is partly to blame, with TV’s, smart devices and consoles proving too addictive for many to peel themselves away from for prolonged periods of time. But technology is also part of the solution, transforming the great indoors into a healthy environment in which we can thrive. Joe Bradbury of buildingspecifier.com discusses:
On a typical weekday the average Brit spends just 8-10% of their time outside (less than two hours) and most of this is spent moving from one building to another on foot or by car. Unfortunately, this is also true of our children too; 36% of parents think their kids are not spending enough time outside, whilst 1 in 6 are uncertain themselves of how much time outdoors is actually sufficient.
Studies show that over half of parents worry that their young ones are spending significantly less time out than they themselves did when they were children, indicating an overall shift in behaviour as a society.
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Whilst it is critically important that we all get outside as much as we can and appreciate nature in all its splendour, it is also vital that our technology moves with the times to ensure the indoor environments we inhabit are not taking a toll on our health and wellbeing.
Sat comfortably inside our homes, offices and schools we pay little mind to the invisible threats posed by poor quality air. But those harmful gases, chemicals, toxins and pollutants that we unwittingly breathe are responsible for many of the migraines, skin and eye irritations, allergic reactions and general tiredness that plague us all from time to time.
Experts agree that poor indoor air quality in UK homes is at a scale and magnitude that needs immediate national-level attention and action.
Both built environment and medical professionals recently came together to highlight the true danger of poor IAQ, which alarmingly is responsible for around 40,000 deaths throughout Britain each year. The Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, BRE and the ARCC network released a report revealing the lack of robust, longitudinal, shared Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) profiles, associated health consequences and datasets across the national housing stock.
Recommendations included revising building regulations and reducing pollutant emissions from construction materials and home improvement products.
Professor Stephen Holgate, Special Advisor on Air Quality to the Royal College of Physicians said “There is a growing body of evidence that suggests volatile organic compounds (VOCs), are also being produced by synthetic building and furnishing materials. At the same time, insulating homes without adequate ventilation can trap a potentially toxic cloud coming from everyday household products such as air fresheners and cleaning products.
“We need to strike a balance between talking to technologists to develop solutions for those able to improve the situation within their own means and ensuring effort is going into “making normal better.”
The report also called for nationwide monitoring and pooling of data required for outdoor and indoor air pollution including encouraging widespread installation of real time sensors that detect indoor pollutants.
It is said that time is a great healer; however, when a serious issue (such as poor indoor air quality) is ignored then in time the damage it can inflict on our bodies can be fatal. Prolonged exposure to serious pollutants found throughout British buildings leads to the development of certain kinds of cancers long-term health concerns.
On average, 3 people a day die from asthma. There are 5.4 million people (1.1 million children and 4.3 million adults) in Great Britain known to be suffering from the condition… and they are just the ones that came forward for treatment. An untold number battle through their symptoms
undiagnosed. The UK has some of the highest asthma rates in Europe. Every day, the lives of three families are devastated by the death of a loved one to an asthma attack, and tragically two thirds of these deaths are preventable.
Indoor air quality is essential in the treatment and prevention of Asthma, along with many other respiratory conditions.
Tech that can help
If you work in the construction industry, you may have already been specifying devices aimed at improving IAQ, such as air filters and heat pumps as part of your workload. But for those who have yet to come across them, allow me to explain how they work:
MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery) provides fresh filtered air into a building whilst retaining most of the energy that has already been used in heating the building. Heat Recovery Ventilation is the solution to the ventilation needs of energy efficient buildings. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), heat recovery ventilation (HRV) or Comfort ventilation are all names for the same thing. A heat recovery ventilation system properly fitted into a house provides a constant supply of fresh filtered air, maintaining the air quality whilst being practically imperceptible.
MVHR works by extracting the air from the polluted sources e.g. kitchen, bathroom, toilets and utility rooms and supplying air to the ‘living’ rooms e.g. bedrooms, living rooms, studies etc. The extracted air is taken through a central heat exchanger and the heat recovered into the supply air. This works both ways; if the air inside the building is colder than the outside air then the building will retain its nice and cool temperature.
An airtight building with effective filtration and ventilation is proven to reduce particle penetration by 78%.
Everyone is at risk from indoor air pollution. As a civilisation, we of course need to treat the causes of this pollution, by cleaning up our act and lowering our carbon footprint. In the interim however, the construction industry will play an invaluable part in treating the symptoms of our misdemeanours, developing and installing technologies that will allow us all to breathe a sigh of relief whilst indoors.
As an industry, we have the power to ensure the safety of the users and occupants of buildings nationwide. We still have a way to go, but Britain is taking valiant steps towards a sustainable and healthy future and addressing the pressing issue of poor indoor air quality across the country is paramount. Do not underestimate your role in this sea change as a building specifier… what you can offer is a breath of fresh air!