Healthy Homes Guide
Are you planning a self build? Well, in this blog post we explain why self build represents a unique opportunity to build a healthy home. We also discuss factors that can result in an unhealthy home, how to create a healthy home, our approach to designing and specifying our healthy homes, and measures that you can take to improve the home you’re living in right now.
What is a healthy home?
On average we spend about 65% of our time at home and this percentage is likely to grow as working from home becomes more common. Many people however are unaware of how their homes affect their health and wellbeing, both positively and negatively. Our physical, mental, and social health and wellbeing are influenced by a combination of behaviour, genetic, and environmental factors and our homes as a significant part of our environment are a key contributor. It is fairly well established that poor quality housing has a direct correlation with poor health and wellbeing and the inverse is just as true. Design and specification features within homes such as effective ventilation and good daylight levels can have hugely positive effects. A healthy home can therefore be defined as "a home that facilitates that good health and wellbeing of its occupants".
Self build: an opportunity to build better
With self build you are investing in your own future and that of your family. One of the greatest motivations for building your own home is the opportunity to create a home that meets your needs and those of your loved ones. An understanding therefore that the homes we live in affect our health and wellbeing is not inconsequential. When designing, specifying, constructing, and furnishing a new home, it is important to be aware that the decisions we make; from the sizing and positioning of windows; to the materials we select; and even the things that we put in our homes can all affected the quality of; the air we breathe; the water we drink and bathe in; even how well we sleep and how we feel; and not just for a moment in time but for the duration of our occupation of that home. When we buy food products, we can now carefully read the list of ingredients and make judgements for ourselves with respect to the possible effects on our health, but no such ingredient list is provided when you buy a new home. Wrong ingredients and wrong decisions can be very damaging and ultimately even fatal, and therefore the opportunity to take such decisions into your own hands is huge. Self build is an “opportunity to build better” and not just in terms of spatial qualities and energy performance, but also with respect to the quality of indoor air, water, light, and more. Furthermore, while measures can be taken to mitigate negative health effects of existing properties, with a self build you have the chance to "build healthy" from the start. And we don’t just mean a home that is not unhealthy, for example a home that has low levels of indoor air pollution, but also a home that actually enhances our health and wellbeing. For example, studies have shown that improving air quality can improve productivity, while others have shown that a connection to nature can reduce stress.
In this blog post we discuss the problem of indoor air pollution, the key pollutants to watch out for, how to test and monitor indoor air quality, and ways to improve indoor air quality.
Indoor air pollution
Indoor air pollution is one of the world’s largest environmental problems. According to the WHO, indoor air pollution is responsible for 3.8 million premature deaths each year, primarily due to exposure to pollutants from cooking with solid fuels within poorly ventilated dwellings. Such deaths are primarily among the poor in low- and middle-income countries but indoor air pollution is also a health risk in high-income countries. A 2019 study commissioned by the CLEAN AIR DAY campaign and undertaken by NAQTS found that ultrafine particle pollution levels in UK homes were on average 3.5 times higher inside than outside. The problem is that pollutants are trapped within the building fabric of our homes resulting in build ups of pollution inside the home, especially when ventilation is inadequate. Chris Large of environmental charity GLOBAL ACTION PLAN said that “a combination of indoor and outdoor air pollution sources is turning our homes into toxic boxes, with pollution trapped inside”. In 2019 the government published its CLEAN AIR STRATEGY (2019) in which it described air quality as the largest environmental health risk in the UK. The most common indoor air pollutants are; ALLERGENS, ASBESTOS, CARBON MONOXIDE (CO), MOULD, LEAD (Pb), NITROGEN DIOXIDE (NO2), PARTICULATE MATTER (PM), RADON (Rn), SULPHURE DIOXIDE (SO2), and VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCs).
Testing and monitoring indoor air quality
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A Norway-based manufacturer of professional radon monitors that has now diversified to create a number of smart indoor air quality monitors for the home that provide quick and accurate results on your smartphone as well as alerts when levels are too high."
How good is your indoor air quality?
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Designing out concerns relating to indoor pollutants
ASBESTOS and LEAD (Pb) are typically found in older buildings and regulations have banned their use, hence it is unlikely that these would be a problem when building a new home. The presence and concentration of RADON (Rn) is a postcode lottery, but when building in an area with high levels the specification of appropriate membranes and proper detailing can largely keep it outside. Concerns relating to PARTICULATE MATTER (PM) and CARBON MONOXIDE (CO) poisoning can be designed out by not installing heating or cooking appliances that burn carbon-based fuels, instead relying on electricity and RENEWABLES. MOULD can also be largely designed out with proper detailing that minimises THERMAL BRIDGING. VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS (VOCs) are present in many common building materials and therefore care should be taken to only specify products and materials with no or low-VOC content. Good ventilation and ideally a MVHR system can significant reduce concerns relating to all the above indoor pollutants.