Updated: Oct 5
For years now architects, designers and construction engineers have been extolling the virtues of airtight homes. The notion of New Builds which were energy efficient, inexpensive to run and affordable began with the Passive House movement back in the early 1990's.
And it’s those same principles which inspire many new residential and commercial developments today. Rightly so. There is much to be said for buildings which reduce our carbon imprint – especially with today’s climate change fears. These are the homes our environmentally-conscious offspring will want to buy and/or live, in for a start. Happily, they should be able to afford them – or at least the lower utility bills. But there are many other benefits from airtight homes with proper ventilation, one of the main ones being health.
What are Benefits of a airtight houses
Reduces thermal heat losses
Less energy required for heating
Cuts back on carbon emissions
Helps fight against climate change
Results in lower energy bills
Warm homes less likely to develop mould problems
More comfortable to live in (not too hot or cold)
More affordable to run
A recent report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health titled “The inside story: Health effects of indoor air quality on children and young people” rightly recommended that “improved insulation must allow for adequate ventilation to prevent pollutants building up.”
So what is ‘adequate ventilation’? Basically, it’s enough air flow to reduce indoor toxins. It can range from regularly opening windows and doors to a comprehensive filter system.
Building regulations do currently exist which outline minimum standards for air flow in a New Build. Unfortunately, those regulations are more about preventing moisture than getting rid of indoor toxins. Worryingly, unlike in Finland where New Builds are assessed for air flow after six months of occupancy, in the UK air flow standards aren’t always enforced. At the same time indoor air standards measuring chemical toxins apply to only a few building materials. That’s because the emphasis on New Build construction regulation today lies with energy efficiency.
One way to combat this lack of indoor air quality monitoring awareness is to include the subject as part of accredited design and construction courses. Ideally students should study quality ventilation, energy efficiency, and reduction in exposure to allergens and pollutants. For older homes under renovation, guidelines for reducing energy and carbon emissions can be found in the new PAS2035 (Specification for the energy retrofit of domestic buildings).
Another way to increase indoor air quality awareness is to include it as part of the government’s Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP). This is the construction industry’s measurement of energy performance of UK homes.
Homes for the future
Ventilation and airtightness in our homes go hand-in-hand. One is ineffective without the other. The benefits of airtight homes – of which there are many – won’t be realised unless there is also sufficient ventilation to help reduce indoor toxins. With both working in sync UK homes will become more energy efficient and affordable, as well as helping the government with its carbon neutral target. More rigorous indoor air flow monitoring and tougher standards is undoubtedly the way forward. Only then will we will have homes fit for 21st century living.