You may dream of a new home with modern insulation, but lurking inside are invisible health hazards! There are serious questions about the safety of new builds. Building regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions are resulting in ever more airtight homes, with almost no ventilation. 2010 Ventilation Guidelines have been largely ignored, and building control, once the preserve of local councils, is now farmed out to private companies. Buildings are passed with the minimum ventilation required by law, based on room size and window vents. Health risks occur when ventilation rates are below 0.4 air changes per hour. Studies show that almost all new builds fall short of this. Vent-Axia recommend 2-4 air changes per hour in bedrooms.
Poor ventilation is clearly linked to ill health and leads to a variety of symptoms including headaches, allergies, reduced productivity at work, sore throat, dry eyes and skin, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nausea and respiratory issues. Collectively these symptoms are called Sick Building Syndrome. Poorly ventilated homes are particularly bad for people who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.
Poor ventilation leads to:
- High humidity. There are 50-100 mould spores in each cubic metre of air. One spore on a damp surface can cause mould to take root. Inhaling mould spores exposes you to a range of health problems from coughing to lung infections. Mould can build up behind plaster board walls without you knowing it is there. High humidity keeps dust mites alive. Dust mites are known allergens which are present in bedding, curtains and carpets in all homes.
- Low humidity can also be a problem. It increases respiratory illnesses, colds and skin irritation, and allows certain bacteria and allergens to thrive.
- Increased levels of Volatile Organic Compounds, such as formaldehyde, acetone, benzene and ethylene glycol, which are found in everything from carpets to cleaning products, are detrimental to health.
- Increased levels of combustion pollutants, carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are released from dryers and heaters, and effect the nervous system and can cause death.
How do you improve air quality?
Choose your new build home with great care. Ensure that ventilation is installed before you buy. It may be impossible to install later. Ventilation units with heat exchange are available which provide fresh air without making your home cold.
Opening windows in bathrooms can help maintain humidity at around, the ideal, 45%. Keep kitchens and bathrooms clean and dry. Make sure your washing machine dries out between washes as it can harbour mould.
A lot of dust at home is a sign of poor ventilation. Vacuum regularly to keep dust under control. Wood floors can reduce dust mites.
Make sure heating appliances are well maintained. Open windows or use extractors when cooking to allow combustion pollutants to escape.
Certain house plants can greatly improve your air quality. Palms filter formaldehyde, benzene and carbon monoxide from the air and regulate humidity. Best plants for this include the Areca palm, Bamboo palm and Boston fern.