New research out of the UK has found that energy efficient social housing may be leading to increased rates of asthma, with crack and gap sealing in some cases leading to an increase in indoor humidity.
The research from the University of Exeter, published in Environment International, found a failure by residents to heat and ventilate retrofitted properties properly was potentially leading to an increase in the respiratory condition.
It builds on previous work showing that dampness and mould can increase the risk of allergic diseases.
“We’ve found that adults living in energy efficient social housing may have an increased risk of asthma,” researcher Richard Sharpe said. “Modern efficiency measures are vital to help curb energy use, and typically prevent heat loss through improved insulation and crack sealing. Yet some people, particularly those living in fuel poverty, are unlikely to heat a building enough – or ventilate it sufficiently – to prevent the presence of damp and mould, factors that we know can contribute to asthma.”
The United Kingdom has one of the highest occurrences of asthma in the world, and with its government recently releasing £30 million in funding for energy improvements for homes, the researchers believe the study highlights the need for a comprehensive behaviour change program for residents.
The presence of mould was unable to fully explain the study’s findings however, with poorly ventilated homes also likely to increase people’s exposure to other biological, chemical and physical contaminants. The study pointed to other possible factors which can affect health in homes with high humidity, such as house dust mites and bacteria.
Occupant behaviours often vary dramatically in different properties, with some people drying washing indoors or relying on older and less effective heating systems. These behaviours can increase the indoor humidity at a property, a problem which is sometimes worsened by energy efficient efforts to seal cracks and gaps.
“Energy efficiency measures are vital to help keep costs low and reduce the environmental impact of heating our homes,” Mark England, head of technical services at not-for-profit housing association Coastline Housing, said.
“This research has given us an invaluable insight into how the behaviour of people living in fuel efficient homes can affect health. As a result, we’re working to provide better information to customers on how to manage their indoor environment, including potential training of volunteer sustainability champions.”