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.”

One reply on “Study: Energy efficient homes linked to asthma”

  1. There is a fundamental consideration that is often forgotten in the design, construct and occupy process, and that is the long term health attributes of product.
    An ‘Energy efficient’ home and a ‘Healthy home’ are two different credentials to a home environment. The ultimate objective is to achieve both – a healthy, and energy efficient home.

    Yes while occupants can always benefit from more information on how best to use their homes, however in fuel poverty and lower social economic groups, this will require…..a lot of hard work and support…. To combat some of the issues other alternatives should be to use substrates that actually breathe, that allow the moisture to move. Due to these studies, hopefully governments will learn from the results and lead by example, using economical solutions such as natural breathable paints. Apart form the vapour permeability of the paint, they generally are low to no VOCs with no semi VOCs unlike many of the synthetic, plastic, not breathable paints. When one considers the amount of wall and ceiling area in a home, this would have a huge impact on not only the immediate indoor air quality when one moves in however also the long term with e.g. mould and moisture issues.

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