Study finds energy saving home retrofits could increase asthma risk

The drive to make homes more energy efficient could be increasing asthma risks, new research has found. A study led by University of Exeter Medical School found that a failure by residents to heat and ventilate retrofitted properties sufficiently could lead to more people developing the respiratory condition.

Researchers worked with social housing provider, Coastline Housing, to assess data from residents of 700 homes in Cornwall. They found people living in more energy efficient homes had a greater risk of asthma, and that the presence of mould doubled this risk. The study, published in the journal Environment international, builds on previous work showing that dampness and mould can increase the risk of allergic diseases.

Researcher Richard Sharpe said: “We’ve found that adults living in energy efficient social housing may have an increased risk of asthma. 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 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 that 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 indoor humidity at a home, a problem sometimes worsened by energy efficiency measures to seal cracks and gaps.

Head of technical services at Coastline Housing, Mark England, said: “Energy efficiency measures are vital to help keep costs low and reduce the environmental impact of heating our homes. 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.”

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