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As a new dad, you tend to sit up when headlines talk of 40,000 deaths due to the air we breathe.  The recent report by the Royal College of Physicians and Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is quite stark about all the different pollutants, where they come from and how they can impact our health, particularly the very young and old.

It is clear that we need to do something about it as soon as possible, at BRE we have done a lot of research into this issue, which is now joined up in the Home Quality Mark (HQM) – the standard which provides consumers the smart tools when buying or renting a new home.  HQM provides a rating for the impact of the home upon the occupants Health and Wellbeing, as well as an overall rating on the overarching quality of the home.

We take pollution into account in a number of different ways as outlined below; 

Sources of pollution

Both indoor and outdoor pollution has to come from somewhere.  Outside, it mostly comes from transport, energy production, manufacturing and home heating & hot water.  Decisions that are made when building new homes can impact all of these sources of outdoor pollution.

Transport

The Home Quality Mark takes into account the location of public transport and encourage the use of more sustainable transport (such as cycling and electric cars).  This reduces the need to use Petrol or Diesel cars.

Energy Production

The UK produces energy in a number of ways, Coal is still used for electricity generation and remains a source of pollution.  HQM encourages homes that use as little energy as possible means that we can reduce the amount of energy needed.  Things like low energy LED lighting help with this.

Manufacturing

Building a home requires materials.  Home Quality Mark rewards homes that are built with responsibly sourced materials that have a smallest impact on pollution as possible.

Heating and hot water

Firstly efficient homes reduce the need for large amounts of heating and hot water, but HQM also takes looks how the heating and hot water is generated.  Boilers can produce significant amounts of local pollution, whether they use wood, oil or gas as the fuel.

Inside the home

Sources of pollution inside the home are often the choice of the occupant (cleaning products, furniture, cosmetics etc).  However, the construction materials, including paints and varnishes can have a significant impact of levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and airborne Formaldehyde.  HQM awards for construction materials that have limited impact upon indoor pollution.

Smart Homes

Home occupiers have a big impact on their indoor air quality, it isn’t just down to the builder.  Technology is here to help, affordable monitors which measure indoor air quality (such as VOC, CO2 and particulates) are now available which can give you information, which is likely to encourage you to ventilate your property.

The below two readings from my smart indoor monitor show the impact on indoor air quality by opening the windows.  VOC + CO2 are reduced, but because I live in London – the particulate matter increases.  (A filtered ventilation system would reduce the particulate matter).

 

foobobefore                              foobotafter

Before opening windows                                              After opening windows

Extraction

Ventilation

Now we understand where the pollution comes from and how we can monitor it, we must extract it out of our homes.  Ventilating our homes sounds simple, but in reality it can be more of a challenge.  Opening windows can be a security issue, or let in unwanted noise.  Electric ventilation fans are also often undersized for the number of people that may reside in the home, HQM addresses this by encouraging greater levels of ventilation with systems that are easy to service (i.e. change the filters).

Plants

Having plants inside your home can also help improve indoor air quality.  Biophilic (the inclusion of plants in the home) design has been spearhead by designers such TV personality Oliver Heath.  The NASA clean air study also provides a useful list of plants that can help reduce pollutants.

Gwyn Roberts
About the Author
Homes and Communities Leader, at BRE Global. I lead the team who works on Home Quaility Mark, BREEAM Communities, BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment and the Code for Sustainable Homes. Ex DCLG civil servant consultant and independent traveller; crossing Africa in a Solar powered Landcruiser in 2009/10. @homeqm and @overlandsun

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