A breath of fresh air

Vent-Axia’s Jordan Lilford explains the challenges the Government’s Clean Air Strategy presents for housebuilders, as well as looking at potential solutions.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is increasingly important following a raft of research that has pointed to the potential health impact of breathing polluted air. New legislation combined with consumer awareness means that all new homes must offer solutions.

Research on air pollution and the importance of good IAQ has been building momentum over the last few years. At the end of 2017, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) revealed that fine particulate matter is now a major health concern in our towns and cities. PM2.5 (atmospheric particulate matter with a diameter less than 2.5 micrometers) is among the air pollutants which has the greatest impact on health, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. A main contributor is diesel combustion from cars and other diesel-powered vehicles.

High exposures in early life have a major effect on lung and cognitive development throughout an individual’s life, and the report calls for the Government to act. In January 2019, it launched its Clean Air Strategy, which included its aims for tackling IAQ. The document proposes a number of simple measures to reduce air pollutants in the home, including regular ventilation.

The strategy also states that in 2019 the Government will be consulting on changes to Part F of the Building Regulations, to help reduce the harmful build-up of indoor air pollutants. This could have major ramifications for the specification of ventilation in new build properties. The current regulation recommends increasing the ventilation provision for dwellings with high design airtightness, but assumes air from outside is fit as replacement, and this just isn’t the case. There are currently over 700 air quality management areas (AQMAs) where air pollution breaches legal limits.

In addition, NICE (National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) is working on guidance to reduce the risk to public health from indoor air pollution. The Government is also set to shortly bring forward an Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill which will include primary legislation on air quality, last updated in the historic Clean Air Act of 1993.

The challenge

All these measures pose significant potential changes for housebuilders. However, they are already facing changes to local construction legislation and national air quality legislation. And, with the responsibility of ensuring air to dwellings is filtered to increasingly high standards falling on developers, it’s clear that the right solutions must be available to the industry that tackle the issue of outdoor pollution.

With many UK cities in breach of recommended World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for PM2.5, air pollution is already affecting planning applications. Local authorities that identify that their air quality is likely to exceed the National Air Quality Objectives (NAQOs) must designate these areas as AQMAs and draw up an Action Plan, and planning decisions must comply with this. In AQMAs in inner cities, some new homes are required to be completely air tight to prevent the pollution from entering and have filtered mechanical ventilation such as MVHR. The pressure for increasing housebuilding means that AQMAs are now being targeted for new developments, so the correct ventilation system is vital.

The solution

While the Government is starting to address the causes of air pollution, until air quality improves it is essential to look at ways of improving the quality of air being brought into homes. Whole house Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) is the only solution for new build properties that allows full control, filtering air coming into the dwelling, ensuring the indoor air is cleaner and healthier than the air that would come in via a window.

Inside an MVHR unit, fresh incoming air passes through a filter to remove pollen, debris and products of pollution. Filters up to ISO ePM2.5 70 per cent (F7 grade) ensure even homes in heavily urbanised areas can filter out most impurities, up to and including PM2.5 particles, for example diesel particulates. Added to this, MVHR is an efficient form of ventilation, giving developers valuable reductions in dwelling emissions rates, and it is designed with silence a key parameter.

To go one step further to improve IAQ, there are filtration units now available for areas with particularly bad traffic fumes or other air pollution. An example, the Vent-Axia Pure Air is fitted to a MVHR unit’s intake airflow, and incorporates two types of filtration: enhanced activated carbon, which removes harmful gases such as

nitrogen dioxide (NO2); and ISO 65 per cent Coarse (G4) or ISO ePM10 and ISO ePM2.5 70 per cent (F7) particulate filters, which can remove tiny airborne contaminants such as most pollens, some bacteria, many types of industrial dust, and PM2.5 particulates, achieving even higher levels of filtration and further improving IAQ. In urban areas vehicles are responsible for approximately 99 per cent of nitrogen dioxide pollution, with high levels of NO2 causing respiratory problems and increased incidences of asthma.

Once the ventilation system has been installed, it’s essential not to overlook service and maintenance. Housebuilders should educate their buyers on the importance of checking filters every three to six months and having them cleaned or replaced when necessary. Some MVHR units include filter check warnings to alert households when filters need changing. The MVHR units themselves also need to be serviced to keep the unit working effectively and efficiently. Households will benefit not only from maintaining good IAQ, but also lowering their energy bills, reducing repair costs and extending the lifetime of the ventilation system.

The combination of MVHR and additional filtration coupled with regular servicing means both housebuilders and homebuyers can rest easy knowing that a healthy indoor environment has been created.

Jordan Lilford is product manager, New Build Residential, at Vent-Axia