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Energy-efficient homes could be making our allergies worse

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A new report has warned that living in an energy-efficient home could lead to future health problems and worsen allergy symptoms.  

Written by Professor Hazim Awbi, professor of built environment at Reading University, the report predicts a gradual decline in indoor air quality due to the increasing trend towards airtight homes.

With ever-increasing energy bills and concerns about the environment, it’s natural that builders and homeowners alike are always searching for ways to insulate their homes and make them as energy-efficient as possible. However, good insulation and poor air quality often go hand in hand.

Poor air quality is linked to health problems such as COPD, lung cancer, allergies and asthma. According to Professor Awbi, mothers, children and the elderly are most at risk due to the amount of time they spend indoors.   

The report highlights that combustion pollutants, chemicals from cleaning products and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) can contribute to poor air quality. A lack of ventilation in leak-proof homes makes these pollutants less likely to escape.

Professor Awbi’s report predicts that decreasing indoor air quality could lead to an 80% rise in people with asthma by 2050. The report also suggests that VOC and nitrogen dioxide concentrations could soar above the World Health Organisation’s recommended 24 hour limits.   

Homes without proper ventilation are also vulnerable to an overgrowth of mould and house dust mites, which can worsen allergy symptoms.

So what can you do about it?

Although it’s great to save energy and protect the environment, it is also important to breathe good quality air at home. Here are a few tips for improving indoor air quality:

  • Use a good air purifier to remove allergens and pollutants, helping you to breathe pure air. Air purifiers that remove chemicals as well as allergens are particularly effective, such as the Blueair, Radic8 and Roomaid units. Be sure to get an appropriate air purifier for your room size. Read more on choosing an air purifier.  
  • Keep humidity in check with a hygrometer. These inexpensive devices help you to monitor humidity at home to make sure it is within a healthy range. We suggest that if relative humidity (rH) is above 60%, a dehumidifier is required to reduce moisture levels. We don’t normally recommend an rH below 40% as this can make respiratory symptoms worse.
  • Some house plants may help towards improving indoor air quality. For example, the spider plant may help to reduce benzene, xylene and formaldehyde. Chrysanthemums are also thought to help reduce benzene.
  • Let in fresh air by opening windows (this may not always be practical, for example if you have pollen allergies or live in a very cold climate).
  • Use natural-based cleaning products free from toxic chemicals.
  • Pay attention to formaldehyde – this is a carcinogenic chemical which can be emitted in small amounts by ‘off-gassing’ items such as MDF furniture and memory foam mattresses. If you have multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) you might find that you experience unpleasant health effects as a result of exposure to chemicals like this. Try to choose items like flooring and mattresses which do not ‘off-gas’ toxic chemicals. Organic mattresses are a great choice, as are natural wood floors.

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  • http://www.ibtimes.com.au/people-living-energy-efficient-homes-higher-risk-lung-cancer-asthma-due-indoor-air-pollution-1468659
  • http://www.mnn.com/health/healthy-spaces/photos/15-houseplants-for-improving-indoor-air-quality
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