A new study led by researchers from the University of Exeter Medical School reports that energy-efficient homes may actually increase the risks of developing asthma. This work, published in the Environment International journal, suggests that heating and ventilating environmentally-friendly retrofitted properties can lead to an increased number of people developing respiratory conditions.
Thanks to a research partnership with Coastline Housing, a leading UK social housing provider, investigators assessed data from 700 residents. The data from the study revealed that people living in more energy-efficient homes had higher chances of developing asthma, and that mold doubles the risk for the condition.
This study is based in part on previous findings that mold and dampness increase the risk of developing allergic diseases and reactions. This is the first time that researchers managed to combine detailed data on asset management with information on home occupants’ health and behavior to specifically understand what contributes to asthma.
One of the highest occurrences of asthma in the world is in the United Kingdom, where the condition leads to significant social and economic pressures. This fact, combined with the UK government’s recent £30 million appropriation of incentives for homeowners to make their homes more environmentally friendly, emphasizes the need for changes in in houses are made to be more energy efficient.
Richard Sharpe, a researcher involved in this study, said in a press release: “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 mold in the home does not explain all the topics of the study, nevertheless, poorly ventilated houses increase people’s exposure to other physical, chemical, and biological contaminants. Furthermore, the study pointed to other factors such as dust mites and bacteria — common in homes with high levels of humidity, which can affect health.
Using old indoor clothes dryers and ineffective heating systems are some some other factors that can increase risks for asthma.
Mark England from Coastline Housing 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.”