Closing windows, turning off heating and using wood-burning stoves to cut energy bills will make people more vulnerable to health risks and speed the spread of infections, a leading expert has said.
Cath Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, said there is currently a ‘huge conundrum’ where people are taking action to reduce energy use but therefore reducing ventilation and adding new pollutants to indoor air by burning wood or cooking. .
Professor Noakes, who was one of the advisers to the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) during the Covid-19 pandemic, told the Palestinian Authority News Agency: “I’m really concerned by the fact that some of the things that people do actually have a cumulative effect.
“So if you’re at home, for example, and you don’t turn on the heating and you keep the window closed, not only have you reduced the ventilation, but you’ve also created a condition in which you could have more moisture and mold, which has a ripple effect on your health.
Previous research by Professor Noakes and his team has shown that being in a room with fresh air can reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection from airborne droplets by more than 70% – because the fresh air dilutes the particles containing the coronavirus.
She said the importance of ventilation management in homes and other indoor spaces goes beyond Covid, with evidence that other infections like chickenpox, measles, tuberculosis and other respiratory illnesses such as the flu may also pose a higher risk in poorly ventilated spaces.
Prof Noakes told PA: ‘We breathe around 14,000 liters of air every day.
“Much of what we are exposed to comes from what we breathe.
“About 90% of the time we are indoors – it can be your home, your workplace, your schools, your transport and your living places.
“There’s so much evidence that the quality of the air we breathe is really important to our health – and ventilation is a very big part of that.”
She said there are many ways to improve ventilation at low or minimal cost, such as ensuring proper maintenance of systems and raising awareness of the importance of ventilation.
Professor Noakes told PA: ‘(When) you open the windows intermittently you can bring in some of that fresh air without having a significant impact on your energy consumption.
“Making sure you open a window after showering or using an extractor fan in your kitchen when cooking can also help.
“You only use it for short periods – so you don’t use a lot of energy to provide ventilation.”
Where improving ventilation is difficult, using air purifiers can be an energy-efficient way to improve indoor air quality, she added. .
Better ventilation in workplaces and schools is also associated with reduced sickness absence, Professor Noakes said.
Along with an international team of scientists, Professor Noakes is leading a campaign – called World Ventil8 Day, which takes place on November 8 – to raise awareness of the role building ventilation plays in supporting people’s health and well-being.
She said: “Making buildings more resilient to health threats, including our regular battles against cold and flu transmission in crowded indoor spaces, is essential.”
More information about World Ventil8 Day can be found at worldventil8day.com.