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Breathing life into indoor spaces


Defra’s report points out that there are direct opportunities to improve IAQ through increased ventilation in buildings. Mechanical ventilation, such as an HVAC system with efficient filtration, can help to protect building occupants from the negative cognitive effects of PM2.5 and CO2.

Air quality depends on the HVAC system being designed with the correct number of air changes, with correct positioning of the inlets and outlets and the supply and return of the systems in the right places. The volume capacity of the HVAC equipment must also be adequate to properly address IAQ.

Ironically, airtight new builds in the UK may be exacerbating indoor air pollution issues. In theory, airtightness improves air quality and control. However, fresh air is needed to maintain air quality. Older buildings with drafts may bring in a small amount of air pollution, but there is also space for fresh air to come in, and indoor pollutants to escape.


According to Defra, there is an urgent need to establish a national baseline assessment of IAQ across the UK. IAQ is not always visible. In fact, the visible elements of poor IAQ, like mould or mildew, only occur after long-term exposure to poor air quality. Measuring IAQ in real-time can make the effects immediately visible. It can allow for actions to be taken to improve IAQ before negative effects, including physical symptoms, can occur.

England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had already called for an increased focus on tackling IAQ after speaking about the importance of ventilation in combating the spread of COVID-19.(v) Whitty said monitoring IAQ in public spaces should be standard practice and called for urgent investment to establish records of pollutants that accumulate indoors.

The UK Government has now introduced new legislation named in tribute of two children who died as the result of air quality from mould and outdoor air pollution. Awaab’s Law(vi) focusses on social housing and Ella’s Law(vii) on clean air, pledging £3.5 billion into improving air quality.


As well as recommending increased ventilation, Defra has called for better communication of the causes and effects of poor IAQ. It also recommends a more consistent application of existing regulations and schemes. The report highlights the lack of ambitious standards for public spaces, unlike the increasingly demanding targets being set in the Environment Act for outdoor air quality.

There are a number of expert solutions to help improve IAQ. Many new builds can be fitted with smart meters, monitoring the efficiency of mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) units or air-conditioned spaces where heat pumps utilise fan coil units as the main source of heating and cooling.

Some solutions include MVHR products as standalone or in conjunction with fan coils, providing an opportunity to install a quality IAQ monitor next to the smart meter. IAQ sensors and monitors allow data to be displayed and used for demand-controlled ventilation (DCV). When pollutant levels increase, the MVHR will adjust the air-change rates cleaning the space. As soon as levels have dropped, the MVHR will return to the previous level. The result is a clean, energy-efficient space.

There are many potential benefits of investing in making buildings healthier including improved occupant health, cognitive performance and productivity. Today, solutions exist that allow companies to optimise for building health and energy efficiency simultaneously. Companies will find that IAQ is not only good for people’s health and safety, it is good for the bottom line through increased productivity, fewer sick days and better cognitive function.

(i) https://bit.ly/49lgCtJ

(ii) https://bit.ly/42OsVMq

(iii) https://bit.ly/3SRM7ED

(iv) https://bit.ly/3I9CSdS

(v) https://bit.ly/4bP9GX6

(vi) https://bit.ly/3I5hDKm

(vii) https://bit.ly/3UWfS9I


About Sarah OBeirne

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