Recent interviews on the BBC have described overheating in homes, particularly newer more energy-efficient homes, as a ‘public health disaster’ waiting to happen in the UK. There’s recently been a lot of research on overheating, using both field studies in people’s houses and studies that use modelling approaches. So, how serious is this problem?
Is heat a significant risk to our health?
High temperatures are known to cause several health problems, which can increase the risk of death particularly for the elderly or ill. In temperate countries, an increased number of deaths can be observed as temperatures increase above a certain threshold. In London, for example, population mortality starts to increase when the two-day average maximum temperature exceeds 24.8C, above which the increase in mortality rate (or the number of people who die each day) is around 3.8% per degree Celsius. This increases to around 5.4% in the elderly. Over a hot summer, or a heatwave, this can have serious consequences – in 2003, for example, over 2000 more deaths than usual are thought to have occurred in England and Wales due to the hot weather.
While the relationships between temperature and mortality are derived using outdoor temperatures, people spend the majority of their time in their own homes, particularly people that are the most vulnerable to heat. So, it’s often assumed that housing can modify your exposure to higher or lower temperatures.
In the interview on overheating homes, increased energy efficiency demands in building regulations, including those from the EU, have been suggested as contributing to overheating risk. Some energy efficient solutions do increase risk, for example increased building airtightness, internal solid wall insulation, and a dependence on mechanical ventilation with heat recovery rather than natural ventilation. Triple-glazed windows, if large, may be too heavy to be left wide open. But others, such as loft insulation, may help keep temperatures cooler.
But, it’s worth remembering a few things – 1) greater energy efficiency makes it easier to keep houses warm during cold weather, which is particularly important if individuals struggle to pay energy bills, 2) Increasing the energy efficiency of houses will reduce emissions, which will help slow climate change, and reduce potential exposure to future hot weather and 3) energy efficient housing is not at risk of overheating if designed appropriately.
What are the solutions?
Blaming building regulations for overheating homes is a bit of a cop out. A lot of the causes of overheating are due to design choices, such as large, inoperable, or south-facing windows, single-aspect buildings without cross ventilation, and small floor areas. So, one solution is better design which balances the need to reduce winter heating demands with summer overheating. To mitigate against overheating risk, design may include features such as low G-value windows, allowing for cross ventilation, or better occupant-controlled ventilation options. Unconventional measures such as external shutters, common in not only Mediterranean countries, but also in countries like Germany and Switzerland which are not considered to be particularly hot, have been found to be particularly effective. Another potential solution is to teach occupants, particularly vulnerable ones, how best to cope during hot weather.
So, is overheating an emerging public health issue? Given the aging population, and the increase in energy efficient housing, yes it likely will be, although I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as a ‘disaster’. What is needed is a greater understanding of the causes and solutions to overheating, better building design which accounts for overheating risks, and potentially building regulations that incorporate heat resilience into buildings. And while the climate looks certain to get hotter in the future, an increased focus on building design and adaptation for heat is the cool-headed response.
The “Building Health and Wellbeing: Standards and Business Case” Seminar took place at UCL on the 21st March 2017.
The seminar was hosted by the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (UCL IEDE) and supported by the CIBSE School Design Group.
The seminar, prompted by substantial industry interest in the well-being agenda and the imminent arrival of the new MSc Health and wellbeing in Sustainable buildings, was quickly sold out. However, this didn’t stop a queue of people on the waiting list turning up, hoping to attend what quickly became a dynamic and exciting event.
Speakers included: Sarah Welton, Vice President, Technical Solutions, International Well Building Institute who gave an introduction to the Well Building Standard – the business case for office buildings and residential developments, followed Dr Elanor Warwick, Head of Strategic Policy and Research, Clarion Housing Group, who gave a very practical perspective in her talk on futureproofing our homes and neighbourhoods: perspectives on the ‘value’ of wellbeing.
Following this, a panel discussion took place with members including Judit Kimpian Panel Chair, Chair of the Sustainability Group, Architects Council of Europe; OBE, LSA Studio; , Sustainability Consultancy; and Alan Fogarty, of Cundalls the company whose new offices in London are the first building in Europe to be certified as reaching the WELL Building Standard.
A very lively discussion took place. Alan spoke of “a significant reduction by 50% in absenteeism in Cundall’s London offices.” Lynn mentioned that “25% of NHS funding is spent due to poor indoor environments.”, and the need for case studies to support the business case for the Well Standards wider acceptance. Julie felt there was “a strong business case on productivity and we need to reinforce existing standards towards this”. Judit reminded us that “the word architecture is not included in standards”, and the contribution of architects to the well agenda maybe currently undervalued.
Networking over drinks and snacks followed, new ties were formed and in the end, people had to be asked to ‘go home’, such was the appetite for the subject and the measure of the success of the evening. The speakers and members of the MSc Advisory Group were invited to a dinner where the lively discussion continued until much later.
The conference was jointly hosted by UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (IEDE), CIBSE Home Counties SE and the CIBSE Natural Ventilation Group, and organised by IEDE’s Marcella Ucci, Vivian Dorizas and Rachel Kempsell, Richard Davies of (ARUP)-CIBSE HCSE and Colin Ashford of -CIBSE HCSE and CIBSE NVG – who was crucial in suggesting the conference and establishing the initial contact between CIBSE and UCL many years ago.
Tickets sold out very quickly and the venue was packed on the day. There was a vibrant and energetic atmosphere with both speakers and attendees enthusiastically taking part.
Along with two international speakers there were presentations from UK based speakers representing a variety of perspectives. It was clear from the scope and depth of subjects covered by the speakers, that the emerging emphasis on health, wellbeing and productivity in buildings has wide-ranging implications and has gained real traction with industry. The conference featured cutting-edge research, scientific evidence and case studies on health, wellbeing and productivity in relation to buildings in order to encourage stakeholders such as designers, consultants and environmental engineers to contribute to the design and management of healthier indoor environments, including supporting of clients. In addition, presentations included practical ideas on how to create healthy, comfortable and productive indoor environments with regards to indoor environmental quality (IAQ).
Videos of the individual speaker’s presentations are currently being uploaded to the UCL IEDE YouTube channel and will be available imminently
In her presentation, Marcella Ucci, Senior Lecturer at the UCL IEDE and course director of the new MSc on Health Wellbeing and Sustainability in Buildings of the Bartlett UCL, underpinned the need of new approaches to cover the performance gap and introduced the new UCL MSc on Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings of UCL* which fully covers the subject area. Marcella also raised the need for new models to investigate health & wellbeing outcomes and to build a business case study.
The real appetite for the subject was seen not only from the enthusiastic interchanges and questions to the speakers from the floor, but more by the fact that even after the networking event at the end of the conference, no-one had any desire to leave the building and had to be encouraged to leave, suggesting further such events are urgently needed.
*For more information about the New MSc, please email the Course Director, Dr Marcella Ucci.
For administrative information, please contact Leila Tufekci.
The reality of climate change has had a dramatic impact on the built environment world wide. ‘Energy efficiency’, ‘emissions reduction’ and ‘sustainable materials’ have all become common currency to architects and engineers. However, research on the impacts of energy efficient design on the indoor enviroment has created a new focus around the issues of ‘healthy environments’, ‘wellbeing’ and ‘increased productivity’.
Over the last 20 years ‘environmental sustainability’ in buildings has gone from a niche enterprise to a major driver of new business. This is no longer enough and buildings will also be expected to directly contribute to the health and wellbeing of the people who live, work and learn inside them. For buildings, ‘healthy’ will become the new green.
Several initiatives within the built environment industry indicate a new level of interest in health, wellbeing and buildings. The World Green Building Council has launched the campaign Building Better Places for People, that “aims to create a world in which buildings support healthier and happier lives for those who occupy them”.
Several design, engineering, and consultancy firms have joined ‘the wellbeing revolution’ and are now launching new business divisions with a focus on health, wellbeing and productivity. ARUP Associates which provides engineering, design, planning, project management and consulting services worldwide has formed a partnership with Delos and the International Well Building Institute, to support the WELL Building Certification which offers a structured framework against which to optimise design and construction for human health. Atkins has developed an innovative engagement process and tool that enables clients and building users to prioritise aspects of the built environment that are important to their health and wellbeing. Priorities captured through the process are then translated into a building brief and specification.
UCL IEDE with its world wide expertise have been at the forefront of research into the health impacts of sustainable construction and have closely monitored this change in focus and the need for a new generation of trained professionals who are familiar with the issues of health in building construction.
This has culminated in the launch of a new MSc in Health, Wellbeing and Sustainable Buildings Commencing in Sept 2017, this innovative Master degree will provide its students with the knowledge, critical understanding and skills needed to address health, wellbeing and human performance for the design/assessment/operation of new-build, retrofit and existing buildings, within the broader context of sustainability at the urban and global scales.
Each year, nearly 9,500 people die due to London’s air pollution. It’s one of the biggest challenges for the capital’s next mayor – literally a matter of life and death.
The problem has been around for decades. In fact, this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Clean Air Act 1956, passed by parliament in response to London’s Great Smog of December 1952. London was well known for its “pea-souper” fogs, but when the “Great Smog” fell over the city the effects were unprecedented: 4,000 immediate deaths with a further 8,000 dying in the following weeks and months.
The act aimed to control domestic sources of smoke pollution by introducing smokeless zones. In these areas, coal had to be ditched in favour of smokeless alternatives such as coke or charcoal, power stations were moved to rural areas and tall chimneys were built for industry to disperse pollutant at height.
Air pollution in London is very different today, and yet the same health issues exist. Gone are the polluting factories and the coal burning and in its place are a newer breed of contaminants. One of the primary causes is the old favourite, the combustion engine. Diesel exhausts include carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides, and microscopic specs of “particulate matter”, the smaller fractions of which penetrate the deep lung and pass across into the blood stream.
All of the above are seriously bad for your health. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and even dementia. The damage begins during a baby’s first weeks in the womb and continues across an entire lifetime through to old age. Consequently, any air quality improvements made now will have long-lasting benefits.
Air pollution picks on the weak and needy
The effects aren’t distributed evenly, or randomly. Older people and adults with long-term conditions are particularly vulnerable, for instance, and improving air quality will help them to stay independent and well, easing the pressure on NHS and social services.
It’s a social issue too, as pollution exacerbates inequality. Research shows exposure varies a great deal from place to place even within the city, and London’s low income households tend to be in more polluted areas while wealthier people live on leafy side streets.
What the next mayor can do about it
The capital’s next mayor will have the power to make dramatic improvements to London residents’ health. Looking over the manifestos of front runners Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), as well as Sian Berry (Green) and Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat), it’s clear there’s a lot of agreement.
Where they differ is in their methods of dealing with these important issues and the timing of their interventions.
Air pollution isn’t solely caused by transport, of course. Gas burning, often from domestic boilers, also adds to the problem and all candidates have ideas for reducing boiler emissions or boosting energy efficiency – Khan wants further investment in older homes, for instance. Goldsmith’s pledge that all new homes will meet the zero carbon standard would actually revive a policy the current national government has scrapped.
Of course, you have to ask, are all these policies realistic? Will they be followed through? While air quality is only one of many issues in this election, it is an extremely important one. Five decades on from the Great Smog, we need another clean air revolution.
*warning blog contains egg-streme amount of egg puns.
IEDE researchers preparing for British Science Week
Thursday 17th March 2016 was a cracking spring day, with egg-stravagant activities held at King’s Oak Primary School in South London. UCL IEDE Researchers (Emily Nix, Valentina Marincioni, Virginia Gori, Yekatherina Bobrova and Dr Hector Altamirano-Medina) held workshops with Years 4, 5 and 6 as part of British Science Week. The workshops were developed to engage the pupils in issues researchers, or Building Scientists, at UCL IEDE deal with every day, with a particular focus on winter building performance and the role of insulation materials in achieving healthy low-energy spaces in which to live. In total six 90-minute sessions were held, with two parallel sessions at a time for each year group. Read the rest of this entry »
Take a deep breath. Inhale. Exhale. Now think deeply about an event that made you happy. It can be an old or recent memory, it may (or may not) involve people dear to you, or an activity you enjoy – anything goes, as long as the thought of it makes you smile. Try to recall that moment and the feelings it brought to you. Inhale. Exhale. Next, let us try the opposite. This time, think of a sad memory. Again, it can be old or new, a shared or deeply isolated event, but now, the feelings brought to mind may include melancholy, anger or sadness. Inhale. Exhale.
Now let us compare these two memories. When did they happen? Who were you with? What were you feeling? These details may very well be different (and possibly blurred) but you can probably remember where these events happened. Space – familiar space – is present in our memory. Read the rest of this entry »
I got rather excited yesterday…..and then out of breath….
For the first time in ages, the issue of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) got a full public airing with the arrival of a report published jointly by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Heath. Titled ‘Every breath we take: the lifelong impact of air pollution’, it presented a stark message that each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution, with more linked also to exposure to indoor pollutants. https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution (downloads available at the bottom of the webpage).Whilst the main focus of the report was on outdoor air issues, (previously blogged on; ‘Innovative solutions to the problems of airborne pollution in cities’ and ‘Vehicle emissions: its time to put emphasis back on human health’), the issues of indoor air were also finally acknowledged. With the UK population spending over 80% of our time indoors, and around half (48–53%) of our time in our own homes, buildings and occupant behaviour have the potential to act as significant modifiers on population exposure to pollution from both outdoor and indoor sources.
For those of us at UCL IEDE involved in research on health, wellbeing, and the impacts of indoor environments it was a familiar message and one that we have spoken and published on extensively over a long period. Read the rest of this entry »
To celebrate 50 years of Environmental Design and Engineering at the Bartlett, IEDE organised a conference with a general theme of “Building Better Buildings”. The event attracted a varied audience of students, academics and practitioners from across the industry. From my perspective, as a current EngD candidate within IEDE, the event offered a valuable insight into issues that are impacting the industry. The morning session was opened by Prof Mike Davies who gave an overview of the current research within the department. This was followed by talks by members of Innovate UK and the Zero Carbon Hub (ZCH), which provided an introduction to two of the major themes for the day. The first was ongoing issues with the performance gap and the second is how these issues can be remedied using past lessons and new and novel forms of research, practice and the knowledge and data that inform them. Read the rest of this entry »
The ‘Building Better Buildings: 50 years of Environmental Design and Engineering at The Bartlett’ event on the 15th February was a huge success. The IEDE Director, Prof Mike Davies, opened the event by presenting the two key themes of the Institute’s current research portfolio: building physics and systems thinking. This was followed by talks by Simon Hart, Team Leader of the Built Environment at Innovate UK, who presented the Building Performance Evaluation Programme, and Rob Pannell, Managing Director of the Zero Carbon Hub, who emphasised the need to stimulate industry investment to close the building performance gap. According to the speakers, we still do not fully understand the problem. People in the industry do care but there is a lack of proper training of the workforce. Research funding causes ‘secret knowledge’ and we need to find a way to release it into the public domain. On the other hand, building performance evidence creates a huge amount of value for the industry and the digital economy is growing faster than any other part of the economy. In line with these trends, the Digital Catapult’s Building Data Exchange platform and Zero Carbon Hub’s illustrated guides to building energy efficient homes are clearly steps in the right direction. Read the rest of this entry »
All views expressed in the posts on the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering blog are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering or University College London. Views expressed in the comments of this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the original post’s author.
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