A national trade association has launched a new group focused on improving the air quality of buildings in the UK.
The Property Care Association (PCA) has seen levels of moisture in buildings surge in recent years, leading to issues including poor air quality, condensation, dampness and mould.
It says the impact of works to make older buildings more energy efficient as well as a growing population, high property values, housing shortages, and increased occupation density are some of the factors taking their toll on domestic air quality.
To address the issue, the PCA has established the “Residential Ventilation Group” (RVG), a working group dedicated to the subject of effective ventilation.
Stephen Hodgson, chief executive of the PCA, said: “The way we are living in buildings is changing and a number of factors have an effect on the air which surrounds us in our homes.
“These include fuel costs, the drive to reduce energy use, efforts to reduce air leakage through draught proofing and insulation, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, reductions in the size of the spaces we occupy and a growing incidence of overcrowding.
“Government-backed programmes which deliver insulation and draught proofing have also changed the ability for some buildings to shed atmospheric moisture.
“Unfortunately, there can be a number of unintended consequences associated with draught proofing, insulation, reductions in fuel use and high levels of occupation.
“The most important and ultimately the most damaging is an increase in the moisture held in the air, as this can lead to poor air quality, condensation, dampness and mould.
“We believe that the frequency of problems associated with damp and mould resulting from indoor air is set to get much worse.
“The almost uncontrolled and irresponsible rush in recent years to install insulation quickly, coupled with the drive to eliminate draughts in older buildings, is creating a huge unseen, and as yet, massively underestimated problem.
“Further pressure of occupation on housing as well as the cost of fuel will continue to put pressure on resources. Any new initiatives to fund retrofit insulation will also see this problem grow with time.
“To address this issue, heating, building design, insulation and water production must be considerations taken into account when investigating and diagnosing problems that cause dampness and mould.
“In a growing number of properties, it is discovered that ventilation and air exchange is inadequate and almost always falls short of what is required by approved Document F of the building regulation.”
The PCA says understanding how to balance moisture production, insulation, heat and ventilation as well as a good technical understanding of the science of air moisture and condensation is the key to eliminating condensation and mould.
The trade body says current regulation and guidance setting out minimum requirements for domestic ventilation in homes is usually ignored or misunderstood and as a result the outcomes for clients can be very mixed.
David Cook, chair of the PCA’s Residential Ventilation Group, says: “The new Group will help create a point of reference and resource for homeowners to help them find the advice and expertise they need.
“It will highlight the benefits of using skilled and competent professionals when considering residential air management in existing homes.
“Consumers will have the opportunity to find specialists that can accurately diagnose the causes of all forms of building dampness and be assured that the products and services they deliver are correct and appropriate for their needs.
“Its creation will help meet the needs of a rapidly growing and changing market and will deliver quality and assurance to consumers who until now must largely trust to luck when taking advice on ventilation and air management.”
The new Residential Ventilation Group builds on years of research and investigation carried out by PCA with industry partners into the impact dampness and condensation can have on the structure of properties and the comfort and well-being of inhabitants.
A recent initiative is a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between PCA and the UCL Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering (UCL IEDE) looking into moisture in buildings.
Researchers from the UCL IEDE are tapping into the expertise of the PCA and its members across the UK to collect, analyse and develop data.
The research is taking into account the many variables which can have an impact on a building’s performance, such as the lifestyle of its occupants, the structure’s condition and climate.
The KTP has been awarded a substantial grant from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, to carry out the programme. The PCA will also be adding funding towards supporting delivery of the programme.