ASBP response to the APPG for Healthy Homes and Buildings Building Green Paper

The ASBP has submitted a response to the APPG for Healthy Homes and Buildings Building Green Paper – Building our Future: Laying the Foundations for Healthy Homes and Buildings.

Gary Newman, Executive Chair and Simon Corbey, Associate Director – The Alliance for Sustainable Building Products, 30/09/17

We are pleased that the APPG has recognised the need for action here. We have the following comments;

We note that the infographic developed by UKGBC on healthy homes at Figure 1, does not really illustrate the fact that the subject of healthy buildings, is really all about people. This is a people centric subject, but the graphic does not really illustrate this; the residents are small and difficult to spot. It might also be noted that the size of the house is very generous and not really reflective of UK house types. We have brainstormed an alternative graphic, which has people visibly in the middle, with the issues around the side.

It also might be useful to state that children, the elderly and the chemically sensitive are the most vulnerable.

We know there is direct correlation between air quality and cognitive function. It might be worth stating that the Stoddart Review suggests a 1% increase in productivity is worth £1bn to the UK economy.

It might have been helpful to mention the subject of source control and controlling the amounts and levels of VOCs that we bring into our homes and workplaces. The BRE suggest that VOCs continue to off-gas for at least two years. There is guidance in the Building Regulations Part F about the amount of TVOCs, to be measured after completion and before occupation. However, as this is guidance only, very little measurement actually takes place. In our opinion, it might be possible to bring measurement into regulation, very much like airtightness testing, except this would be much more cost effective.

At the moment, so little monitoring is conducted and shared, that we are flying blind. A lack of epidemiological evidence means the subject is sometimes described as a wicked problem. We note however that Allergy UK are increasingly busy, with 800 calls a month to their dedicated helpline.

We are pleased that Architype and UCL are starting a project to measure VOCs in new schools, but we need much more evidence to understand the level of the problem. Saint-Gobain have been conducting IAQ testing in a new school and we look forward to hearing more learning and feedback. The Building Performance Network could provide support for more monitoring and benchmarking perhaps.

The WELL Building Standard requires monitoring post completion and post occupancy. Alan Fogarty from Cundall states that “the cost of achieving WELL Building certification was £150 per person; initial results indicate a significant reduction in absenteeism and saving from reduced staff churn, with a likely payback of one year”.

The paper mention building physics, but this subject demands we also improve our knowledge about building chemistry. This in itself is quite challenging. There are a number of effective ‘ecolabels’ such as natureplus, which require third party product testing and product databases such as baubook and portico, which is supported by Google.

Our colleagues at Waverton Analytics offer a simple kit to measure VOCs at £140. They were called into a school in 2016, where they measured formaldehyde in a classroom at 10 times WHO recommended limits. The classroom had been occupied for 12 months and pupils and staff were experiencing continual discomfort, headaches, runny noses and general poor health. The developer suggested he knew little about formaldehyde, what it is and how to specify for low formaldehyde, which prompted ASBP to prepare a briefing note on formaldehyde. Workplace exposure limits to formaldehyde in the UK need attention. We anticipate that the revised BB101 guidelines on ventilation in schools will introduce more compliance requirements for indoor air quality. It seems we need a hierarchy of VOCs. The implications with Brexit and REACH are considerable.

In France every product has an A-C rating for TVOC emissions under ANSES, which makes procurement much easier. It might be possible to look to the Construction Product Regulations to improve the level of information that is available.

Another subject that should be mentioned is toxicity and fire, and fire performance more generally. The Grenfell enquiry will shine a light on this subject. One expert on toxicity and fire is Dr. Anna Stec, Reader in Fire Chemistry and Toxicity at University of Central Lancashire.

There is increasing evidence that some refurbishments have resulted in an increase in health issues and in some cases houses have been condemned and demolished due to excessive moisture. Responsible retrofit is a complex area of building science and should be dealt with as such. It’s not just about m3 of insulation installed. Ventilation is crucial.

Professor Stephen Holgate, Royal College of Physicians and University of Southampton has co-authored Better Homes, Better Air, Better Health (April 2017). There are a number of clear actions listed here, that is suggested require immediate attention. Stephen Holgate and Anna Stec will both be speaking at our second Healthy Buildings Conference and Expo on 14th February 2017 at UCL, London.

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