The drive to create energy efficient homes has been all the rage in recent years. However, a new study published in the journal Environment International suggests that an energy efficient home may increase risks for asthma.
Asthma is a common chronic inflammatory respiratory disease characterized by swelling and narrowing of the airways, leading to wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and coughing. The causes of asthma are myriad, resulting from genetic and environmental factors. The United Kingdom (UK) has one of the highest rates of asthma in the world. Asthma is also one of the most common diseases among children in the United States.
The present study from a research team at the University of Exeter Medical School in South West England sought to assess the effects of reduced ventilation resulting from increased energy efficiency measures on asthma diagnoses in an adult population residing in social housing in the UK.
The British government pledged £30 million ($47 million) in funding for energy efficient improvements. Says Mark England, head of Technical Services at Coastline Housing, “Energy efficiency measures are vital to help keep costs low and reduce the environmental impact of heating our homes.”
However, upon assessing data from the residents of 700 properties in Cornwall, the researchers found that individuals living in energy efficient homes were at increased risk of asthma. The risk was doubled if mold was also present in the home.
Making homes more energy efficient includes measures such as sealing cracks and improving insulation. However, efficiency measures can promote dampness and mold, both of which can increase the risk of asthma.
Comments researcher Richard Sharpe:
“We’ve found that adults living in energy efficient social housing may have an increased risk of asthma. Modern efficiency measures are vital to help curb energy use, and typically prevent heat loss through improved insulation and crack sealing. Yet some people, particularly those living in fuel poverty, are unlikely to heat a building enough – or ventilate it sufficiently – to prevent the presence of damp and mould, factors that we know can contribute to asthma.”
Poorly ventilated homes can also increase exposure to other biological, chemical, and physical contaminants such as house dust mites and bacteria that can increase the risk of asthma. For example, another recent study from Oregon State University found that the prevalence of wheezing and asthma in children is higher in homes in which a gas stove is used without ventilation than in homes with ventilation.
Retrofitting older homes to be more energy efficient is important for keeping costs and environmental impacts lower. However, energy efficient measures to seal cracks and improve ventilation can also have negative health effects when not combined with other behavior changes.
Conclude the researchers:
“Policy incentives are required to address fuel poverty issues alongside measures to achieve SAP ratings of 71 or greater, which must be delivered with the provision of adequate heating and ventilation strategies to minimise indoor dampness. Changes in the built environment without changes in behaviour of domicile residents may lead to negative health outcomes.”
Updating heating systems and properly ventilating homes may help prevent the increased risk of asthma associated with older properties retrofitted for energy efficency.
Another recent study found an association between toddlers who bed-share and an increased risk of asthma.
Asthma risks ‘may be boosted by energy efficient homes’: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/286978.php
Childhood asthma linked to lack of ventilation for gas stoves, OSU study shows: http://oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2014/sep/childhood-asthma-linked-lack-ventilation-gas-stoves-osu-study-shows
Energy efficient homes linked to asthma: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2014-12/uoe-eeh121114.php
Higher energy efficient homes are associated with increased risk of doctor diagnosed asthma in a UK subpopulation: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412014003523
Ventilation for gas stoves may prevent some instances of childhood asthma: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/283259.php
Rural Winter House: http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1380330