Energy efficiency linked to asthma
The drive for energy-efficient homes could increase asthma risks, according to a new study.
Research has found that a failure by residents to heat and ventilate retrofitted properties could lead to more people developing the respiratory condition.
Working with social housing provider Coastline Housing, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School assessed data from the residents of 700 properties in Cornwall.
They found that people living in more energy-efficient homes had a greater risk of asthma and that the presence of mould doubled this risk.
The study builds on previous work showing that dampness and mould can increase the risk of allergic diseases.
It is the first time scientists have been able to combine detailed asset management data with information about occupant behaviour and health, to assess the factors likely to contribute to asthma.
The researchers said the UK has one of the highest occurrences of asthma in the world - with the disease presenting substantial economic and societal pressures.
With the Government releasing £30 million of funding this week for energy efficiency improvements, this study highlights the need for changes in the behaviour of residents benefiting from this type of scheme, they said.
Researcher Richard Sharpe, who has been involved in the study, said: "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."
The study found that poorly ventilated homes are also likely to increase people's exposure to other biological, chemical and physical contaminants.
Other possible factors affecting health in homes with high humidity included house dust mites and bacteria.
Mark England, head of technical services at Coastline Housing, said: "This research has given us an invaluable insight into how the behaviour of people living in fuel-efficient homes can affect health.
"As a result, we're working to provide better information to customers on how to manage their indoor environment, including potential training of volunteer sustainability champions."
:: The findings are published in the journal Environment International.