Clean up the air in your home

Indoor air quality is an invisible health issue that too few of us are aware of. Sharon Dale reports on the problem and the solutions.

We've all heard the wellbeing mantras of exercising more, drinking less and eating plenty of fruit and veg. Yet most of us are unaware that the simple act of breathing can damage our health. Indoor air quality is an issue, especially in Britain, where poor weather and work means we spend an average of 90% of our time indoors.

A recent study by YouGov for the VELUX Group reveals that 77 per cent of people are not aware that indoor air can be up to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Everyday activities, such as cooking, cleaning, showering, lighting candles.

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Damp, black mould, wood-burning stoves and chemicals in carpets, furniture and paint are all part of the problem, along with our increasingly well-insulated homes that encourage stale air to hang around.

Peter Foldbjerg, head of daylight energy and indoor climate at VELUX, says “According to research, living in damp and mouldy homes increases our risk of asthma by 40 per cent and leaves us vulnerable to developing other ailments.

“With the pressures of modern life we are all now firmly a part of the ‘Indoor Generation' and we need to understand the implications on our health and wellbeing.”

Baufritz, a German pre-fabricated home specialist, which also builds in Britain, is at the forefront of design that ensures good indoor air quality. This began in in 1981 when Gerti Fritz, the wife of Baufritz owner Hubert, was diagnosed with cancer.

Hubert and his family were determined to try and find the cause, which led to them looking at their home. They looked at emissions and dust from building materials, along with radiation from nearby electricity pylons and masts.

In 1984, the first ecological Baufritz house was built using only natural materials and free from any harmful substances, such as VOCs – volatile organic compounds, including formaldehyde. Its steel beams are demagnetised, the insulation is made from wood shavings and soda and it is well ventilated via walls that can breathe and keep moisture at bay. There's also protection of electrosmog, generated by appliances, pylons and mobile masts, via the company's patented XUND – E boards, which are built into every house.

For those of us who don't live in a Baufritz house, here are some the main air quality issues and how to combat them:

VOCs: These chemicals, which include formaldehyde, can be found in the fabric of a building and in furniture and furnishings, oil paints, and MDF, among other things. Scientists have linked long-term exposure with headaches, fatigue, irritability and nausea.

Solutions: Make sure paint is low VOC or VOC-free. Lakeland Paints, www.lakelandpaints.co.uk are VOC free as are chalk paints, such as Annie Sloan. Fill your home with houseplants, which neutralise the pollutants and oxygenate the air. Spider plants, ivy, aspidistra, weeping fig, Boston fern and Aloe Vera are among the best.

Mould: Britain's climate and a lack of ventilation helps mould spores take hold. They can cause respiratory problems and allergies.

Solution: Ventilation. Open your windows regularly and use extractor fans. Never dry washing on radiators. You could also invest in a dehumidifier to target the problem area. Ventilation systems can help and Harrogate-based Envirovent specialise. The best but most expensive way of ensuring you have a damp and mould-free property is a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery unit. It removes damp, stale air and replaces it with fresh, filtered air. They cost from about £10,000 and it is best to imstall when building or renovationg a property, though retro fitting is possible.

Fire and candle smoke: Woodburners can pollute the air with particulates and carbon monoxide if not properly maintained. Candles are made from paraffin wax, which gives off carcinogenic benzene and tolulene.

Solution: Make sure the flue and door seals are working, and only burn clean wood, have your chimney cleaned regularly and ventilate the room. Buy vegetable wax candles with natural scents.