Closing windows, turning the heating off, and using log burners to cut energy bills will make people more vulnerable to health risks and accelerate infection spread, a leading expert has said.
Cath Noakes, professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, said there is currently a “massive conundrum” where people are taking steps to reduce energy use but consequently reducing ventilation and adding new pollutants into the indoor air by burning wood or cooking.
Prof Noakes, who was one of the advisers on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) during the Covid-19 pandemic, told the PA news agency: “I have a real concern that some of the things people are doing actually have a compounding effect.
“So if you are at home, for example, and you don’t turn the heating on and you keep the window shut, not only have you reduced ventilation, but you’ve also created a condition where you might get more damp and mould, which has a knock-on effect of impacting your health.”
Previous research by Prof Noakes and her team showed that being in a room with fresh air can reduce the risk of Covid-19 infection from airborne droplets by more than 70% – as fresh air dilutes the particles containing coronavirus.
Prof Noakes told PA: “We breathe about 14,000 litres of air every day.
“A lot of what we’re exposed to comes from what we breathe.
“Around 90% of the time we’re indoors – that might be your home, workplace, schools, transport and social settings.
“There is so much evidence that the quality of the air we breathe is really important for our health – and ventilation is a really big part of that.”
She said there are many ways in which ventilation can be improved at low or minimal cost – such as ensuring good maintenance of systems and raising awareness of the importance of ventilation.
Prof Noakes told PA: “(When) you open windows intermittently, you can get some of that fresh air in without actually having a significant impact on your energy use.
“Making sure you open a window after you’ve had a shower or using an extractor fan in your kitchen when you cook can also help.
“You’re only using it for short periods of time – so you’re not using much energy to provide ventilation.”
Better ventilation in workplaces and schools is also associated with lower illness absence, Prof Noakes said.
Along with an international team of scientists, Prof Noakes is spearheading a campaign – called World Ventil8 Day, which takes place on November 8 – to raise more awareness of the role building ventilation plays in supporting the health and wellbeing of people.
She said: “It is critical to making buildings more resilient to health threats including our regular battles with the transmission of colds and flu around crowded indoor spaces.”