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Well Insulated Homes Heighten Asthma Risk

Dec 16, 2014 05:30 PM EST
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With winter upon us, it's hard to argue that a well insulated home is a bad thing. However, new research has found that the more insulated a home is, the more likely its residents could suffer from an asthmatic attack or even devolve the respiratory conditions in the first place. So what's going on here?

A study recently published in the journal Environment International reveals how it's actually pretty simple. The research builds on work which details how living near dampness and mold can increase the chances that a person will develop an allergic disease.

During the winter, the average person has a tendency to shut themselves in, forgetting that a house needs to be frequently ventilated in order to prevent mildew and mold from developing. The result is that once a year, people voluntarily live in the same stale air that can get them sick and even trigger an asthmatic response.

To provide evidence of this in the real world, a team of researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School assessed data from the residents of 700 properties in Cornwall, England. The British government is well known for policies that reward improvements to home energy efficiency, including (but not limited to) excellent insulation. The United Kingdom also happens to have more asthmatic citizens than most other countries - a parallel that the researchers found hard to ignore.

"Modern efficiency measures are vital to help curb energy use, and typically prevent heat loss through improved insulation and crack sealing," researcher Richard Sharpe said in a statement. "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 mold, factors that we know can contribute to asthma."

Sharpe and his colleagues were not surprised to see a clear connection between asthma development and the energy efficiency of a home. However, the presence of mold was unable to fully explain the study's findings. The researchers point to other possible factors which can affect health in homes with high humidity, such as house dust mites and bacteria.

"This research has given us an invaluable insight into how the behavior of people living in fuel efficient homes can affect health," added Mark England, Head of Technical Services at Coastline Housing.

As a result, the green home-improvement group is working to better educate homeowners on how to manage an indoor environment while still saving on fuel or electricity.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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