Championing building ventilation

A campaign promoting the role of better building ventilation to support health and wellbeing has been launched by a coalition of scientists and engineering bodies.

The overarching theme is ‘Improving Ventilation for a Healthier World’. The campaign will showcase powerful scientific and practical evidence demonstrating how good ventilation can reduce exposure to air pollutants and infectious diseases, which aids human productivity, improves sleep, and reduces mould and damp in buildings.

Reducing health threats

Cath Noakes, Professor of Environmental Engineering for Buildings at the University of Leeds, who initiated World Ventilation Day, said: “Good ventilation is part of creating a sustainable and low carbon environment, by using technology well to balance air quality, energy use and comfort.

“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.”

As well as showcasing the range of ventilation solutions available to building owners and occupiers, World Ventilation Day will recognise the skilled people who implement the measures and strategies used to make buildings healthier and safer – highlighting the need for training and recruiting more skilled people to take on this growing global task.

Professor Noakes, from the School of Civil Engineering, leads research at the forefront in understanding how pathogens can move around enclosed spaces and infect people. During the COVID lockdown, she was the principal investigator in a major study examining the risks of the virus being transmitted among passengers on trains and in stations, and how those risks could be minimised by good ventilation.

However, the benefits of a well-ventilated space extend beyond COVID.

She added: “Ventilation is important for managing the transmission of respiratory diseases, and this goes beyond COVID, with evidence that other infections like chicken pox, measles, TB and even influenza can also be higher risk in poorly ventilated spaces.

“Better ventilation in workplaces and schools is also associated with lower illness absence and lower rates of sick building symptoms.”

The push for better ventilation is being driven by a coalition of engineering associations – the Building Engineering Services Association, the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Federation of Environmental Trade Associations.

Academics from Leeds and the universities of Nottingham, Loughborough, Sheffield, Strathclyde, and Imperial College London are involved, many of whom are part of the Future Urban Ventilation Network.

Graeme Fox, Director of Technical at the Building Engineering Services Association, said: “To make buildings more resilient we need both short-term solutions and long-term strategies. For example, local air cleaners based on HEPA filtration or UVC (ultraviolet-C) disinfection are important tools, but they are not an alternative to improving the general ventilation either through natural or mechanical means.

“Far too many buildings are simply under-ventilated and by raising awareness we hope to encourage many more owners and operators to make this a much higher priority and so safeguard the health and well-being of millions of people around the world.”

The www.worldventil8day.com website includes a range of free resources including ‘top facts’ about the role of ventilation, and different methods that can be adapted depending on the age, design, location, and purpose of the building. It also explains how building operators can manage the complex trade-off between ventilation, energy consumption, climate change, urban pollution, noise, comfort, and security.

The campaign has support from international partners including AREA – the umbrella body for European contractors’ organisations, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers and the United Nations Environment Programme.

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