Building renovation can stop colds and coughs, says study

Can building renovation cure the common cold? No, but it can help prevent it. [Sid/Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Can Energy Union build healthier homes?.

Europeans living in unhealthy homes suffer flu-like symptoms and fatigue more often, research published today (20 April) has found, but building renovations can help prevent colds and coughs.

The findings could increase pressure on EU policymakers to incentivise healthy building renovation, at the same time, as energy efficient renovation.

The Healthy Homes Barometer study, conducted by the Germany’s prestigious Humboldt University and the Velux Group, surveyed 14,000 people in 14 EU countries.

Much efficiency renovation, such as insulation, brings health benefits by preventing mould, for example.

The potential costs to society of sickness – in sick days, lower productivity, and lower quality of life – caused by indoor climate is billions of euros, according to the study authors.

27 million working days were lost in the UK alone, thanks to minor illnesses such as coughs, colds or flu, in 2013.

Home satisfaction

Good indoor climate even trumps energy cost savings in what gives the most home satisfaction, they said.

Getting consumers on board will be vital to actually convince them to renovate their homes.

“The fact that what makes a healthy home is also what makes us happy without home is a huge boost to the public debate about sustainable building, “said Michael K. Rasmussen, of the Velux Group.

“The results should be noted in the building industry and among political decision-makers, and should help set the direction for the renovation of existing building stock in Europe and for new buildings,” said Michael K. Rasmussen, of the Velux Group.

The European Commission is due to unveil revisions to the Energy Efficiency Directive and the Energy Performance in Buildings Directive this year.

Healthy homes advocates, such as Velux, are pushing for language to encourage national governments to drive energy efficient and healthy renovations.

Five factors

The study identified five factors that determine whether a home is healthy or not. They are;

  • good sleeping conditions;
  • comfortable indoor temperatures;
  • sufficient daylight;
  • fresh air;
  • healthy levels of humidity.

Europeans who live in cold houses or have mould in their homes are about 50% more likely to get illnesses like nose and throat infections.

Among Europeans with mould in their home, up to 60% suffer dryness or irritation of the throat compared to 40% who do not have mould.

78% of Europeans were too cold at some point last winter. 15% of those surveyed said this was the case all the time.

71% of those surveyed do not have optimal sleeping conditions. One in three reported very bad or fairly bad sleep quality in the last month.

Having enough daylight almost halves the risk of being fatigued. 40% of Europeans lacking daylight in their living room seldom feel energised. That drops to 23% in homes with appropriate levels of daylight.

Owners of well-ventilated homes are less likely to have low energy levels.  Europeans who never air out their homes are twice as likely to get tired compared to Europeans who air two to four times daily.

Renovating the EU’s highly inefficient building stock has been identified as one way for the Energy Union strategy to meet its twin goals of fighting climate change and boosting energy security.

Can Energy Union build healthier homes?

The EU’s Energy Union strategy has the twin goals of fighting climate change and boosting energy security – but could it also build healthier homes for European citizens?

As well as cutting emissions, it can also save consumers money.

54 million Europeans must choose between eating and heating

An estimated 54 million Europeans suffer from energy poverty, according to the European Commission analysis, which blames rising prices, low income and energy inefficient homes for forcing people to choose between eating or heating.

Today is Healthy Buildings Day (20 April).  Read the rest of this week’s Special Report for coverage of the day’s events, including the 2nd Healthy Buildings Day conference.

The Energy Union will cut across a number of policy sectors including energy, transport, research and innovation, foreign policy, regional and neighbourhood policy, trade and agriculture, according to the EU executive's plans.

Plans for the Union have developed beyond questions of security of supply to encompass issues such as fighting climate change.

The Renovate Europe campaign says that, thanks to modern technology, buildings' energy demands can be cut by 80%. But, it adds, in order for that to happen, there needs to be an effective regulatory and legislative framework in place.

  • 20 April: Healthy Homes Day
  • Autumn 2016: Revision of Energy Efficiency Directive and Energy Performance of Buildings Directive

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