Unhealthy buildings need political and public attention, says report

Poor lighting is an often overlooked factor that affects health, according to a new report. [Shutterstock]

EU negotiators hope to wrap up talks on the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) this week, which will significantly affect the building sector. A new report released on 28 May says buildings have a crucial but often overlooked impact on health and renovation can be beneficial to our quality of life.

”The buildings we live and work in are an environment that can influence our health. Add to that the fact that we spend up to 20 hours a day indoors and it becomes obvious that we have to renovate our buildings,” said Vijoleta Gordeljevic, Health and Climate Change Coordinator at the NGO Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), which published the report.

She added that renovating buildings is “not only to make them more energy efficient and help mitigate climate change but in a way that protects and promotes public health at the same time.”

Indoor air quality sneaks into EU buildings law review

A last-minute push by energy activists has convinced the European Commission to include indoor air quality considerations into the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). Making it happen on the ground could prove a bigger challenge, however.

“We talk about homes, schools, workplaces, healthcare facilities, universities, shopping centers, or those used for religious or recreational purposes,” she specified, adding that the built environment impacts everyone’s health through a variety of factors.

Those include inadequate ventilation, poor indoor air quality, chemical contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources, as well as by making feel too cold or too hot, traffic noise and poor lighting.

This leads to various health impacts, the report warns: respiratory and cardiovascular diseases from indoor air pollution; illness and deaths from temperature extremes and inadequate energy access; anxiety and depression when buildings can’t provide a sense of safety; as well as discomfort from less than optimal lighting conditions or irritability from noise levels.

Unhealthy buildings even result in a distinct medical condition, known as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), it also says.

MEPs: Building renovation ‘isn’t sexy but it's bloody important!’

Renovating Europe’s building stock isn’t just critical for meeting EU climate and energy savings targets – it will dramatically improve living conditions and health while boosting the overall economy, according to the three MEPs leading the European Parliament’s work on the Energy performance of buildings directive.

Air quality certificates  

“Allergy and respiratory patients are living radars for air quality. Our lungs, nose and skin immediately react to dirty air, including indoors. Although at European level there is an increasing consciousness and action about outdoor air pollution, citizens are not informed about how much indoor air quality affects them, how it is controlled and how to improve it,” said Mikaela Odemyr, President, The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA).

She added that having indoor air quality certificates in buildings would be a milestone to enable patients to make informed decisions about their exposure to harmful environments.

As 70% of the world’s population will live in cities by 2030, urban resilience is quickly moving to the forefront of local, state and global public and private agendas, the report observes, adding that the costs of addressing the shortcomings of EU buildings would be outweighed by the projected savings such as lower healthcare costs and better social outcomes.

“Energy efficiency is an objective and a means for climate action but also for public health. Knowing the impact building structures and materials can have on health means it will be easier to seize them as a health opportunity,” said Rodolphe Nicolle, Executive Director of Buildings 2030, a non-profit platform promoting healthy and sustainable buildings.

“EPBD guidelines will be key to helping all members states to better define the multiple benefits of Energy Efficiency. And the next European Commission will also have to take another detailed look into this matter which affects all Europeans,” he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will hold the International Healthy Cities Conference on 1-4 October in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Poor housing linked to rising asthma cases in Europe

One in six Europeans – equivalent to the entire population of Germany – live in a damp or mouldy building, which increases their chances of getting illnesses such as asthma, according to a new study.

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