Mark McManus, managing director at Stiebel Eltron UK
The pandemic has shown the sudden impact that natural events can have on the way that we live and work. It’s also demonstrated that the best way to weather disruptive situations like this is by being properly prepared for every eventuality and enacting preventative measures.
This principle applies to the other great challenge facing our wellbeing and economies, climate change. As we emerge from lockdown it’s vital that we learn these lessons and apply them to shaping a built environment that is optimised to protect the environment. In addition to this we must ensure that health and wellbeing is at the forefront of any plans, with the pandemic transforming how we deal with such issues.
On the climate front, we have made good progress so far, new renewable energy systems, modern methods of construction and increasingly robust building materials mean that British homes are now markedly more energy efficient. However, it’s important that in our green recovery we also consider some of the potential challenges these new airtight homes pose for resident health.
A new environment
Effective ventilation must be a foundational element of these new renewable homes. Poorly ventilated spaces with below-par air quality pose significant risks to the health of occupants, as well as causing wider issues to the building itself, leaving it prone to developing condensation and subsequent mould.
The widespread requirement for home working during the pandemic has also made home comfort and occupant health an even more pressing issue, as people spend then vast majority of their time in their own home. Traditional office buildings use complex networks of heating and ventilation systems to ensure that occupants have an environment that is comfortable and conducive to wellbeing, something that the average home does not benefit from.
If working from home becomes the norm following the pandemic it only increases the importance of building homes that are equipped to maintain the health and wellbeing of those living and working in the same space. Where this isn’t the case we’ll likely see a push from landlords and owners to retrofit accordingly.
Outside of the home, the spread of illnesses through the air has come into sharp focus. Decentralised ventilation systems can safeguard the public against the spread of COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses. This is a valuable tool in effectively managing the air quality in public buildings such as schools and medical centres without the need to open doors and windows – which would ultimately waste energy.
Innovation in product design also means that it’s no longer the case that an effective ventilation system means energy savings are undermined as air is circulated and filtered. It’s possible to have the best of both worlds, with products that maintain occupant health while also futureproofing the built environment to prevent climate change.
This is achieved by integrating ventilation systems with heat recovery. By using this technology products like Stiebel Eltron’s now recover up to 92 per cent of the thermal energy in extracted air. This means that they achieve an A rating in the EU Energy-related Products (ErP) energy standards, showcasing that health needn’t get in the way of sustainable performance.
These products are also listed on the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) Appendix Q Product Characteristic Database, which provides invaluable insights on the specific carbon dioxide savings associated with each unit. This allows designers to make an informed decision on the best product for each specific installation.
A positive way forward
New Government initiatives like the Future Homes Standard and the Green Homes Grant indicate that there is a willingness to embrace this technology, which is a welcome development. Ventilation forms a key part of the guidance provided by the Future Homes Standard, and the Green Homes Grant allows homeowners to gain access to funding that can alleviate the financial burden of a retrofit project.
Ultimately, the progression of building standards that has led to airtight homes has been a welcome development that will have a transformative effect on reaching our net-zero goals. However as we emerge from the pandemic it’s vital that in our pursuit for reduced emissions and increased energy savings, we also consider the health and wellbeing of home occupants.
COVID-19 has shown us that conditions and requirements can quickly change, and we must remain adaptable and prepared for that eventuality by making our built environment as sustainable and healthy as possible. By combining our collective expertise in renewable technology with a strategic vision we can ensure that all elements of our property sector are energy efficient and also offer a comfortable, well-ventilated environment to live and work in.