Prior to COVID-19, only about 5% of the UK’s 33 million employees were working from home regularly. With the lockdown prohibiting all but essential travel, this figure has significantly increased, and while only time will tell if this is a trend that will continue once social distancing laws are relaxed, a recent survey highlights that 74% of those asked would like to continue working remotely.
This has led to much discussion about how this might work, and whether businesses can be assured of employee productivity and well-being when they are away from the office. One area that requires particularly close attention is that of indoor air quality (IAQ), as any move to home working must ensure consistency with what would be expected to be provided for workers in office spaces.
Importance of IAQ
The link between air quality and a number of health concerns is well documented, especially in domestic locations. Condensation, damp, and the associated problems that this can cause has been a significant area of focus for the ventilation industry. This has to remain a priority, and when you consider that we are spending more time in our home than ever, its impact on public health is substantial.
However, the increasing number of people who are now working from home means that additional factors have become important with regards to IAQ. The link between air quality and Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), for example, established that poor IAQ was causing headaches and respiratory problems among office workers. While this was largely eradicated in the early 2000s, a recent survey has found it is making a concerning return, and this cannot be allowed to become an issue in home offices.
There has also been significant research into the connection between bad IAQ and low levels of concentration. This is something that is likely to be more noticeable if people are working from home, as they will be required to concentrate for sustained periods of time, and every effort must be made to enhance productivity for those working from home.
Sources of pollutants
These new factors mean that those tasked with specifying and installing ventilation into residential properties must consider the higher demand that is likely to be placed on the system. Attention must be given to occupancy levels and the sources of air pollution within the home.
Specifically, the location that people are choosing to work in the home will have an impact on the pollution levels they experience. Ideally, a separate room that is well ventilated would be preferred, however space will often necessitate working in areas such as the kitchen or the lounge. This means that producers of pollutants, including stoves, fireplaces, even pets that have become new furry colleagues, are now in close proximity for extended periods of time. Ventilation has to account for this.
New build dwellings vs existing homes
The amount of time that homes will be occupied for means that investing in “adequate ventilation” will become increasingly common. There are a number of strategies identified in Approved Document F of the Building Regulations, however these strategies tend to focus more on new build dwellings and whole home ventilation approaches, with very limited guidance on what to do in existing homes.
As these will often have minimal existing ventilation installed, this presents a greater challenge for designers. The Property Care Association offers some useful guidance for those tasked with delivering ventilation into the existing home market, outlining the benefits and key considerations associated with systems more suited to this type of project: Positive Input Ventilation (PIV), and De-centralised Mechanical Extract Ventilation (dMEV) .
Whole dwelling vs single room ventilation
Many existing homes would benefit from a carefully designed whole home system, but attention must be paid to the level of investment this would require. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) is the optimum whole home system in terms of air quality and energy efficiency, however its capital cost and the upheaval caused during the installation process makes it an unlikely option for occupied homes.
A PIV or dMEV system is likely to be the most cost-effective whole home ventilation approach, offering less intrusive installation and an average annual electrical running cost of less than £5 per year. For employees who are being asked to work remotely for the first time, this may be a more appealing way to improve IAQ in the home.
Another consideration is whether a whole home ventilation system is actually necessary, given that much of the working day is likely to be spent in a particular room, such as a home office. As far as single room ventilation is concerned, Single Room Alternate Flow with Heat Retention (AFHR) fans are an effective way to provide targeted improvements to IAQ.
Models such as Elta Fans’ MORI HR Range of AFHR fans can provide continuous, ultra-quiet, and energy efficient ventilation of individual rooms. Whether this is a bedroom, living room, dining room, or indeed home office, single room ventilation represents a low-cost way to provide ‘home offices’ with fresh air.
Those tasked with delivering residential ventilation solutions will be familiar with the range of factors involved in the specification process. While many of these will remain largely the same, it is crucial that designers, contractors, employees and employers are aware of the impact that working from home may have on ventilation demands.