Leading ventilation expert tells the 2021 BESA National Conference that there was a pressing need to rethink ventilation standards and how industry defines good practice

More work is needed on the design, post-occupancy monitoring and maintenance of ventilation systems if the UK is to prevent Covid transmission and to improve the overall health of building occupants. This call for a more codified ventilation approach in the UK as a long-term response to the pandemic was one of the main messages from ventilation expert and government SAGE adviser Prof Cath Noakes.

She told the 2021 BESA National Conference that the recent Royal Academy of Engineering study, which took evidence from owners and occupiers of buildings, had found a wide range of responses about industry knowledge.  This ranged from bigger companies with some understanding of the need for appropriate ventilation measures to ‘a number who struggled to understand what correct ventilation was.’

She also called for a code of conduct to be introduced for the ventilation sector, “We need to recognise there are systemic issues – one of the legacies of the poor construction culture identified in the Hackitt Review was that too many current buildings are under-ventilated ‘without having really an excuse for it…There is a whole raft of things we will need to address.”

Prof Noakes noted that one of the challenges with ventilation is that it is very difficult to make accurate correlations between ventilation standards and the health outcomes, since occupant behaviour plays such as key role – and people often ventilate for reasons of comfort, or cost, rather than for health reasons.

She also suggested that since the currently accepted levels of ventilation have been the same for 30 years, and often focused on comfort, it ought to be time to review the standards. One review, she said, recommended that the levels of air changes should be significantly increased.

She said that there was evidence to support a change: “There are five million working days lost in the UK due to respiratory illness. That is definite evidence of an effect [of poor IAQ]…You could argue that we should be making changes already, but the problem is that the effect of ventilation is less easy for the public to understand than their energy bill.”

She accepted the charge that ventilation contractors needed to be included in the debate, alongside designers.  “One of the challenges is how do we make sure that we are engaging with the right people?”

Prof Noakes also called for better monitoring, ‘post-fitting’ and post-occupancy, ‘so that we can see what is working and what is not. There is not enough knowledge on that…”

She noted that natural ventilation options – opening windows – would be less helpful in winter. “We need to think more carefully about heat recovery systems for the winter months.”

Professor Noakes called for better systems of accreditation and training for the ventilation sector, in order to deliver these changes. She said: “There are expectations from the public over accreditation around electricity and gas, but you don’t see the same expectations for ventilation installers, resulting in an lack of consistency of standards…While I have seen a number of companies doing excellent work in the sector, too often in the pandemic I have seen organisations jumping on the bandwagon and offering what I would classify as ‘snake oil’ as solutions.”

She said that what was needed was a code of conduct for the sector, to help consolidate standards and skills.”


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