News
24 May 2021
EU
PREVENT, - Air Quality

Arising from the Renovation Wave initiative presented by the European Commission in October 2020, the revision of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) comes at a moment of accelerating efforts to reduce emissions from all polluting sectors, including buildings. However, there are real concerns about the healthiness of built environments, especially in the context of lockdowns imposed as part of the COVID-19 response. The health of allergy, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients is clearly at stake when defining the indoor environments of the future.

Health shouldn't be left behind in the focus on energy benefits

Following a 2017 EPBD revision that barely touched on the impacts that buildings can have on health, the current policy discussions have not changed the focus much. The main goal of the EU remains to reduce energy-intensive buildings by accelerating the decarbonisation of the sector. In this case, renovations will only focus on the buildings’ footprint in the external environment.

While this is certainly an important goal, the current EU mantra misses the other side of the coin: the need to improve buildings in the inside, both homes and workplaces, to ensure better Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and health outcomes. The EPBD is one of those EU norms that requires policy coherence across sectors, from jobs to sustainability to health and climate action.

Indoor Air Quality as a key health determinant of buildings

In our response to the roadmap consultation, EFA highlighted IAQ as a key environmental determinant of public health, as evidence shows that indoor air pollution is responsible for 10% of chronic diseases globally, disproportionately affecting vulnerable groups such as children and chronic disease patients. EFA calls on the European Commission to take actions that address this persistent risk:

  • Establish a mandatory Indoor Air Quality certificate, an ask already put forward by the 2019 resolution of the European Parliament “Clean Air for All: A Europe that Protects’’[1]. The certificate would provide a harmonised measurement of IAQ, in particular for pollutants such as dust, pollen, mould, building materials etc. In addition, such a certificate should consider the importance of ventilation for good health. The health-based ventilation guidelines[2], developed by the HealthVent project in 2016, can serve as a guide.
  • Prepare the next generation of buildings for future respiratory threats. As ventilation and air conditioning systems play a crucial role in the healthiness of buildings, their assessment should be based on harmonised testing standards. It is important to consider renovations and/or constructions with a better generation of ventilation and air conditioning systems that addresses not only CO2 concentrations but that are capable of filtering aerosols also.
  • Provide certainty on the healthiness inside buildings. Looking at the economic and social dimensions of Indoor Air Quality, EFA encourages the EU to launch a Eurobarometer on the perception of Europeans on closed spaces and the technology around them e.g. ventilation, heating and cooling. This would provide important learnings in the wake of the COVID-19 experience, but mostly on how to address these issues post-COVID.

Establishing financial instruments to encourage healthy building renovation

Finally, EFA calls for the establishment of financial tools and instruments that are fit-for-health. Financial incentives should be linked to the protection of human health and wellbeing, leading to improved health outcomes.

There are several national examples that can inspire this effort, such as the ‘Warmth and Wellbeing Pilot Scheme’ of Ireland, which facilitated energy upgrades in residential buildings on the basis of health referrals with no cost to the homeowners[3]; or the Swedish scheme supporting house adjustments specifically addressed to those with a disability – including those with severe allergy.

EFA encourages the Commission to prioritise older buildings as well as social establishments such as schools, hospitals and retirement houses in the shift to healthier buildings.

Read EFA’s full response to the EPBD consultation roadmap

Read more about EFA’s advocacy on air quality

 

[1] European Parliament motion for a resolution ‘’Clean Air for All: A Europe that Protects’’, 2019, https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2019-0186_EN.html?redirect

[2] European Commission (EU Science Hub), Reducing burden of disease from residential indoor air exposures in Europe, 2016 https://www.ec.europa.eu/jrc/en/publication/reducing-burden-disease-residential-indoor-air-exposures-europe-healthvent-project

[3] Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland seai.ie/grants/home-energy-grants/free-upgrades-for-eligible-homes/warmth-and-wellbeing/   

Dear Visitor,

for regularly updated information on Covid-19 for allergy and respiratory patients, please consult our Covid-19 resource and information hub.
Stay safe!
The EFA Team