Is lockdown cooking causing a spike in indoor air pollution at home?
The coronavirus lockdown has meant a lot of us are spending almost all day, every day at home. And with extended periods of time spent indoors comes more time preparing meals. But this increase in cooking is causing a rise in indoor air pollution, according to King’s College London.
Here, we look at what impacts the quality of air inside our homes, the impact this has on us, and how we can design and build homes to improve the quality of indoor air.
Cooking and indoor air pollution
Research from King’s College London suggests that because we’re spending an extra hour cooking each day due to lockdown, we’re exposed on average to 19 per cent more particulate pollution.
Cooking methods such as frying and roasting produce a high number of tiny particles. As we breathe in, these particles can get into our lungs, bloodstream and heart. As outlined in our ultimate guide to indoor air quality and air pollution, the long term effects can include weight gain, asthma, depression, or cardiovascular disease. According to the World Health Organization, 3.8 million deaths globally are attributed to household air pollution each year, and over 3 billion people rely on polluting energy sources for cooking.
Last year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) urged the public and local authorities to reduce their exposure to indoor pollutants and to be aware of air quality in the home. As well as considering pollutants from cooking, NICE also pointed out that activities such as drying clothes indoors, using cleaning products, fires, and some paints and other materials can also release potentially dangerous particles.
But it’s not just internal sources that cause poor indoor air quality. As the air from outside comes in, it can carry pollutants from external sources such as traffic fumes.
Short vs long-term solutions for improving indoor air quality
There are simple steps people can take to improve indoor air quality, for example opening a window or using an extractor fan when cooking, drying clothes, showering, or even using a candle. When buying products such as paint to decorate the home, consumers can also look out for products with a low volatile organic compound (VOC).
People can also buy air purifiers that help to filter and clean the air, removing harmful particles and odours. Keeping the home clean with regular vacuuming, mopping and dusting can help, as does smoking or vaping outdoors. It’s also thought house plants can help to improve indoor air quality.
However, while these solutions offer a quick fix, we need to look beyond how people use their homes day-to-day and look at a more holistic approach when designing and building homes in the first place.
Whether architects, contractors or developers are involved with new builds or refurbishment projects, some of the areas they should consider for improving indoor air quality include:
- Building materials: Specify and use building materials and products that emit low levels of VOCs and formaldehyde.
- Heating and ventilation: Take a whole-building approach to make sure indoor air quality is achieved while maintaining thermal comfort and meeting energy use standards. Mechanical ventilation systems should be considered, rather than relying solely on manual options (e.g. opening windows). Thought should be given to the placement of windows, doors and extractor fans in the design.
- Filtration: Filtration can physically remove harmful pollutants and can be integrated into mechanical ventilation systems.
- Airtightness: Increasing the air-tightness of the building envelope will help to reduce the level of pollutants that integrate into the home from external sources.
We spend over 90% of our time indoors, and at present with the current COVID-19 pandemic we’re spending even more time specifically at home. But while many Brits are spending time on ‘overlooked’ DIY projects during lockdown, it’s worth looking beyond aesthetics and thinking more about homes function. As the recent research from King’s College London show, an increased level of activities such as cooking is enough to expose us to dangerous pollutants indoors.
While it’s important to educate people about how our day-to-day lives can cause air pollutants when indoors, we need to make sure indoor air quality is prioritised when designing, building and improving homes.
For more information, watch our explainer video on what is indoor air comfort.