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Supporting Newcastle City Council in retrofitting homes for better quality living

There’s an invisible element in our homes that influences our quality of living – the air.
Retrofitting - Adam Vaughan

The air we breathe has a big impact on our quality of sleep, respiratory health, and the cleanliness of our homes. To enhance these factors in people’s day to day lives, we are seeing an increased focus on the use of architecture and design to improve the air quality in homes across the region.

Here, Adam Vaughan, Director at JDDK Architects, discusses how his team are working with Newcastle City Council, alongside Your Homes Newcastle and Northumbria University, to implement new processes for strengthening residential buildings, to protect resident’s air quality and quality of life.

Damage in the air

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a relatively new consideration for our homes and health, which has been brought to the forefront by increased air pollution in cities and the synthetic materials used all over our homes.

Good ventilation supports general health and wellbeing, while thermal improvements carry both health and financial benefits. Today we have a much better awareness of our air quality, which can be seen at a citywide scale with the introduction of low emission zones to reduce particulate pollution and in the reworking of building regulations to optimise ventilation.

Collaboration with the community

There is work now being done across communities to bring old housing stock into the modern day and create better living for all. Retrofitting can make existing buildings more comfortable and enjoyable, as well as healthier to live in. Social housing providers are proactively looking to avoid damp and mould problems that are so frequently seen in poorly ventilated properties, and the government has recognised the need and opportunity with the introduction of the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund (SHDF).

Newcastle City Council (NCC) has secured Wave 1 funding, working with Your Homes Newcastle (YHN) and supported by JDDK, to create more robust living spaces. While SHDF projects are running across the UK, NCC and YHN have taken a unique approach by also engaging Northumbria University to environmentally monitor some of the dwellings.

Jane Entwistle, Professor of Environmental Chemistry and Health at Northumbria University, said: “This collaborative project, between architects, the local authority and the residents themselves, is an exciting opportunity to provide the evidence base needed to deliver on both of these agendas, as well as provide the evidence base needed to ensure retrofit works targeted at improving the energy efficiency of homes also realises the opportunity to improve residents’ health and wellbeing.”

Earlier this year, the JDDK team visited the occupants of the bungalows involved in the works to talk them through the upcoming changes and present the ‘baseline’ monitoring info and stress the importance of the new ventilation systems in controlling indoor pollution.

Wave 1 of funding allowed the retrofit of 80 bungalows with new windows, doors, solar panels, and loft insulation for older people to live independently in Walker. For the 180 duo-slab houses that were built in the 1930s, we completed external retrofitting, by applying external wall insulation. 30 of the bungalows’ IAQ were sampled beforehand as baseline monitoring, using specialised equipment from Northumbria University to test for temperature, humidity, CO2, and PM2.5. Further testing will be carried out later this summer, to understand how the completed works have transformed the IAQ.

There are two principal concerns around IAQ that we are combatting. The first is the combustion of fossil fuels and gas, in the forms of fires, log burners, and cooking, particularly on gas powered cookers. Second is condensation from humidity, which occurs when humidity from breathing, bathing, and cooking cools and condenses on walls and windows to create damp and mould, making ventilation a key element of these retrofit projects.

Ventilation gives occupiers the means to maintain healthy air conditions by bringing fresh air in and removing moist, polluted air. As certain elements are in the control of the occupier, we advised on how they could alleviate the pressure on their homes with tips such as keeping trickle vents open, keeping ventilation fans on and avoiding burning candles and smoking indoors.

Better air for now and the future

While the retrofitting work is ongoing and we prepare for the monitoring stage later this year, we hope to see initial results indicate that the improvements have been effective and improved air quality for occupiers.

Colin White, Senior Housing Renewal Officer at NCC, explains: “This project aims to establish processes to assess the actual impact the retrofit works has on the home environment and the information gathered will help inform future design and delivery. This will allow Newcastle to maximise the reduction in energy demand, make improvements to the home environment and have a positive impact on the health of the residents.”

Wave 2 will include the retrofit 80 of properties, including 30 duo-slabs and 50 Victorian terraces – properties that present more challenges given their age. Northumbria University researchers will also be continuing with their monitoring throughout future phases of retrofitting work. With this retrofitting process applied to homes across the UK, we should see a country-wide improvement in sleep quality, comfort, health, and happiness – factors that will contribute to an overall improvement in our collective quality of life.

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