What do you like most about your home? Its comfort, its beauty, its practicality? Looking at the glossy profiles from estate agents, each of these things are considered. But there is one glaring omission: how a home might affect your health and wellbeing. Few of us will give this much thought.
The World Health Organization calculates that 23% of all deaths are linked to the environment in which we live, work and take our leisure. That includes factors both inside and out. A recent study from the UK’s Royal College of Physicians demonstrates associations between various types of pollution and a wide range of diseases. In addition, ambient noise from transport and commerce may exacerbate both mental and physical health problems. Our choice of home could impact our health quite considerably.
What are the key considerations?
First, location matters a good deal. Intriguingly, sought-after addresses may prove the worst choices. The most expensive parts of London have the highest levels of road pollution and noise. People may be very proud of their fancy wood-burning stoves, but their particulate matter may well drift through each other’s open windows. A neighbourhood may be full of the wealthiest people, but they are all breathing in hazardous fumes.
Second, there is the construction and mode of interior activity to take into account. The gradual release of chemicals from building materials and fittings combined with those from bathroom and household products create a cocktail of reactions. Internal combustion of gas or wood for heating and cooking risks a build-up of noxious fumes. The use of candles and joss sticks add to the fug.
It is hard to evaluate these factors when their impacts on our health are largely invisible and inadequately researched. But bit by bit, the risks are becoming clearer.
Maybe one day amidst all the exaggerated prose, the estate agent will have to list health impacts alongside energy efficiency. And then perhaps homes will be designed for health as well as convenience.