‘No excuse’ for poorly ventilated buildings

Professor Cath Noakes calls for accreditation for the ventilation sector

One of the government’s top scientific advisers has called for a concerted programme of ventilation improvements in buildings, including professional accreditation for contractors.

Professor Cath Noakes said the Covid-19 pandemic had increased understanding of how disease is transmitted around indoor spaces and raised public awareness of the importance of mechanical ventilation.

Speaking at the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) National Conference, she said: ‘[I] never thought I would see the day when the Prime Minister and the chief scientific officer were talking about ventilation.’

Noakes, who is one of two engineer members of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, said the pandemic had exposed systematic failings in how we design and retrofit buildings, and added that we should pay far more attention to the impact of poor ventilation on human health and productivity.

‘Many of of buildings and under-ventilated and there is no excuse for it,’ said Noakes, who is professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, and an expert in fluid dynamics. ‘We know buildings improve health and that poor indoor air quality reduces productivity by up to 9% – that’s half a working day a week.’

She told the conference that it is important that ventilation contractors are included in wider discussions because of their practical knowledge, and called for professional accreditation for the ventilation sector, similar to that for the gas and electricity professions.

Better evaluation of systems in use is also needed, Noakes said, to assess whether they were delivering what occupants need, had been installed and commissioned correctly, and were being adequately maintained. It was now clear, she added ‘that it is very hard to naturally ventilate buildings adequately in winter’.