Many Hungarians Exposed to Indoor Climate Risks at Home
Noémi Ritea, managing director of Velux Hungary.
According to the Velux Healthy Homes Barometer 2022, one in three Europeans, including 31% of Hungarians, have at least one indoor climate-related risk that could prove to be a serious health problem, whether it’s dampness and mold, darkness, cold or excessive noise.
People exposed to all four indoor climate-related risks are almost four times more likely to report poor health and nearly five times more likely to feel unhappy than those living in healthy homes. The survey, carried out for the seventh time this year, looked at the living conditions of people across Europe.
Mold is often referred to as the silent killer in impact headlines. While the term may sound a little dramatic, the research notes that the threat posed is genuine and wide spread: 13% of Europeans (69 million people) live in homes where walls or roofs are damp or wet, meaning that one in six homes is likely to be affected.
In Hungary, about 22% of the population live in a home where the roof leaks, walls, floors or foundations are damp, or where window frames or floors may be rotting. Not only does this affect air quality and comfort, but mold growing in corners can cause asthma and various respiratory diseases, and dampness slowly but surely damages buildings.
Good quality and well-insulated windows can make a significant difference (hence Velux’s interest in sponsoring the study), yet many people put off the work for fear that it will cause a lot of mess, upheaval and take too much time.
Fresh air is a key part of our lives: we need oxygen-rich air to feel energetic, focused and stay healthy. Still, in Europe and North America, eight out of 10 people are unaware of indoor pollution and 78% of people do not know that indoor air can be more polluted than outdoor air.
Natural ventilation, something as simple as opening windows to let in fresh air, remains a simple, cost-effective and easy-to-understand way to reduce the risk of pollution. By introducing fresh outdoor air into an indoor space, airborne pathogens are diluted and the air is quickly refreshed.
However, air quality is only one of the more dangerous indoor climate risks, as the Velux Healthy Homes Barometer points out. Some 18% of people living in the EU (92 million people) are exposed to noise from neighbors or the street. Noise from road traffic is the most common source of noise pollution and, unsurprisingly, the lack of peace and quiet affects people living in cities more.
Across the EU, and in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Norway, 21% of people living in cities think their household is disturbed by noise from neighbors or the street. Among those living in cities and suburbs, this figure was 14%, while for those living in rural areas it fell to 9%.
Noise pollution affects Hungarians somewhat less: 13% of people living in cities and 8% of people living in rural areas complain about street and neighborhood noise. For those who do experience it, it is more than just a minor nuisance: constant noise pollution can lead to cardiovascular disease, immunosuppressive diseases and gastrointestinal disorders, the research says.
As for the ideal temperature, warmth at home is out of reach for many: 7% of Europeans (34 million people) cannot keep their homes warm enough, putting themselves at risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. The situation is not much better in Hungary, where 6% of the population say they cannot keep their homes warm enough.
In addition to physical health, recent research shows that indoor climate also affects our mental well-being: a lack of heating has almost twice the impact on well-being and life satisfaction as being away from a partner; noise pollution can cause sleep disturbances; and a lack of light also affects our mood, increasing the risk of depression.
Some 29 million Europeans (including 772,827 Hungarians) find their homes too dark. It is not surprising to note that the European Commission has highlighted human health and well-being as one of the most important co-benefits of energy efficiency.
Furthermore, healthy and sustainable buildings not only help to keep occupants healthy, but can also contribute to reducing carbon emissions, improving energy efficiency, energy conservation and climate protection. Buildings are responsible for nearly 40% of Europe’s energy demand. Over the last 10 years, energy consumption has fallen by 14%, largely due to improvements in energy efficiency.
“Providing the right indoor temperature and at the same time providing a building with sunlight and fresh air has always been a challenge in architecture, but today it is a different story,” says Noémi Ritea, managing director of Velux Hungary.
“With well-insulated, energy-efficient skylights, we can create homes with better indoor climates while protecting buildings from the heat of summer and the cold of winter without wasting energy unnecessarily,” she explains.
“We have the technology to do this, and we need to use it for the benefit of the people living in these buildings and for future generations,” Ritea adds.
Recent data from the World Health Organization shows that investing in housing would have the biggest impact on people’s health over the next two to four years, more even than direct investment in health.
Moreover, there are tangible economic benefits from upgrading public buildings, the report notes, adding that while there is not enough data available for precise economic modeling, there are figures that provide a conservative estimate of the potential benefits of reducing the four risk factors across Europe.
Based on currently available data, Europe’s economy could gain EUR 130 billion by 2050 from productivity improvements in school ventilation efficiency alone, the report finds.
This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 16, 2022.
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