The National Society for Clean Air Handbook 2000 states that planning applications will increasingly be refused for new developments and refurbishments that are likely to increase external pollution. However, carefully designed new building developments can improve the local external environment and hence indoor air quality and occupant health.

Currently there is little understanding of local environmental and air quality issues amongst those involved in the specification and design of buildings and as a result these issues are generally not considered. Furthermore, an effective dialogue on these issues does not exist between those involved in the design process (e.g. developer, funder, client, designer, constructor etc.). In relation to good indoor air quality, the ‘Circle of Blame’ has been quoted by one developer as follows:

Developer - “I would specify but the funder won’t provide finance”;
Funder - “I would provide finance but there is no occupier demand”;
Occupier - “I would occupy but there aren’t any buildings”;
Contractor - “I would build but the developers won’t specify”.

Since people typically spend 90% of their time indoors, it is important that external pollution levels are reduced and that pollutant ingress into buildings is minimised. Developers could gain commercial advantage through being able to offer urban buildings with good indoor air quality. Current and growing concerns over human exposure to urban pollution is likely to result in a preference for such buildings at premium rates. A recent survey in the US showed that 95% of the workers ranked indoor air quality as important. This interest is likely to increase as a result of the procedures for Local Authority Review and Assessment of local air quality and the declaration of ‘Air Quality Management Areas’ (areas of excessively high local pollution) that are now in place as part of the Government’s Air Quality Strategy.

Currently the majority of the construction industry is not fully aware of these issues or how to deal with them and therefore does not include them in the design brief.

The Building Research Establishment has recently received funding from the DTI to identify and propose ways of overcoming the barriers that inhibit the provision of good indoor air quality in new and refurbished commercial buildings. The project aims to review the whole design and procurement and commissioning processes with the specific objectives of:

  • reviewing the implications of existing regulations and good practice guidance in this area,
  • identifying and analysing examples of good practice in minimising external air pollution and providing good indoor air quality,
  • identifying and analysing the barriers to good practice - technical and commercial
  • developing and promoting integrated protocols for use by all key players in the construction process.

A steering group will provide guidance and practical advice to the project. It will represent the following interests:

  • developers (via BCO, BPF);
  • town planners (via RTPI, RICS);
  • designers and specifiers (RIBA, CIBSE);
  • facilities managers (BIFM, CIBSE);
  • property surveyors /letting agents (RICS).

The Steering Group will also help with the development and promotion of the protocols and the implementation and dissemination of the project’s findings as the work proceeds.

If you would like to contribute your views to the project, please contact Dr Vina Kukadia at BRE:
Tel: 01923 664878
Fax: 01923 664443

BRE has recently produced new guidance on designing for good indoor air quality in urban buildings whilst minimising the impact on the external environment. The guidance is expected to be available in Autumn 2001 and covers some of the issues mentioned above.