Open fires ‘bad’ for asthma

Open fires can cause breathing difficulties for people with asthma and respiratory problems, according to the Irish Asthma Society. The comments come after it emerged the most recent building regulations actively discourage homeowners from installing open fireplaces.

Instead, the Department of Environment wants housebuilders to install sealed stoves as they are a more efficient way of heating a home. The Asthma Society is to begin baseline research into indoor air quality in Irish homes as it believes that awareness needs to grow of how particles from solid fuel fires are exacerbating respiratory difficulties.

There are 470,000 people with asthma in Ireland. One in five children has asthma while one in 10 adults are sufferers.

Advocacy manager, Kevin Kelly said: “Research internationally has shown that high levels of fine particles are emitted into the air from burning fuel in an open fire, They get into the lung and exacerbate asthma.

“We had one elderly woman from Sligo who had acute asthma. She was immobile. We asked her about how she lived her life and it turned out she sat by an open fire all day, totally unaware of its health impact.”

Mr Kelly argues that fuel- burning stoves are a better option for asthma sufferers as the fine particles are released up the chimney and not back into the room.

The Asthma Society will begin its research this summer using Nuwave air- quality sensors which allow the easy collection and analysis of indoor air quality data in family homes.

Meanwhile, architects in Britain are concerned that poor ventilation in new homes is leading to health problems for occupants.

A lack of air vents or open windows leads to a hard-to- detect build-up of pollutants and chemicals from furniture, flooring and plastics, Glasgow School of Art’s Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit said. The unit says modern homes are increasingly being built to be near airtight, which can cause health problems for people if they are not ventilated properly.

Recommendations include keeping vents or windows open when cooking, showering and cleaning; drying laundry near an open window; and opening windows at night.

“It is clear from this research that buildings are simply not well-ventilated and this could seriously impact on occupants’ health, especially vulnerable people such as those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma,” said Professor Tim Sharpe, head of the research unit.

The unit works in architectural design and scientific research. It carried out a study of 200 modern homes and found “widespread evidence of poor ventilation, with bedrooms being a particular problem”.

Earlier this week, chair of the Royal Institute of Architects Sustainability Task Force, Darragh Lynch said fully airtight homes in Ireland will have a heat- ventilation recovery system.

“Mechanical heat ventilation recovery systems ensure proper ventilation in an airtight home and ensure the airtight home is not only comfortable but there are also added health benefits,” he said.

Meanwhile, engineering companies have contacted the Irish Examiner to say mechanical units and fire balloons can be used to limit heat escape in open fires. One such is the Irish-made firegenie damper and draught excluder. Like a fireplace balloon, it can close off the chimney and stop central heating from escaping when the fire isn’t on.

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