Poor Indoor Air Quality in UK Traditional and Contemporary Housing

Subject: Public Health
Pages: 7
Words: 2789
Reading time:
11 min
Study level: College


Traditionally, people used to stay in quite undemanding houses. Whenever peoplesuffered from any sickness, majority declared the conditions of the houses the cause of the sicknesses. As a result, houses have gone through some modifications, with those of the recent UK depicting a significant difference, not only in shape but also in the conditions, in relation to the traditional ones. However, people fall sick based on the poor indoor air conditions. So the question comes in: Based on the analysis of the indoor air conditions of both traditional and contemporary houses in the UK, are the conditions an old wine packed in a new bottle? This paper provides an up-to-date an analysis of the effect of poor indoor air condition on the bodily fitness of people specifically of the UK, both in the past and present. It contains a reflection on traditional housing standards, and the adverse effects they had on the health of occupants as compared to contemporary deficient housing and the almost similar, but more sophisticated problems that tenants and owners experience. From this data, it then seeks to establish whether the poor air conditions in contemporary housing, in the UK, are a reflection of the case of traditional housing in the same place. They are just the same old conditions, only with new packaging in the form of better looking houses. Moreover, is this why people still suffer diseases caused and exacerbated by the poor air quality associated with both contemporary and traditional houses in the UK (Jacobs 2004, pp. 35-50) or is it new health problem that generates from the new or contemporary housing practices such as air-conditioning and plumbing?


Housing and health have shared a lot since time immemorial yet nobody seems ready to make a formal acknowledgement of that fact. The validity of this claim manifests itself in various places around the world, and more so in the UK. Consequently, the rate of illnesses linked to poor housing conditions such as asthma is on the rise. It has become a public health issue deserving a keen attention. This is because there is a need for correlation between the health sector, and the planning sector if they wish to eradicate the problem completely. It is also noteworthy that people be given closure on how to handle the situation for them to be in a position to take personal responsibility over their health. They need to know how to go about “living in their own houses”. Finally, there is a need for a revision of the policies applied in handling this matter accompanied by a diversion from the familiar solutions if people wish to note any future developments. For centuries, poor health had been a quality associated with a single causative agent; an infectious disease vector as Curtis, Cave and Coutts (2002, p. 524) point out. However, it soon became apparent that poor living conditions such as unsanitary or unhygienic housing standards stood a decent chance of exacerbating the rate of infection, as well as the intensity of disease.

With this realization, humankind endeavored to improve on the housing standards in a bid to cut back on the spread and infection of diseases (Ambrose 2001, p.14). The shortcomings of traditional housing, which included, but were not limited to, overcrowding, inadequate; plumbing, waste removal, heating systems, ventilation, food storage facilities and impure drinking water were corrected and contagious diseases such as tuberculosis were contained (Krieger 2002, p. 759). This ‘correction’ is what resulted in contemporary housing, characterized by air conditioning, sophisticated heating systems, and better building structures, distinguished by features such as “tight exterior envelopes” among other developments (Milstead & Miles 2006, p. 404). However, it is now becoming apparent that modern housing also harbors significant deficiencies, which are the key substantial contributing factors to the occupants’ poor health and low life mortality rate (Burstrom & Fredlund 2001, p. 837). Resultant health disorders include; asthma and related respiratory complications, cardiovascular diseases, and stress oriented disorders, among others.

This study has been conducted to look into the section of current health that is resultant to poor contemporary housing conditions, then pass judgment on whether it is similar to the past health conditions, only on a different level. Such an analysis will assist in solving the problem of poor health associated with substandard housing conditions. It advices reforms to stay off similar solutions that were applied in the past because those are what led to the present quagmire. It will then suggest new approaches that can permanently eradicate the crisis, while containing the present situation.


The basic aim of this paper is to investigate whether contemporary housing is an old wine packed in a new bottle by examining the hygiene standards of traditional housing and comparing these to contemporary standards of housing in the UK. It also seeks to investigate the effects of poor housing on health taking a step further to reveal how poor housing translates to poor health. Such an outlook should serve to highlight the need for a conjunction between the two departments in coming up with a preventive scheme for future housing planning policies (Doug, Bindu, John, & Kristen 2006, p.707).


This paper’s purpose is to investigate and understand the shortcoming of both traditional and contemporary design of houses in the UK. It does this through an extensive research of literature that discusses housing designs, regulatory policies and their underlying health conditions, including factors that have affected the formulation of different housing designs and respective policies. Such an understanding will assist in the identification of the various health issues that are resultant of poor housing conditions and by extension assess the validity of the policies that are in place while making recommendations for new and more effective regulations.


The paper sets out to define, identify, and analyze the health impacts of poor housing conditions such as poor indoor quality air or inadequate ventilation, poor sanitation, inadequate heating, and shoddy building structures among others. It will also analyze the designing of traditional and contemporary housing in the United Kingdom in terms of its suitability to prevent the above health risks, and sustain a healthy indoor environment.

It takes the definition of health as the comprehensive bodily, psychological and communal welfare as per the World Health Organization (1948, p.23). Finally, with reference to housing policies, this paper will examine the existing housing policies in relation to house construction and available measures to ensure the satisfaction of health requirements. It seeks to convince paramount stakeholders that there is a need for reform policies capable of greasing the working of the change processes proposed herein. This need also encompasses the requirement of extra funding to propel the relevant corrective projects (Curtis et al. 2002, p. 527).


The paper utilizes empirical bases to justify its findings. Although there is an extensive literature published in many journals on the effect of poor indoor air quality in the UK on health, it does not seem to achieve much in terms of sparking change (Matte & Jacobs 2000, p.24). Empirical research, on the other hand, has gained the attention of several stakeholders, although it may not be as extensive as the literature on the subject, hence its preferential use in this paper’s methodology. However, it would be unwisetotally to ignore the theories of literary experts, and so those too will be incorporated, but on a limited scale (Smith 1989, p.33). The paper shall therefore, allude to previous researches conducted on the topic and present the findings of such surveys. It shall then analyze the efficiency of applied methodologies; implications of the data collected, and further point out the necessary recommendations for future researchers. Finally, it shall use the findings to justify the standing that the indoor air conditions of contemporary housing are indeed an old wine packed in a new bottle (British Medical Association Board of Science and Education 2003, p.34).

Analysis of Objectives

Health Impact of Poor Indoor Air Quality

The witnessed poor indoor air quality of both traditional and contemporary houses in the UK has its corresponding share of consequences. In fact, any new problem involves the neighborhood of the house. Unlike before, people in the UK today have to deal with violence in the form of vandalism, unnecessary noise, and obscene graffiti (World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe 2002, p.26). Budapest and Forli stood out as more violent than Geneva and Angers. All these factors take their toll on an individual’s well being leaving them unhealthy or unwell. As the population continues to grow, the housing continues to dwindle, and the health sector is flooded with patients (Matte & Jacobs 2000, p.22). Complexities in health have taken a three dimensional angle with occupants suffering socially, physically, and mentally due to poor accommodation standards. Geneva reported the highest number of such conditions, and consequent mental disorders in Switzerland. It is obvious from the analysis of these research findings that the conditions of contemporary housing are an old wine packed in a new bottle because the unhealthy conditions are the same old; it is just the houses, and their sophisticated installations that are new (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design 2006, p.12).

Moreover, people’s health seems still adversely affected. The theory that informs this analysis was first applied by Auster, Leveson and Sarachek (1969, p.432). It is a compilation of what resources an individual invests upon to acquire nutritional health, as a result. Health is viewed as a “durable capital stock, which depreciates with age, and can appreciate dependent on how much investment an individual makes” (Carolina, Luis, Jose 2009, p.5-6). Accordingly, “endogenous” / personally imposed factors or “exogenous” and setting- forced factors affect one’s health (Carolina et al 2009, p.6). How people exercise their agency on choosing the lifestyle they will adopt, i.e. exercise and healthy diet or fast foods and no exercise determines their health. However, other factors are not in one’s power to choose for instance age and chronic disease (Grossman 1972, p.41).

This analysis relies mostly on the research conducted by the World Health Organization (2000-2001), Large Analysis and Review of Human Housing and Health Status (LARES). The research is set in eight cities in Europe. However, the analysis only picks on data from four of these: Angers, Forli, Budapest and Geneva. This survey was chosen because it is highly detailed, giving information on external and internal conditions, including the neighborhoods of the houses. According to the Enterprise Community Partners (2005, Para. 6), traditional housing provided the shelter for which it was originally meant. However, it was lacking on so many other levels and these inadequacies resulted in health problems. Among other things, there was; inadequate plumbing, and sewage removal, poor or nonexistent heating for washing water, unsanitary drinking water, poor ventilation, and unsuitable food storage facilities (Milstead & Miles 2006, p.399). Consequently, people proved victims of ailments such as tuberculosis, and infectious diseases e.g. plague spread extremely fast. The need for better housing conditions as a means to better health spurred improvements on the housing sector and health improved (Rebecca & David 2008, p.83).

Analysis and comparison of the Design of Traditional and Contemporary houses in UK

Traditional houses in the UK had better ventilation in terms of unusually high ceilings and numerous windows. They were much larger, more spaced out and less crowded compared to contemporary houses, which are the dead opposite, hence having poor ventilation. In addition to being crammed up, industrial wastes and motor vehicular emissions further compromise the quality of contemporary housing’s air. Housing designs are another sensitive area although not much research is available on this field meaning that the literature available is minimal. However, since most contemporary residents are renting their apartments or simply buy completed houses, they later find out that they do not like the design and try to change it.

The consequence of such interference is illegal repairs that are mostly hazardous to the health of the resident and unappealing to behold. However, most citizens are unaware of policy requirements of the designs of their houses hence the unauthorized alterations. There is a need for an awareness campaign to inform residents as well as all citizens in general about the policy restrictions within which they can build and maintain their houses. Contemporary housing is the result of the improvements in traditional housing. Nevertheless, at present, standards of housing in the UK are almost worse than before causing a re-prevalence of health disorders, only these too are worse than before Grossman 1972, p.119). Poor drainage, roof leaks, crowding, misuse of water (Doug, Bindu, John, & Kristen 2006, p.717) poor basement conditions, presence of molds, dust mites, roaches, and condensation, noise annoyance, extreme temperatures, and unsatisfactory building structures are just some of the challenges faced by contemporary housing.

Architectural design in relation to air quality

The architecture of the house determines the air quality. This is because different architectural designs have different ventilation types, and yet some ventilation types are not effective in ensuring the free flow of air in the house to sustain a healthy environment. It may be difficult to relate poor health conditions with ventilation because these conditions are manifest only after one has moved out of the contaminated building. According to research, these conditions are directly proportional to the rate of the original infection and exacerbation of health disorders such as asthma (The U.S’ 13th leading cause of Hospitalization), chronic bronchitis, constant headaches, lung cancer, hypertension, stress, anxiety, depression, and accidental injuries (Lowry 1990, p.105), among other disorders.

UK Climate

Climate change interlinks with air pollution, which inadvertently causes poor air quality. Most UK residents who cannot afford heating during winter believe that stuffing their houses is better than freezing, which may be true in the interim, but in the long term, the poor air quality that comes with stuffed houses is the cause of a slow death. In the past, houses had hearths, which served to provide heat during the cold seasons while still ensuring superb quality of air in the house as the smoke left the house through the chimney. Today, the greenhouse effect is causing heat waves during the summer, and winter is colder than before.

Assessment of Housing Policies

Housing policies such as the Deregulation, Privatization, and Performance-based controls saw into the division of housing into categories including the social-rented sector and the private-owned sector among others. This, in turn, affected the housing conditions because of availability or unavailability of funding for repairs depending on which sector one was in. For instance, local authorities controlled the social-rented sector as proprietors, received many funds from the government to do repairs and upgrade the standards of their houses especially concerning insulation. However, private owned houses do not receive equal attention, there is no accountability attached to owning a house hence elderly house-owners for instance disregard maintenance responsibilities. Another concern that attaches itself to contemporary housing is that of ethnicity. Black and Minority Ethnicity (BME) households seem sadly deprived of proper housing due to the expenses attached to maintenance. These households consist of economically unstable residents who can barely afford rent, leave alone plumbing or air conditioning. As a result, it is apparent that there is an enormous need for new policies that will take into account all these matters. Most of the previous policies have had unintended consequences such as unprecedented demand for private houses yet there was inadequate land to construct these houses. In the future, the UK needs to think well about the policies taking into consideration all the potential effects of implementing them while ensuring that they serve the purposes formerly intended for them.

Conclusion and Recommendation

This paper has analyzed the concept of poor indoor air standards in the UK and their ramifications on residents’ health from both a traditional, and a contemporary standpoint of the same place. It has then compared both generations to establish whether the resultant poor health conditions are a new concept or an already existent phenomenon that is just dressed differently. It is clear that indeed contemporary houses are no more than an old wine in a new bottle as far as health is concerned. This is what informs the recommendation of installing new reforms to counter the problem permanently, not only in the UK, but also in every other place in the world (Shenassa 2007, p. 1894). Political will is necessary, as is the merging of health analysts with housing planners to officiate healthy living conditions while reducing the prevalence of housing-associated health disorders. A project such as the Green Communities Initiative will serve this purpose well. Finally, it has highlighted the need for funding from various authorities with entities like the Community Development Block Grants and Housing Trusts being key targets for supplying such findings.

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