A truly green building is a healthy building, and could save Ireland millions

23 Sep 2020

“Ireland should adopt a holistic approach to its buildings to ensure they are healthy for both people and planet” writes  Neil Freshwater, from CIF associate member VELUX, in our latest guest blog.

It is known that we spend around 90% of our time indoors, and few of us need to be reminded of this fact, given the way we have been living, working, and studying for most of this year.

We started 2020 on a possible high, and there was real momentum behind global efforts to tackle carbon emissions, with Ireland’s property sector leading the way, with its ambitious near-zero targets.

Fast forward to March, and everything is turned upside down. The world’s focus moves to addressing COVID-19 and to the protection of our people and economy. As the ship steadies, however, the recovery begins.

Ireland now has a new government, and despite some teething problems, has set out ambitious plans for both housing and climate targets. Both are to be welcomed, but we must make sure we use the opportunity to create living environments that are healthy for the occupants, as well as tackle climate change.

The knock-on costs of unhealthy housing have been known for some time. Since 2015, VELUX and its research partners have produced the annual Healthy Homes Barometer (www.velux.ie/campaign/healthy-homes ) which takes the pulse of our housing stock and identifies the economic cost of doing nothing.

The current report, produced in partnership with research institute RAND Europe, identifies that 27% of Irish children are at risk of unwanted health issues due to substandard homes, which are either damp, dark, cold, or noisy. We also know that poor school buildings negatively impact learning.

Presently we have both a risk and an opportunity. If we build and renovate properties with a holistic approach; such as ensuring there is optimal daylight, or that as we insulate, we also ensure adequate ventilation; then we can avoid problems down the line, associated with substandard and unhealthy homes.

Ireland has also led the way in defining what we mean by what a healthy home is. The Irish Green Building Council for example has created a Home Performance Index [http://homeperformanceindex.ie/] for homes, which not only measures the ecological footprint and running costs of a property, but also the comfort, indoor air quality and levels of daylight, recognising that to be a green home, it must also be a healthy one.

The opportunity for government is also clear. The Healthy Homes Barometer estimates that Ireland could save €90m per year if homes and schools are improved to make them healthier as well as more energy-efficient. And with more people working from home, the likelihood is buyers will be seeking homes with the optimised indoor comfort and daylight.

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