Exploring the interactions between people, ventilation and air quality in UK homes

Exploring the interactions between people, ventilation and air quality in UK homes
28th August 2019 Sebastian Junemann

Exploring the interactions between people, ventilation and air quality in energy efficient UK homes

Seb Junemann, UCL Energy Institute


As the UK moves towards increasingly efficient housing through retrofit and new-build, the natural air infiltration profile of homes is changing due to increased air-tightness. Occupants are increasingly needing to rely on mechanical ventilation or other occupant-controlled options to ventilate their homes. To date, very little empirical evidence exists in the literature to explore how occupants are utilising these ventilation options and what impact that is having on indoor air quality and occupant health and wellbeing. Some isolated studies suggest that occupants are not using the ventilation measures as anticipated by building designers, which may be leading to adverse effects on the buildings and occupants. However, identifying the role of occupant behaviour in varying levels of air quality remains a poorly understood and under-researched area.

This research project takes a case study approach to exploring this issue, using a mixed-method, participatory action research framework for the research. Eight case study dwellings will form the sample for the research with the households participating in developing new behaviours to ventilate their homes.

The first phase for each case study dwelling will involve a site visit to:

  • Carry out a physical survey of the dwelling including airtightness test
  • Install environmental monitoring equipment
  • Conduct a qualitative interview with an occupant to understand their subjective approach to ventilation

This exploration of occupant subjectivity will utilise a novel approach called Q Methodology – where occupants all sort a series of statements on a forced distribution to determine relative importance of different statements.

Following the collection of data in the first phase, a second phase of analysis and reflection will take place, where the researcher will prepare outputs to share with participants at a co-creation meeting. The outcome of this meeting will be a proposed behavioural change for occupants to enact during the third phase.

The third phase will constitute the occupants acting out their behavioural change while environmental monitoring and occupant feedback determine the impact that any behavioural change has on the indoor environment and occupant perceptions.

These three phases will be repeated a second time, in warmer weather, to further explore how changing occupant behaviour interacts with air quality.