Health Problems Caused By Indoor Clothes Drying

Think before you hang your washing round the radiator, that’s a key message from the findings of research carried out by the Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit (MEARU) at The Glasgow School of Art in partnership with academics at Strathclyde and Caledonian universities.

The research project looked at laundry habits across a wide demographic mix of residents in the West of Scotland and undertook detailed analysis of air quality and energy consumption relating to domestic laundry habits. It has highlighted three key areas in which our current habits of indoor laundry drying are causing problems: environmental, economic and health.

Draping washing on driers around radiators is common practice nowadays whether because the weather is too bad to hang it outdoors or the cost of using a tumble drier is too great. However, the impact of this seemingly innocuous action is something that more of us need to be aware of, and that house builders need to address.

It is a little known fact that the average load of washing will release around 2 litres of moisture into the air during the drying process. When draped on driers by radiators in ill ventilated rooms this can account for up to a third of the moisture in the air creating the conditions in which mould spores grow and dust mites thrive. Both of these are known causes of asthma. It also leads to increased use of energy, especially when radiators are turned up to help the drying process. Whilst opening a window can help address the moisture problem, this also leads to increased energy usage, (which most people would want to avoid as bills are rising exponentially), exacerbating fuel poverty which is a major issue in the West of Scotland where the research was carried out.

"Because of increased awareness of the energy consumption of tumble dryers many people are choosing to dry clothes passively within their home," says Professor Colin Porteous of MEARU. "This results not only in a severe energy penalty, because of increased heating demand, but also a potential health risk due to higher moisture levels."

The short term answers for someone wanting to ensure that air quality is compromised as little as possible include drying washing outdoors whenever possible; using energy efficient, condensing tumble dryers; and drying washing by south facing windows using natural light and heat or, better still, southerly balconies where these exist.

However, with the current UK trend towards airtight construction and smaller homes, which can intensify the moisture build-up from all sources, it is vital that steps are taken in new housing stock to make sure laundry can be dried in ways that will eradicate this major contributor to poor air quality. In a design guide published today the researchers offer a number of clear solutions to the problem. These include providing a drying space with its own heat and ventilation; providing individual and communal exterior covered drying spaces; upgrading balconies and sunspaces; returning to the provision of communal laundry facilities in high-density housing; ensuring there is heat recovery from grey water and solar energy capture and that energy efficient appliances fitted in properties. Meanwhile, one of the most important ways of addressing the problem in existing properties is to begin to fit them with proper ventilation.

The researchers are now discussing their findings with the social housing sector to encourage adoption of the proposals as the Housing Associations upgrade existing and build new stock. But if the problem is to be addressed more broadly then the Building Regulations need to be changed to strengthen the existing conditions for all new housing.

"Minor changes to the wording of the regulations would have multiple beneficial consequences," adds Colin Porteous. "Our research gives strong justification for the changes both in terms of health and wellbeing, and associated economic impacts. It is our hope that current statutory and advisory standards will be modified to take them on board ensuring a healthy and economically sustainable living environment."


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