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The problem of damp homes

It probably comes as no surprise that cold, damp homes are a problem across Europe - but the extent of the problem might not be so obvious.

Recently German institute Fraunhofer IBP published new research, which indicated that respiratory illnesses like asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are being caused, in part, by Europe's 84 million damp or mouldy dwellings. In fact, these homes correspond to 40 per cent increase in respiratory diseases and life-long allergies.

The report found that European governments are spending some 82 billion euros each year on hospitalisation, loss of productivity and medical treatment related to asthma and COPD.

Experts believe that the development of respiratory illnesses as a result of damp buildings can be reduced and industry leaders are calling for legal frameworks for buildings to be changed in order to support healthy indoor climates in both new and existing constructions. Thermal wall insulation, double glazing, draught proofing and better ventilation could all contribute to healthier and more comfortable living environments that are also good for the economy and the environment.

Commenting on the report, Dr Gunnar Grun, head of department for energy efficiency and indoor climate at Fraunhofer IBP said: It is a big concern to see that very many people spend their everyday lives in damp and unhealthy homes. What is more, the new research reveals for the first time that 2.2 million citizens have asthma directly because they live in unhealthy buildings."

The research was carried out using a variety of methods, including cross-sectional studies, questionnaires and in-depth case studies across 32 European countries. It estimates that the number of Europeans living in damp and unhealthy homes could be reduced by half by 2050 - not only would this ensure people were living in better quality dwellings, it would also reduce the number of people with associated respiratory diseases by 25 per cent. In the case of asthma, it could mean 550,000 fewer people would have the illness.