Indoor air quality in new homes in the UK – the impact of drying laundry

Project Details


The UK House building industry is driven by policy and regulation to achieve sustainable and low energy new houses. The current focus on air tight construction however means it is important to balance ventilation of dwellings with the activities undertaken within them; this involves analysis of the behaviour of the occupants who are passive adopters of the new technologies. 
This project explores the issues of new housing and low permeable design in the UK to reduce energy consumption. It then looks at current standards and recommendations for the drying of clothes in new homes and evaluates the science of clothes drying and the apparently changing culture with regard to laundry practice.

The project reports on research carried out so far on a new housing estate which indicates that up to 96% of people living in new homes own a tumble dryer to dry their clothes, selecting either this high energy method of clothes drying or by drying clothes internally within the property which can lead to higher energy use for heating and also mould growth and poor internal air quality. This poses significant questions on how the policy application for new housing in fact translates to projected energy use and sets out some opportunities for further research into clothes drying which needs to be undertaken to deliver the well-being of occupants and the projected reductions in energy use.

The project aimed to

> understand the impact of user behaviour in new homes in relation to indoor air quality, specifically in the practice of drying laundry
> identify good practice and provide recommendations for changes to building regulations and standards to improve indoor air quality in new homes

Key findings

The UK is in the process of revising standards of new build homes, this is to enable them to be built more quickly and to make provision of the extra three million by 2020. It is really important that the increased agenda for sustainability is reflected in the way these homes perform in-use as well as the technical standards to which they are built if the UK is to meet its target on carbon reduction.

As building regulations part L pushes the air permeability of buildings below 10m3/m2hr@50Pa, the provision of adequate controlled ventilation becomes increasingly important either through natural or mechanical means currently the focus of this ventilation is in spaces defined as ‘wet’ e.g. bathrooms and kitchens yet there is evidence that people hang laundry in other areas of the home which can lead to moisture laden air and mould and poor health. Laundry practice is evolving over time with little attention from academic researchers meaning there are too few new homes being built with any designated space for laundry activity, in particular passive indoor drying, and this may be leading to a trend of moisture-laden living spaces which can create damp and mouldy environments.

As a result of this early exploratory research it is envisaged that further experimental and applied research will be undertaken to investigate the following: How many days in a year can laundry actually be dried outside in the UK What can be learnt from other countries about culture with regards to clothes drying? How does drying laundry internally impact on air quality and relative humidity How can physical layouts for housing be changed to provide a shift in people’s behaviours with regards to clothes drying. In line with the review of other standards this should assist in developing a strategic review of policy application and deliver projected reduction in energy use whilst maintaining the well being of occupants living in new homes.

Madgwick, Della and Wood, Hannah (2016) The problem of clothes drying in new homes in the UK Structural Survey, 34 (4-5). pp. 320-330. ISSN 0263-080X

Madgwick, Della and Wood, Hannah (2015) Drying Laundry in New Homes - Preliminary Observations from the UK In: The Construction, Building and Real Estate Research Conference of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Sydney, Australia, 8 – 10 July 2015.

Effective start/end date1/01/1512/12/17


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