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The shift to an “indoor generation”
and the consequences for health

Photo: Velux

Within just a few generations, we have gone from being an outdoor species to an indoor one. Today, we spend on average 90 per cent of our time in enclosed spaces. In addition, a YouGov survey conducted on behalf of the Velux Group revealed that participants were totally mistaken about their habits and the associated health risks. Children in particular are at risk because their bedrooms are often the most polluted rooms in the house.

The “indoor generation” describes a growing number of people who, compared to previous generations, spend the vast majority of their time in enclosed spaces – currently 90 per cent of their lives. However, the survey, in which 16,000 homeowners in 14 countries participated, shows we believe that only 66 per cent of our time is not spent outdoors. Only 18 per cent of respondents thought they spent 21 hours (87.5 per cent) or more of their day indoors. And 78 per cent were not even aware that the air in our homes and public buildings may be more polluted than the air outside. But the fact is that the pollutant levels can be up to five times higher.

Photo: Velux

Peter Foldbjerg, Head of Daylight Energy and Indoor Climate at Velux, gives the following explanation: “We are increasingly becoming a generation of people who live indoors. During the week, we only see daylight and breathe fresh air on our commute to work or school. Modern life often begins early in the morning. We hurry to work, where we spend eight to ten hours in an office. Then we head straight home, a routine that is, at best, interrupted by a brief visit to the shops or a quick workout in a damp and stuffy gym.”

Yet when you ask people about air pollution, they are more likely to think of residential addresses near large factories or high levels of pollutant emissions from vehicles than they are to imagine their own homes. But everyday activities such as cooking, cleaning or showering, burning candles, drying laundry, pollutants from toxic materials in plastic toys, cleaning products and building materials can contribute to worse indoor air quality. Even sleeping and breathing pollute the air inside a room: an adult breathes an average of 15,000 litres of air a day. On average, a family of four therefore releases 1,800 litres of CO2 and 10 litres of water into the atmosphere every day.

Photo: Velux

It is clear that we must improve our awareness of our indoor lifestyles and find out more about the effects on our bodies and minds. Indeed, a lack of daylight and too much artificial light have a negative effect on our well-being too. 300 lux, the typical light intensity of interior lighting, sits in stark contrast with the 1,000 lux that we need to activate our internal clocks. Although a position near the window can still supply around 3,000 lux, the light intensity outdoors is between 10,000 and 100,000 lux. Furthermore, daylight can increase children’s ability to learn by up to 15 per cent. Office workers with an optimal view of the outdoors scored 10–25 per cent better in tests of mental function and memory. Too little daylight, on the other hand, can promote depression.

Non-polluting paints and textiles as well as solid wood furniture can contribute to a better indoor climate. The right ventilation behaviour and large, modern windows improve our well-being, as do indoor plants and circadian lighting, which is in line with our biorhythm. And, of course, so does simply going out into the fresh air more often.

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