Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

20/121 Indoor air quality


19 August 2022




Please note: The Public Health Research (PHR) Programme would like to draw researchers’ attention to the commissioning brief below, which was first advertised in Autumn 2020. This is a brief that we have previously advertised as a commissioned funding opportunity. We are still interested in receiving applications in this research area, as it remains a priority in our portfolio. However, please note that the commissioning brief, along with the underpinning literature searches, has not been updated since originally written.

Research question

  • What are the impacts of interventions that affect indoor air quality on health and health inequalities?

Exposure to indoor air pollutants, such as particulate matter (PM), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), carbon monoxide and biological materials can cause a range of health conditions. Indoor air pollutants come from smoking, vaping, cooking, open flames (such as wood fires), building materials, furnishings, and household products such as those used for cleaning. They also come from biological sources, such as, mould, house dust mites, bacteria, pests or pets. Outdoor pollutants can also enter through windows or gaps in the building structure and may contribute to poor indoor air quality, particularly in deprived areas. As people spend up to 90% of their lives indoors it is important to ensure indoor air quality is adequate.

The Public Health Programme is interested in receiving applications using a range of, potentially innovative, designs and methods to evaluate the impacts of interventions that affect indoor air quality on health and health inequalities. We are interested in all forms of indoor space, though researchers are reminded that the remit of the PHR Programme is for non-NHS and non-therapeutic interventions.

Research areas of interest may include (but are not limited to):

  • Population-level interventions
  • Ventilation – different types of ventilation (passive and active), heating, draught proofing
  • Strategies for raising awareness – information campaigns to alter knowledge, attitude and behaviours
  • Occupant/community behaviour interventions to reduce exposure to poor indoor air quality
  • Material and structural interventions
  • Outdoor interventions that affect indoor air quality (e.g. smokefree housing)
  • Whole systems approach of indoor air quality (e.g. the link between indoor air quality, thermal comfort and noise)
  • The impact of air quality on health inequalities on deprived or vulnerable populations
  • The relative effectiveness of structural vs behavioural interventions in improving indoor air quality

Researchers will need to identify and justify the most suitable methodological approach. Researchers will need to specify how short, medium and long term impacts will be evaluated.

Relevant populations or sub-groups may be studied, based on factors such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender or other social markers, and the tenure of the home setting studied. Researchers are to specify and justify their choice and the relevance to the population being studied and the outcomes being measured. Researchers should demonstrate the relevance of their proposed research to policy makers and other evidence-users, including validity of the legislative frameworks underpinning the research focus. Researchers are encouraged to consider wider economic impacts across whole systems. Researchers are encouraged to involve relevant subject-matter experts in the development and undertaking of the research, including as fully funded members of the research team. Commercial partners may be considered, along with necessary safeguards for intellectual property and conflicts of interest.

Studies should generate evidence to inform the implementation of single or multi-component interventions. Studies may include evidence syntheses, studies evaluating interventions, including trials, quasi- and natural experimental evaluations, and feasibility and pilot studies for these. We welcome applications for linked studies (e.g. pilot + main evaluation, evidence syntheses + modelling). Secondary analyses of existing epidemiological data and/or impact modelling studies may also be funded. We encourage the adoption of a systems perspective where appropriate to the study context. In all cases a strong justification for the chosen design and methods must be made.

The primary outcome measure of the research, if not necessarily the intervention itself, must be health-related. The positive or negative impacts of the intervention, including inequitable outcomes should be considered. Researchers are asked to indicate how long-term impacts will be assessed. All applications should identify underlying theory and include a logic model (or equivalent) to help explain underlying context, theory and mechanisms. Proposals should ensure adequate public involvement in the research.

The impacts of public health interventions are often complex and wide-reaching. Studies should acknowledge this by adopting a broad perspective, taking account of costs and benefits to all relevant sectors of society. An appropriate health economic analysis to inform cost effectiveness, affordability or return on investment should be included where appropriate. Sustainability - health, economic and environmental - is also of interest.

For all proposals, applicants should clearly state the public health utility of the outcomes and the mechanisms by which they will inform future public health policy and practice. Details about the potential pathway to impact and scalability of interventions, if shown to have an effect, should be provided, including an indication of which organisation(s) might fund the relevant intervention(s) if widely implemented.

Remit of call

All proposals submitted under this call must fall within the remit of the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme. Please go to the PHR Programme page for details. For the evaluation of time sensitive, policy driven, interventions applicants may wish to consider the fast-track work stream.

General notes

The PHR Programme funds research to generate evidence to inform the delivery of non-NHS interventions intended to improve the health of the public and reduce inequalities in health. Our scope is multi-disciplinary and broad, covering a wide range of interventions that improve public health.

The primary aim of the programme is the evaluation of practical interventions. We will fund both primary research (mainly evaluative, but also some preparatory research) and secondary research (evidence synthesis); precise methods will need to be appropriate to the question being asked and the feasibility of the research.

Our research serves a variety of key stakeholders including: decision-makers in local government; primary care organisations and other local public services; third sector organisations; relevant national agencies (e.g. NICE) concerned with improving public health and reducing health inequalities; researchers; public health practitioners and the public.

Applicants should consider how their findings will impact upon decision making in public health practice, whether results are generalisable to other populations and affordable, setting out a clear pathway to impact. The NIHR PHR programme recognises that there is a need for an evidence base for disinvestment and that the removal of an intervention from a population can be worthy of evaluation.

The affordability of the intervention, and at least an indication of the stakeholder(s) willing to fund the intervention, should be referenced within the stage 1 application. At the stage 2 application point, statements of support confirming stakeholder commitments to funding will be required. Applicants should be aware that the NIHR PHR programme is unable to fund intervention costs.

The NIHR PHR programme is open to the joint funding of research projects with other organisations such as those in the third sector. If you would like to explore the potential for joint funding, please contact us at with details of your proposal and the other funder prior to submission.

All of our funded projects are eligible for publication in the NIHR Journals Library. This open access resource is freely available online, and provides a full and permanent record of NIHR-funded research.

Notes to applicants

The NIHR PHR Programme is funded by the NIHR, with contributions from the CSO in Scotland, NISCHR in Wales, and HSC R&D, Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland. Researchers in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are eligible to apply for funding under this programme.

Applicants are recommended to seek advice from suitable methodological support services, at an early stage in the development of their research idea and application. The NIHR Research Design Service can advise on appropriate NIHR programme choice, and developing and designing high quality research grant applications.

The NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN) supports health and social care research taking place in NHS and non-NHS settings. The CRN provides expert advice and support to plan, set up and deliver research efficiently.

Clinical Trials Units are regarded as an important component of many trial applications however, they are not essential for all types of studies to the PHR programme. The CTUs can advise and participate throughout the process from initial idea development through to project delivery and reporting. NIHR CTU Support Funding provides information on units receiving funding from the NIHR to collaborate on research applications to NIHR programmes and funded projects. In addition, the UKCRC CTU Network provides a searchable information resource on all registered units in the UK, and lists key interest areas and contact information.

Please note, the ‘PHR Supporting Information’ should be referred to when developing an application as it provides programme specific hints and tips to aid success.

Transparency agenda

In line with the government’s transparency agenda, any contract resulting from this tender may be published in its entirety to the general public.
For information about contracts worth over £10,000 with the government and its agencies use the contracts finder.