This section is from the book "The Principles And Practice Of Modern House-Construction", by G. Lister Sutcliffe. Also available from Amazon: How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding & Maintaining Your Home.
Although so much has been already attained in the way of sanitary improvement, much remains to be done, and is, indeed, already being attempted. It may be admitted that the Rivers Pollution Prevention Act of 1876 has not fulfilled all the expectations of its promoters. A good deal has been done to force towns to dispose of their sewage in other ways than by discharging it into rivers, yet trade pollution, especially about manufacturing towns, goes on much as before. Nowhere has the evil been so great as in the North of England, and it is noteworthy that the County Councils of some of the great manufacturing counties are now making earnest and concerted efforts to abate the nuisance. Satisfactory methods of sewage-disposal are still a great want for many of our large towns. Where the conditions are such as to allow of proper sewage-fanning, the problem presents no great difficulty, but this is by no means always the case. The chemical and mechanical methods which have then to be employed are not only expensive and difficult of application, but wasteful, since valuable manurial matter is lost - the precipitated sludge containing but a small proportion of the available nitrogen of the sewage.
The proper ventilation of factories and workshops is a matter dealt with by various Acts, but the Factory and Workshop Act of 1895 has for the first time fixed by law the minimum amount of air-space to be allowed for each person employed, namely, 250 cubic feet per head during ordinary working hours and 400 for overtime, three gas-burners being accounted equal to one person. There is room still for improvement in the carrying out of the law in these matters.
In large towns the smoke-nuisance is one urgently crying for reform. The chimneys of private dwelling-houses are untouched by the Public Health Acts, though factory chimneys are compelled to consume their own smoke as far as possible. Until the private chimney is touched, it is clear that no real abatement of the nuisance is possible, and it can only be when an economical, efficient, and satisfactory smoke-consuming grate is devised that any legislation on the subject becomes practicable. Grates which more or less fulfil these conditions are indeed in existence, but they have not as yet become popular.
Back-to-back houses, commoner in the north than in the south of England, constitute a very serious sanitary defect which is not vet specifically dealt with by law. Even in some large towns, - e.g. Leeds, they are still permitted to be built, though it has been conclusively shown, by Barry and Gordon Smith amongst others, that the lack of air-space and ventilation which they engender is associated with a distinct increase in the death-rate.
The sanitary inspection of houses is susceptible of considerable development and improvement, especially in the matter of uniformity. Stringent by-laws may exist under one Sanitary Authority, while considerable laxity may prevail in an adjacent area. Moreover, it is too often the case, especially in small towns, that personal interests are allowed to interfere with the due application of such by-laws as may be locally in force Better results would be obtained if house inspectors were appointed either by County Councils or by Government.