Given that people spend about 90 percent of their time inside buildings, it’s not surprising that the indoor environment can have a substantial impact on health.
While this isn’t an issue that people often consider, it poses real problems. Of all building stock in the United States, 53 percent is more than 35 years old – and some of that contains hazardous construction materials like asbestos and lead. In fact, around 4 million US homes are exposing children to dangerously high levels of lead.
Many people living in older buildings may face additional health and safety hazards, as well. Most of these concerns revolve around air quality concerns and their effect on respiration. For example, extreme temperatures caused by lack of insulation and old, drafty windows can trigger asthma attacks. Poor building envelopes or inadequate ventilation systems mean pests and moisture can enter easily, encouraging mold and introducing allergens and disease, which can damage respiratory health. These buildings are also more likely to have faulty, inefficient appliances, which not only waste energy but can also degrade air quality.
So, how can energy efficiency help?
Performing an energy assessment, upgrading energy efficiency and renovating older buildings can actually bring double benefits: reduced energy costs and mitigated health risks. The result? Safer, more comfortable homes.
How does this work? Buildings that are more energy efficient are tightly sealed and well ventilated, which keeps out ambient air pollution and excessive moisture. Because they’re well insulated, climate-controlled air stays at the chosen temperature. This environment has been proven to reduce asthma attacks and other respiratory symptoms while also promoting cardiovascular and mental health benefits.
Programs with co-benefits
There are several programs across the United States that are understanding this concept and rolling up the issues of energy waste and health concerns into one big goal. Some of these programs concentrate on new appliances and education programs while others provide home construction or financing.
Residential-based programs, like the Bronx Healthy Buildings Program in New York and the nationwide Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI), target residences with high incidences of asthma-related hospital visits. Community health workers visit homes to make health and environmental assessments, including fixing holes, eliminating pests, offering mold remediation, and providing smoke and CO detectors. They also educate on indoor air quality hazards, lead, radon, asbestos and other health determinants, as well as saving energy and water.
Of course, when it comes to energy efficiency improvements, programs are offering an abundance of those as well. Staff perform energy audits and analyze fuel usage, which can lead to installing energy efficiency upgrade measures including low-flow sink and shower fixtures, LED light bulbs, smart power strips, and identifying opportunities to provide insulation and air sealing improvements.
These programs sound great in theory, but do they work? The short answer is yes, and the data speaks for itself.
- Residents saved up to 18 percent on gas bills
- Residents saved up to 20 percent on electric bills
- 91 percent reduction in avoidable hospital admissions
- 65 percent fewer ER visits
- 65 percent less school absenteeism due to respiratory illness
- 74 percent reduction in uncontrolled asthma episodes
On the flip side of these health-based programs are energy efficiency-focused programs that don’t primarily target health concerns but still yield impressive results. One such program is the Zero Energy Modular (ZEM) Program from Efficiency Vermont, which builds zero-energy modular homes (which produce as much energy as they consume) and offers financial incentives for low-income home buyers.
These super efficient new modular homes are built with top-of-the-line efficiency in mind. This includes the usage of triple-glazed windows, highly effective air-sealing, continuous insulation with double-stud walls, and more. Through this program, ratepayers saved $486,000 on heat and electricity over four years. Although health outcomes were not specifically tracked, 81 percent of surveyed homeowners noted improved air quality and 56 percent of those surveyed with allergies, sleep apnea, or COPD said breathing felt easier.
While energy efficiency exists as its own industry, it certainly isn’t in a bubble. With health, energy, and construction professionals partnering together, they can design and implement more holistic programs that will optimize the way a building meets the multiple needs of its occupants and even those of the wider community. To learn how Franklin Energy’s unique programs can improve your buildings and your life, schedule a meeting with an energy expert today.
The Next Nexus: Exemplary Programs That Save Energy and Improve Health, ACEEE: http://aceee.org/research-report/h1802
Green and Healthy Homes Initiative: http://www.greenandhealthyhomes.org/
Mobile Home Replacement, Efficiency Vermont: https://www.efficiencyvermont.com/services/income-based-assistance/mobile-home-replacement
Residential Product Manager
Customer experience is key, and Greg Nettleton knows how to deliver it every time. From strategy to program design to budget, he keeps the customer in mind every step of the way. In his role, Greg drives best practices to reach results for clients and deliver value to their customers. With decades of experience, he has overseen implementation of efficiency program delivery and worked extensively in the residential energy sector. Greg holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Grinnell College, is certified as a BPI building analyst/envelope professional, a verifier for ENERGY STAR® for homes, and is a HERS certified home energy rater.