Undertaking energy efficiency retrofits or building a new energy efficient home can have many financial and environmental benefits is the positive impact that an energy efficient home can have on your health and the health of your family. According to a review of studies on the health impacts that resulted from energy efficiency retrofits, “improvements in general, respiratory, and mental health were reported following warmth and energy efficiency improvements.” There are a few specific reasons why steps to improve energy efficiency can also have positive health impacts.

Some building materials, both conventional and energy efficient, contain chemicals that can be harmful to your respiratory health. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), such as formaldehyde and chlorofluorocarbons, can be found in common products such as paint, carpet, and furniture. VOCs evaporate off of the surface of these materials at room temperature and can irritate the breathing and respiratory health of building occupants. It's best to use products and materials that are low in VOCs, but a good ventilation system is also critical for removing these harmful chemicals from the air in your home – and for saving energy.

Another component of poor indoor air quality is excessive moisture. Moisture problems can be caused by poor ventilation, infiltration from leaky windows and doors or cracks in walls, poorly constructed walls, and walls without properly located moisture barriers. Moisture problems in your home can develop into mold and mildew, which also irritate the respiratory system. Poor indoor air quality can cause or exacerbate respiratory problems such as asthma. Many of the steps that you can take to reduce infiltration for energy efficiency will also have a positive impact in reducing asthma and other respiratory problems.

Drafty homes that have high amounts of infiltration have other problems besides uncontrolled moisture build-up. For example, leaky homes can draw unfiltered polluted air from the outside into occupied spaces. If you live in a highly polluted area, this unfiltered outdoor air can cause further respiratory problems. Infiltration also causes chilly drafts that decrease the temperature inside. Heat loss due to infiltration, along with inefficient and expensive-to-operate heating systems, can discourage occupants from keeping their home at a warm temperature in order to save money. A home that is too cold can result in health problems, especially for sensitive populations, such as the elderly.

When you take steps to improve your home's energy efficiency, you are also helping to prevent these health-related side effects. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified improved living conditions as a key in maintaining better health. In addition, studies over the years have confirmed this common-sense relationship between energy efficiency and health impacts. A review of dozens of studies leading up to 2007 in the American Journal of Public Health found that steps taken to improve energy efficiency have also had positive impacts for occupants on overall health, respiratory health, and mental health. These beneficial impacts were even more pronounced amongst vulnerable populations, such as the sick, elderly, and low-income households.

Source:

Thompson, Hilary, et al. The Health Impacts of Housing Improvement: A Systematic Review of Intervention Studies from 1887 – 2007,” American Journal of Public Health, Supplement 3, 2009, vol 99, No S3.

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