When it comes to our health, we find ourselves bombarded with information about what we eat and drink. But what do we know about the air we breathe? Especially the air indoors where most of us spend more than 90 percent of our time?
Breathing about 11,000 liters of air each day, we know air quality impacts our health. So, how do we create a healthier indoor environment? It turns out, many of the measures we take to improve our homes’ energy efficiency also improve air quality, making the home more healthful.
The Root Causes of Unhealthy Living Spaces
Approaching the home as a system allows us to identify and remedy the root causes of unhealthy living spaces with co-benefits like energy efficiency.
Many Vermonters struggle to keep their homes warm in winter. Drafty air leaks let in cold air, and provide pathways for contaminates like mice, moisture and dust, to enter and move about your home. Missing or damaged bathroom and kitchen ventilation systems are unable to remove local sources of pollutants from bathing and cooking. Poorly vented gas and wood appliances can lead to toxic by-products entering the breathing zone. Equally important is keeping your home cool on hot days. Annually, Vermont has 23 excess emergency department visits for heat complaints and five excess deaths on days when the statewide average temperature is at or above 87°F.
Eight Principles of a Healthy Home
The Centers for Disease Control and the National Center for Healthy Homes promote 8 principles of a healthy home – dry, clean, safe, well ventilated, pest free, contaminant free, maintained and thermally controlled, and each of these principals has an impact on indoor air quality.
On the surface, each principle appears intuitive and one might think they’ve mastered them all in their own home, yet we know many Vermont homes do not meet these criteria. The signs of an un-healthful home may be subtle: For example, 64 percent of the homes in Vermont were built before 1980 and may contain hazardous lead paint, and one in eight Vermont homes has unsafe levels of radon. Both of these toxins are hidden unless you test for them.
The signs of an un-healthful home can also be obvious, like odors that linger for more than an hour, mold or mildew growing in a basement or bathroom, ice dams on a roof in winter, or toxic chemicals being stored under the kitchen sink.
Take Steps for a Healthy Home
Completing an energy and health assessment in your home will help you identify low and no-cost opportunities to improve the indoor air quality of your home and create a healthful living environment. Those most vulnerable to indoor pollutants include children, seniors, low-income families and individuals with a chronic illness.
Fortunately, there are lots of resources available to help Vermonters improve the indoor living environments of their home. Since 2000, over 90 percent of Vermonters have participated in Efficiency Vermont programs and services. Today, Efficiency Vermont partners with hospitals like the University of Vermont Medical Center, Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity’s Weatherization Program, and local non-profits to deploy multi-trigger, multicomponent interventions in patient homes improving indoor environmental quality and climate change resiliency, while also reducing energy costs.
Each partner brings to the table what they do best – health care providers offer behavioral coaching and medication guidance through a self-managed care plan, building science experts offer weatherization plus environmental health improvements, and the local non-profits offer additional resources specific to the community where the patient lives – often at no cost to the patient.
Done correctly, energy efficiency benefits and prevents an array of health issues including: COPD, asthma, allergies, arthritis, hypertension, cancer, heat stroke and chronic chill.
For more information about healthy homes and the services Efficiency Vermont offers, call 888-921-5990. Want to start on your own? Check out the Home Characteristics and Asthma Triggers: Checklist for Home Visitorsand Efficiency Vermont’s Tips and Tools.