News for a healthier home

June 15, 2016 BY: Brian Toll, President, Breathe Easy Home
IN: Air Quality, Allergies, Asthma, Children, Wellness

Creating Healthy Homes: Helping Consumers Make Informed Decisions

The Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies (JCHS) released an important working paper called “Challenges and Opportunities in Creating Healthy Homes:  Helping Consumers Make Informed Decision.”  This paper, by Mariel Wolfson and Elizabeth La Jeunesse, looked at research and standards in the “Healthy Home” and “Indoor Air Quality” areas, and performed a survey of over 2,000 home ownership households (not renters).  This survey exposed a wide gap of understanding between the impacts of housing and health among consumers and other groups.  Here are some results:

  1. Only 24% expressed concerns that their house might be unhealthy.
  2. Of the 24%, the top drivers were concerns about indoor air quality, water quality, harmful chemicals, and light or noise pollution.
  3. Top concerns included managing dust and/or pet dander, dampness or moisture, water quality/purity, outdoor pollution near the home, pollution from cooking, insufficient ventilation, radon, and more.
  4. Of those concerned, people were generally concerned about chemicals from furniture, chemicals in the building structure, excessive noise, poor natural light, excessive outdoor light from outdoors, asbestos, and lead.
  5. Most people became concerned only after someone in their household developed symptoms of a disease (such as asthma, allergies, headache, rash, chronic stress, seasonal affective disorder, endocrine disruption, etc.).  Others got information from the internet or television, or from their friends, or a building professional.

The paper then discusses solutions that include:

  1. An important guideline for living your life and designing your home is:  “Minimize indoor emissions, keep it dry, ventilate well, and protect against outdoor emissions.”
  2. Better scientific research on the impacts of chemicals.
  3. More disclosure of the chemicals used in building products.  Health Product Declarations are examples of a best practice adopted from another part of the industry.
  4. The medical industry is generally unaware of the link between housing and health.  A 2014 study by McGraw-Hill described how just 32% of general practitioners believe that buildings impact patient health.  Only 53% of pediatriacians and 40% of psychologists agreed.  Most housing research is published in public health journals, but most doctors read medical journals.  Thus, doctors are under-educated on how housing impacts health.
  5. More awareness and training for contractors who do remodeling projects.  Contractors have a strong influence on the toxicity of the building materials used, and contractors can do more to persuade consumers to select low-toxicity materials.

Read a more detailed summary of the working paper by visiting the JCHS blog here:

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