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:
- Only 24% expressed concerns that their house might be unhealthy.
- Of the 24%, the top drivers were concerns about indoor air quality, water quality, harmful chemicals, and light or noise pollution.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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.”
- Better scientific research on the impacts of chemicals.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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: http://housingperspectives.blogspot.com/2016/04/three-things-to-develop-healthy-housing.html.