An energy-efficient home offers more than just lower utility bills and a lower carbon footprint.
It can also provide a healthy environment for the people who live there.
That’s according to Kevin Kennedy, director of the Environmental Health Program at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri.
High levels of humidity, dust or other allergens cause poor indoor air quality, Kennedy says. Weathering the home or making other energy efficiency upgrades can help.
Making these improvements can reduce the number of visits a patient needs to have to the doctor or emergency department — or the amount of medication asthma patients must take to manage their condition.
The Healthy Homes Program at Children’s Mercy Hospital conducts environmental health assessments in people’s homes. The staff then makes recommendations to address the health risks.
Yale Climate Connections spoke to Kennedy about how energy efficiency upgrades and weathering programs can lead to positive health outcomes.
Yale Climate Connections: How does improving the environmental conditions of the home affect the health of patients with respiratory diseases?
Kevin Kennedy: When you are able to assess the environment, identify certain types of environmental conditions and then make changes to improve the internal environment, you see a decrease in [healthcare] Exploit. And that translates into dollars, because they’re not going to the hospital, and they don’t have to go to the emergency department.
Families have contacted us to tell us they have just seen a drastic change in how often their children need their asthma medication, and how well they feel. They are able to play sports again.
YCC: What services do you provide through the Mercy Children’s Environmental Health Program?
Kennedy: When we enter the client’s home, one person focuses on health education and talks to the family about general behaviors, how they run their home, cleaning and maintenance activities. And the second person looks more specifically at the building, the systems that support the building, the contents of the rooms and all the different aspects of how that building is designed, built, operated, and maintained.
Listen: Living in energy-efficient homes can improve people’s health
Then we develop what we call a healthy home advisory plan that provides specific guidelines for what we saw in the house and was good – we want to give them a positive reinforcement – and then what recommendations we might have to change their practices or use new tools and technology – something as simple as a new vacuum cleaner that has a filter Good enough to reduce the amount of airborne particles in the home, and look at the furnace system to see if it needs maintenance, repair, or an upgrade.
And then because of these improvements, there should be less exposure to their so-called “triggers” of their asthma. In the long term, we hope to improve the overall quality of life for this patient.
YCC: What are some of the most common problems you encounter when going home?
Kennedy: The most common things we see in homes are related to chronic moisture problems. Perhaps two-thirds of the homes we visit for chronically ill patients have a humidity problem somewhere. The second most common problems are ventilation problems, where the ventilation system is not working well, or the air circulation is very poor, so we see a buildup of particles and chemicals in the home that includes allergens.
YCC: What similarities do you see between your energy efficiency efforts and your environmental health program?
Kennedy: The work that the energy efficiency industry does on homes specifically improves the indoor environment of a home. It makes big changes in how air flows and circulates through the home: where that air comes from and what kind of air that air is.
And we know that when a home is weathered, when it’s properly air sealed and properly insulated, it improves comfort dramatically. It makes managing indoor air temperature and humidity in the home easier, and eliminates temperature extremes. And the more comfortable people are in an indoor environment, the healthier they are, and there is definitely research showing that.
And then doing the insulation, and sealing the air, gives anyone, any homeowner, better control over where the air in the house is coming from. How much of this air passes through the filter? How much of that is circulated and evenly distributed throughout the house? I mean, that’s really the point of improving the entire home’s indoor environment. So there is a lot of overlap.
YCC: Did people from the two disciplines start working together?
Kennedy: You have been an advocate and advocate for the importance of integrating healthy home chores into energy efficient work. And you have been one of the pioneers in helping develop new credentials and certifications for energy efficiency personnel [through the Building Performance Institute]. So we have been true advocates of training that workforce to integrate healthy homes into their work.
So we’ve been involved for a long time trying to argue that people who do energy conservation work understand that the work they do has this kind of impact on the internal environment.
One of the tragedies is that weathering programs have a process where they inspect the house, and if there are bad environmental conditions in the house, such as moisture and mold problems, they have to put off the property. In other words, they will not do weathering.
So some families may qualify to participate to upgrade their homes through weathering. But the work cannot be done due to the poor environmental conditions in the house. So nothing has been done to improve the house, and they are still stuck living in environmental conditions that are likely to affect their health. One of the things that we’ve been advocating recently is that we need to find funding to get through these delays, to fix these things so that [workers] It can then go in and do the energy efficiency work that really needs to be done.
work that [energy-efficiency workers] do is really about health and the indoor environment. This is the primary benefit of the family. Energy efficiency and improvements leading to lower utility costs – this is secondary in some ways. It’s the health benefit and long-term outcomes for people who live at home, in my opinion, that matter the most.
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YCC: Do the benefits extend beyond people with acute respiratory illness?
Kennedy: The best thing ordinary citizens can do is invest in making their homes more resilient to climate change, which means making them more energy efficient. Do things to lower the cost of your utilities, and reduce your carbon footprint. And when you do these things, when you invest in energy efficiency, you get the additional – and perhaps even more important – benefit of improving the overall health and quality of that home’s indoor environment. So there is a natural benefit from making this investment.
The more we can get people to invest — but also provide financing to support that investment — to increase the number of homes that receive energy-efficient, weather-ready and healthy work at home, the more resilient those buildings are, the more they will respond to extremism. weather conditions. All of these things end up improving the quality of life and health of people in our country. So it all makes perfect sense as a natural way forward.