Green building practices have been the trend for new homes over a decade. Housing experts have touted the benefits of green building as environmentally friendly and money saving. Health experts have also proclaimed the benefits of green home designs. However, a revealing exposé in Remodeling Magazine discusses the health dangers of living in a green design and/or energy efficient home. There is a healthy home trend that is trumping the green initiative.
The need for a healthy home
To describe how a green home’s air can become dangerous over time, Marisa Martinez uses the analogy of opening up the air-tight sealed bag of clothes from last summer and getting a whiff of the stale, plastic air (Breathing Easy: An Introduction to Healthy Homes; remodeling.hw.com; June 22, 2017). Martinez discussed how builders and home owners have focused on reducing environmental impacts of their home and neglected the health effects from the new building directives.
Green building and efficient home designs focus on reducing system operating costs by increasing the structure efficiency, thus reducing the impact to the environment. One of the outcomes of such a building design is having an air tight home. The air-tight feature is to ensure that there is minimal energy loss from escaping air. Owners and occupants of green homes are becoming ill because homes are air-tight. The lack of proper ventilation and the decreased breathability of a home can make the inside air become stale. And, over time, the buildup of interior pollutants can make the home toxic.
Increasing the awareness of green and efficient homes was a reason for the mandatory utility disclosures when selling a home in Montgomery County. This requirement was enacted in 2008 as a compromise from a proposed mandatory energy audit.
“According to Montgomery County Bill 31-07, enacted into Montgomery County Code Real Property 40-13b earlier this year, a home seller must provide potential home buyers the last twelve months of utility bills and information approved by the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) about home efficiency improvements including the “benefit of conducting a home energy audit” before entering into a sales contract.”
Additional potential hazards can be encountered when renovating a green designed home because the air-tight feature can cause air pollutants to accumulate inside the home. Materials in new carpets, flooring (finished wood or vinyl), and paints can produce toxic off-gases that are not ventilated out of the home. Dust from drywall and other building materials pose a health hazard as well.
Martinez’s exposé flies in the face of research hyping the health benefits of green homes. One of the flaws of the these studies is that the health outcome comparisons of occupants of conventional built homes and green designated homes typically focused on new homes. The air quality issue that Martinez points out should be studied in older green and efficient homes, where the indoor air has had time to “mature.”
The green home movement was supposed to give us environmentally friendly, efficient homes that were also supposed keep us healthy. But the trend from green and efficient building is now transforming to a focus more on healthy home environments with an emphasis on good indoor air quality. Martinez stated that the good indoor air quality can be achieved by continuously exchanging the indoor air with conditioned outdoor air. There are physical and environmental benefits of a healthy home, which include increased emotional well being and reduced respiratory distress.
Leading the effort to educate the housing industry and consumers on healthy home environments is Bill Hayward. In an interview in Builder Magazine (Advocating for Fresh Air in Homes; builderonline.com; September 29, 2016) he discussed his journey in creating Hayward Healthy Homes after realizing his home was making his family ill. Hayward stated “Thirty percent of the population has allergies and is physically affected by the indoor air quality. The worst air that Americans breath right now is the air within their house.” More information and a free guide on creating a healthy home can be obtained from Hayward Healthy Home (haywardhealthyhome.com).
Copyright© Dan Krell
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.