Green building practices have been the new home trend for over a decade. Housing experts have touted the benefits of green building as environmentally friendly and 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.
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 airtight. 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.
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 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 trend from green and efficient building is now transforming to a focus 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 wellbeing 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).
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX All Pro in Rockville, MD. You can access more information at www.DanKrell.com.