During the first energy shock in the 1970s, efforts to improve energy conservation in buildings sometimes inadvertently created “sick building syndrome” because not enough attention was given to proper ventilation with fresh air, moisture control, and other factors. Several recent studies conducted by the National Center for Healthy Housing (www.nchh.org) and others show that more modern green healthy housing building techniques are associated with large health improvements.
For example, in the Watts to Well-Being study of 248 households in Boston, Chicago, and New York City, we found statistical significant health improvements in adults in general health, sinusitis, hypertension, obesity, and use of asthma medications.
In another study in Seattle, we worked with a local public health department’s community health worker asthma education home visit program, combined with a local housing agency’s weatherization program. The study group received in-home education and “energy plus health” physical interventions on the structure in 34 units, and the control group received only the community health worker asthma education. We found that combining energy plus health structural treatments and the community health worker asthma education program resulted in greater significant reductions in the percentage of children with either not well-controlled or very poorly controlled asthma compared with those families who participated in the asthma education program alone. Specifically:
• For the study group, the percentage of children whose asthma was either not well controlled or very poorly controlled significantly decreased from 100% to 28.8% about a year later.
• The comparison group also showed an improvement from 100% to 51.6%, but the improvement for the study group was significantly greater than that of the comparison group.
• Caregiver quality of life significantly improved.
• For all the following measures, the study group showed a greater improvement than the comparison group, although the improvement did not attain statistical significance, possibly because the sample size was too small:
• frequency of urgent clinical care visits,
• symptom-free days,
• days of limited activity,
• days of rescue medicine use, and
• nights with symptoms.
• The presence of home asthma triggers (visible evidence of mold, water damage, pests, and smoking) also significantly decreased for the study group.
Finally, a major study of “breathe-easy” homes, public housing units occupied by asthmatic children (see chart on page 45), showed that trips to the emergency room were reduced by 41.2%, there were 4.8 fewer days with asthma symptoms for every two-week period, asthma triggers in house dust fell from 2.0 to 0.03, and caretaker quality of life improved.