WHAT IS A HEALTHY HOME?
In the most basic sense, houses are shelters, providing
protection from weather and potentially hostile environments.
But beyond the basics, housing can and should support good
health. The connection between housing and health has long been
recognized. The public health and housing movements have common
roots planted more than a century ago in efforts to address slum
housing. The first modern housing laws were established to
respond to infectious disease threats to public health such as
tuberculosis and typhoid. The provision of indoor plumbing
improved sanitation and led to the control of cholera and other
Why are green healthy housing improvements unlike other home
improvements? For housing, there is not a consistent perceived
“shared commons” for which the public feels a communal benefit
and responsibility, unlike other more widely shared elements of
physical infrastructure, such as water or outdoor air quality.
Housing codes are almost entirely local affairs, unlike health
or environmental laws, which typically have national standards
So, why is an integrated approach that eliminates health hazards in
housing so difficult? One answer is that the scientific evidence of
harm to specific groups has not been assembled adequately, although
that is beginning to change, as described below. Another is that we
have had no dramatic moment of recognition of the problem to
galvanize public action, although the recent mortgage crisis has
shown the importance of housing to us all. A third is that
responsibility for housing is diffuse, including architects,
builders, maintenance personnel, designers, code and building
inspectors, occupants, engineers, urban planners, public
environmental health professionals, and others. A final answer has
to do with economic investment and the inability of housing price to
reflect health outcomes.
Despite these obstacles, there are signs that a more integrated
approach is emerging in the form of green healthy housing
guidelines and that such approaches do in fact improve health.
Healthy Air Quality:
Air quality significantly impacts people’s
health. The health impacts from exposure to air pollution
(indoor and outdoor) can include decreased lung function,
asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and even some types of cancer.
Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because
their lungs are still developing and they breathe more air per
pound of body weight.
Indoor air pollution is often 2-5 times greater
than outdoor levels of air pollution (sometimes as bad as 100
times more polluted) due to a lack of air filtration and
ventilation. Dirt, moisture, and warmth encourages the growth of
mold and other contaminants, which can trigger allergic
reactions and asthma. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce
air pollution in both your indoor and outdoor environments.
1. Do not smoke on
child care premises or near children. If you do smoke, wear a
smoking jacket; remove it upon entering buildings.
2. Do not idle vehicles. Car
exhaust releases pollutants that are harmful to health
(especially to children) and the environment. Idling cars
release even more pollution than moving cars.
3. Prevent mold and mildew.
Reduce excess moisture by fixing leaks. Increase ventilation
naturally by opening windows and using fans.
4. Clean spills promptly. For
spills on carpets, clean and dry carpets ASAP to prevent mold
5. Prohibit the
use of scented
candles and artificial air fresheners, which
contain multiple chemicals, including dangerous solvents, to
achieve their fragrance. See some safer
biodegradable, least-toxic cleaning
by Green Seal or EcoLogo. Why? Many ingredients in cleaning
products can make indoor air unhealthy to breathe, irritate the
skin and eyes, harm the respiratory tract, as well as damage the
natural environment. See green
7. Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) procedures
to manage pests. IPM is an effective, environmentally sensitive
alternative to pesticides used to control pests with the least
possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. See
pest management guide.
8. Seal all
solvent, adhesive, paint, and art supply containers and store in
a well-ventilated area. Or, buy only as much as you need and
take the rest to a hazardous waste recycling
9. Use non-toxic art supplies. Make
sure they are approved by the Art & Creative Materials
Institute, Inc. or designated AP Non-toxic, or CP Non-toxic.
10. Remove pets with
fur or feathers. Pet allergens can trigger allergic reactions
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