HomeLink Magazine Summer 2017 Megans Musings: Energy Efficiency & Health

Energy Efficiency and Health

By: Megan Moore-Kemp


In my last column I wrote about the financial benefits of energy efficiency improvements, and how they are an obvious investment for us as we build our family home. Happily, I am now discovering collateral benefits to energy efficiency that make the initial expense even more worthwhile. The energy industry even has a special name for it; any benefit that comes as a consequence of energy efficiency, but is not directly energy related, is a non-energy benefit or NEB. For example, occupant health is an important non-energy benefit and certainly makes money spent on energy efficiency even more valuable.

  In December, The Department of Energy published a research paper titled, “Home Rx: The Health Benefits of Home Performance.” This government publication is a systematic review of numerous studies that evaluate the effect of residential energy efficiency on indoor environmental quality and occupant health, and outlines how energy efficiency can have a positive effect on health. Research found that, “base energy efficiency work, can also create healthier living environments. Health-related outcomes include improved general health, reductions in some asthma symptoms, fewer cases of hypertension and upper respiratory risks, and some improvements in indoor air quality contaminants….and significant healthcare savings when uninsulated homes received energy upgrades.” 

My Dad used to say, “Home is where you hang your hat.” Well, Dad, research has found that a home is not just where we keep our stuff. It can be where we take care of ourselves and our families, the place we can be nourished and restored—or, conversely, made ill.  Energystar.gov observes, “A home is intimately tied to the health and wellbeing of its residents. People in the United States spend approximately 70 percent of their time at home, which means that ensuring homes are a healthy refuge is vitally important…there is substantial evidence to support that well-designed and implemented home performance projects can result in real and valuable improvements to the indoor environment of a home, potentially yielding positive health benefits for homeowners and their families.”

What energy efficiency improvements can we make that will also have a positive health outcome? The nexus between adequate insulation, competent air sealing and whole house ventilation is key. When a home is built tight and ventilated right, it is proven to improve indoor air quality by reducing contaminants and controlling moisture/mold issues. Furthermore, proper insulation and air sealing are a buffer against temperature extremes, which have negative health outcomes, as well as financial ones. Identification and correction of moisture problems is a major boon not only to our lungs, but also the long term maintenance demands of our homes. The Department of Energy research documents reductions in healthcare utilization, with multiple studies finding reductions in indoor air pollutants, other asthma triggers such as pests and mold, and, ultimately, asthma symptoms.

Pushing the nexus of homes and health a step further, it makes sense to be discerning when choosing what products to put IN our homes. Picking non-toxic building materials from the start sets us up for success with indoor air quality. Choosing low Volatile Organic Compounds (low VOC) materials by checking the VOC levels of paint finishes, flooring, particle board and plywood, is a great way to keep contaminant levels low from the start.   

Will the findings of the Department of Energy help pave the way for a future when health care providers and health insurance companies are partnered with home builders? With our County Building Department’s mission to “provide a safe and healthy place to live for present and future generations,” it makes sense that future code adoptions should include energy efficiency codes for health reasons. In the meantime, I’m convinced. I’m investing in energy efficiency. I’m investing in our health.

Megan Moore-Kemp has been published in sixteen out of twenty issues of HomeLink Magazine since 2008 covering a variety of topics from healthy homes to sustainable community lifestyles. She graduated from CU Boulder with a degree in English and subsequently began careers in business and construction. She works for Yampa Valley Electric Association as a Energy Services Coordinator, supporting commercial and industrial members with their electricity needs. Megan is most proud to call herself a mother, but is also a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor and CSU Extension Energy Master. She is Chair of the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council Board of Directors. In 2014 we created Megan’s regular column in HomeLink called Megan’s Musings. You can read all twenty-two of her articles if you search “Megan” on www.homelinkmag.com