Green Houses Make Healthier Homes
By Michael Tobias
Home builders continue to report that building green is a growing trend in the construction industry, even though it costs at least 5% more than conventional building.
But what’s in it for homeowners? Why is customer demand for green houses continuing to grow?
Important Triggers That Support Green Home Construction
There is no doubt that multiple and variable factors are driving the continuing trend in green home construction. Triggers include:
- Ever spiraling energy costs
- The introduction of new codes and regulations that specify standards for energy efficiency and water conservation
- The increased availability of affordable materials
But the desire to create healthier buildings has become increasingly important. According to Dodge Data & Analytics, a North American company that has been researching green home building for more than a decade, improving the indoor environment of homes and making them healthier ranks first in several countries including the U.S., Brazil, South Africa, and India and China, both of which have enormous challenges when it comes to air quality issues.
In its 2018 SmartMarket Report on World Green Building Trends, Dodge states that this relatively new trigger is third in the list of priorities internationally, with only client demands and environmental regulations, which are of course mandatory, ranking higher.
While the desire for sustainability clearly plays an important role in the growth of green homes, there is something of a misconception that millennials have largely been responsible for this increase because of their commitment to sustainability. In its SmartMarket Report published in 2015 Dodge shared research findings that the trend is largely driven by homeowners aged 55 years and more, partly because they have a higher disposable income than most millennials. Additionally, it was a desire for durable homes that were healthier and more energy-efficient that triggered the trend.
Statistics quoted in the study were particularly interesting. These showed the percentage of people in three age groups that considered these criteria to be influential, and in all cases, it was the oldest group (55 and more), many of whom were undoubtedly facing retirement, that favored the high-performance, so-called green elements of buildings. The stats show:
- Energy efficiency
- 18-25 70%
- 36-54 81%
- 55+ 81%
- Healthier indoor environment
- 18-25 49%
- 36-54 55%
- 55+ 67%
- Durability and resilience
- 18-25 47%
- 36-54 69%
- 55+ 72%
Of course, many of the people in the youngest age group were probably first-time buyers, and budget may have been a big factor in terms of specifying performance features that they likely considered to be added extras.
Interestingly though, when it came to other criteria that were not based on performance, including the importance of a reduced carbon footprint, the youngest group had much stronger feelings. This seems to indicate that general factors relating to sustainability influence them substantially more than issues that are based on performance, including a healthy indoor environment.
The more general criteria include:
- Water efficiency
- 18-25 30%
- 36-54 30%
- 55+ 35%
- Efficient use of natural resources
- 18-25 28%
- 36-54 22%
- 55+ 20%
- Lower impact development
- 18-25 18%
- 36-54 9%
- 55+ 11%
- Reduced carbon footprint
- 18-25 12%
- 36-54 11%
- 55+ 8%
Researchers concluded that when marketing homes, builders and property developers should focus on overall sustainability for entry-level houses, and specify performance features when selling retirement homes. But the conversation goes further than this. So let’s look at the ever-increasing interest in building healthier homes.
Increasing Interest in Healthier Homes
There is considerable evidence that since 2011 an increasing number of consumers are happy to pay a higher price for a green home, largely because of the health aspects. Dodge cites a figure of 60% more. This may be so, but generally, they want to know exactly what will make the building healthier and often ask for certification, for instance from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This might be because there is still a fairly high degree of uncertainty in terms of how and why our homes can impact on our health.
A primary element that makes the indoor environment healthier is the quality of air inside the house. This is an area that generally concerns well-designed fresh air systems as well as heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC), which is something that an HVAC engineer can certainly help with.
Moisture control, which includes the need to avoid mold and to increase comfort levels, is also important as is minimal use of materials that have a low, or better still zero, VOC content.
VOCs are volatile organic compounds that are commonly used in paints, sealers, aerosol sprays, and household products, and which are emitted as gases, polluting the air. Some building materials contain VOCs as well. Of course, it depends on the concentrations of VOCs, their toxicity, and the degree of exposure people are subjected to, but negative health effects can range from headaches and eye irritations to visual disorders and even cancer.
Moisture can be controlled with suitable building products and humidity control systems.
Comfort is another factor that is seen as potentially making homes healthier. This spans several areas including air quality, acoustics, and good insulation. In commercial buildings, comfort spins to cover the increased productivity of those working in the building.
Daylighting is a design trend that is intrinsically part of green or sustainable home design. In essence, the house is positioned so that it benefits from natural sunlight, especially in winter, but designed so that the roof and window overhangs protect the interior from excessive heat in summer. Additionally, it is an accepted fact that sunlight can have a positive effect on the mental health of those living in green houses.
Insight on Healthier Homes
Always searching for answers, Dodge did a homeowner survey on healthier homes and concluded that homeowners, in general, have very little idea of how our homes impact our health.
Lots of people recognize that allergies inside our houses can be a factor. But surprisingly few recognized how healthier homes can improve or minimize things like sleep quality, stress and anxiety, depression, and headaches and migraines. While most show concern about the effect of chemicals and pollution, they don’t know much about HVAC, acoustical comfort, and daylighting.
Since medical practitioners don’t generally link the health of buildings to the health of their patients, this might be a field that professionals offering engineering solutions in Chicago, New York, or any other city can help with.
But one thing’s for sure, green houses, built with sustainability in mind, certainly make healthier homes.