The Asthma and Health Benefits of Connecting with Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Programs

Housing conditions play a significant role in health. Healthy homes are dry, clean, safe, well- ventilated, pest- and contaminant-free, well-maintained, and thermally controlled. Deficiencies in any of these areas can lead to adverse health impacts. For example:

  • Indoor moisture and mold contribute to respiratory diseases, such as asthma;
  • Inadequate ventilation is associated with an increased risk of respiratory symptoms, cardiovascular disease and cancer;
  • Pests, such as cockroaches and rodents, are connected to a range of communicable and respiratory diseases;
  • Improper heating and cooling create temperature extremes that can exacerbate illnesses or cause death; and,
  • Stress from unhealthy housing conditions can have mental health impacts, including depression.

In many ways, residential weatherization/energy efficiency (EE) programs aimed at reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change can improve housing conditions and health. Common EE measures such as adding or replacing insulation, air sealing, and improving heating, cooking and ventilations systems, can reduce humidity and moisture that contribute to mold and pest problems, remove unhealthy gasses and particulates in the indoor air, help stabilize temperatures, and create a more comfortable living environment overall.

It is not surprising, then, that two systematic reviews of the academic literature studying the health impacts of EE improvements found significant health benefits from EE work.  “HomeRx: The Health Benefits of Home Performance: A Review of the Current Evidence” and “Occupant Health Benefits of Residential Energy Efficiency” found evidence that EE upgrades improved:

  • Reports of overall health;
  • Respiratory health, including reduced COPD symptoms and asthma-related symptoms, hospitalizations, and medication use;
  • Allergies, colds and sinus infections;
  • Headaches;
  • Blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions; and
  • Mental health

The reports also noted that several studies demonstrated improved housing conditions such as reduced radon, particulate matter and formaldehyde exposure which would reduce cancer and other health risks, although the health impacts of these reductions were not measured in these studies.

Perhaps most significant for health and public health professionals, these reviews and studies point out that the health benefits of EE are the greatest among those with pre-existing health conditions linked to unhealthy housing, like asthma. By understanding which patients or clients benefit the most from housing improvements, health and public health professionals are ideally situated to serve as a bridge connecting those patients and clients to EE programs in their community.

With support from the California Department of Public Health Office of Health Equity, RAMP is developing a guide to inform health and public health professionals about weatherization and EE programs and highlight examples of ways health and public health professionals have successfully coordinated with EE programs to better connect those most in need with services to improve their housing conditions. With roughly $250 million per year available to provide weatherization services to low-income Californians, it is a prime time for public health practitioners in the state to systematically connect their patients with these services. Stay tuned for the guidance document, which will be released later this year.

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