What is a Healthy Home?

Healthy Housing is designed, constructed, maintained and rehabilitated in a manner that is conducive to good occupant health. (National Center for Healthy Housing).

A healthy home meets “Seven Principles”, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing:

  • Keep It Dry – Homes with moisture and leaks can become moldy, attract unwanted pests, affect respiratory health, degrade lead-based paint and weaken structures
  • Keep It Clean – Common contaminants in house dust include lead-based paint dust, pesticide residue, chemicals like flame retardants, dust mites and pest droppings
  • Keep It Pest-Free – Many health effects are associated with pests and pesticides, including asthma and allergies, skin rashes, stomach cramps and nausea, central nervous system damage, kidney damage and stress
  • Keep It Safe – Safety issues in homes include the risk of falls among older adults, choking and suffocation among very young children, fire and poisoning
  • Keep It Contaminate-Free – Lead-based paint is a well-known contaminant; others include environmental tobacco smoke, radon, pesticides, asbestos, VOCs and chemicals used in household goods and building materials
  • Keep It Ventilated – Pollutants can become highly concentrated in homes; these include radon, VOCs, environmental tobacco smoke, allergens, mold, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. Ventilation also prevents moisture and mold.
  • Keep It Maintained – A poorly maintained home can be harmful to occupant health. Some examples are carbon monoxide leaks, unsafe wiring and water and mold in basements.

Sometimes an eighth principal is added: Keep It Energy Efficient. See The 8 Elements of a Green and Healthy Home by the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.

What are some characteristics of a healthy housing approach?

While healthy housing programs and services can differ widely, they usually have some or all of these characteristics in common:

  • Collaborative – Diverse public, private and nonprofit partners work across health, housing and other sectors to reach common goals.
  • Holistic and comprehensive – Housing conditions, health and safety concerns and occupant behavior/needs are taken into consideration in developing a strategy.
  • Integrative – Health, housing and related groups as well as community representatives weave services and resources together to assist households as a unit. They coordinate their efforts to minimize disruption to the household and deploy their collective resources more efficiently (sometimes characterized as the “one-stop” approach)
  • Targeted – Geographic areas and households at the highest risk for housing need and health/safety are targeted for special services.
  • Evidence-based – Healthy homes interventions are generally evidence-based. Targets and goals are based on the most recent data on housing need, housing-related health issues and other relevant, measurable factors.

What national organizations and federal agencies are active in the healthy housing field?

Many national organizations and agencies play important roles within the healthy homes field. Some of them are:

The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) is the industry leader in the field of healthy housing. NCHH created Healthy Housing Solutions, the National Healthy Homes Training Center and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition. NCHH sponsors on its own as well as collaborates with others on research, policy and service delivery initiatives, reports, guides, policy papers and publications. It sponsors list-serves on lead and healthy homes and partners with key federal agencies, such as HUD, CDC and EPA on numerous projects.

The Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes (OLHCHH) in the US Department of Urban Development provides funds to state and local governments to reduce lead-based paint hazards (in recent years lead grants include limited funding for healthy homes assessments and treatments). The Office also enforces HUD’s lead-based paint regulations, provides public outreach and technical assistance, and conducts technical studies.

The Lead and Healthy Homes program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has historically funded about 35 state lead poisoning preventions programs, primarily in the area of surveillance. The CDC also hosts excellent free training a few times per year on lead poisoning prevention, partners with others on research and publications, and disseminates guidelines and recommendations.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) promulgates regulations for lead including the Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (RRP), sets standards for dangerous levels of lead in paint, household dust and residential soil and establishes requirements that those engaged in lead abatements, risk assessments and inspections in homes or child-occupied facilities (such as day care centers and kindergartens) built prior to 1978 be trained and certified. The EPA regulates many chemicals that are used in consumer products and homes through the Toxic Substances Control Act (asbestos and mercury for example), air and water quality, radon and pesticides.

The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative was charged in 2008 by the Council on Foundations and the White House Office of Recovery to lead the national efforts to integrate lead hazard control, healthy homes and weatherization and energy efficiency work. This project later became the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative directed by the Coalition that addresses the health and energy efficiency needs of a home through a holistic intervention model.

How is the healthy homes concept being implemented in Ohio?

The Ohio Department of Health’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (OHHLPPP) is the primary healthy homes program in the state of Ohio. OHHLPPP is tasked with building healthy homes awareness; educating housing and health professionals; and providing primary prevention programs across the state directly and through its network of funded regional partners. OHHLPP has provided training to hundreds of Ohioans in the health and housing field, helping to create over Healthy Homes assessments (2012 data).

OHHLPP recently received two HUD Lead Hazard Control Program grants from HUD to provide lead hazard control and healthy homes treatments in almost 400 units of housing. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency and Ohio Housing Trust Fund provided matching funds for the two grants.

Many local health departments in Ohio have established healthy homes programs. Such programs may include home assessments and guidance on ways to make homes safer and healthier; lead testing, risk assessments, investigations and case management; radon programs and/or collaboration with local housing, social service, community organizations and other groups. Health departments with active healthy homes programs in Ohio including the following:

In addition to the Ohio Healthy Homes Network (see “About OHHN” for more information), several nonprofit organizations in Ohio have integrated healthy homes into their work, made healthy homes a major focus of their mission and/or have created special healthy homes initiatives. A few of them are:

  • Build Health Challenge – EHW offers information, assistance and advocacy to help people protect themselves from environmental threats and to influence corporate, government and personal actions to promote human health and sustain the natural environment. The BUILD Health Challenge recently awarded a $250,000 grant to a collaboration of MetroHealth, EHW, Cleveland Public Health and other partners for a Healthy Housing program that will target housing in the Stockyards Clark-Fulton Brooklyn Center neighborhood for assessments and home visits related to asthma, COPD and lead poisoning.
  • People Working Cooperatively (PWC) – PWC uses a “whole house” approach to provide home repairs and home modifications for seniors in southwestern Ohio (see also Whole Home Modifications).
  • Rebuilding Together Central Ohio (RTCO) – RTCO makes “holistic repairs” to homes through their volunteer staffed home repair programs. See also Rebuilding Together, Greater Cuyahoga Valley/Cleveland.
  • Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD) – COAD operates the state-licensed Ohio Center for Lead Abatement, providing EPA-approved lead abatement and hazard mitigation training courses. COAD recently completed a grant from the Housing Investment Fund of the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and in partnership with OHHN, to remediate lead-based paint in 40 units of housing in southeastern and northwestern Ohio.
  • Healthy Homes (HH) – HH is a nonprofit housing developer on the south side of Columbus created through a collaboration between Community Development for All People and Nationwide Children’s Hospital. HH housing includes many “green” features.

Additional Resources:

Lead Safe America Foundation
Changelab Solutions
Lead Poisoning and Health, World Health Organization
Fundred Dollar Bill Project
Enterprise Green Communities
Healthy Building Network
Safer Chemicals
Environmental Health Coalition
LEED – US Green Building Council
Healthy Homes Collaborative (LA)
Omaha Healthy Kids
Healthy Homes Coalition of Western Michigan
DC Partnership for Healthy Homes
Improving Kids Environment (Indiana)

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