Healthy Homes Alabama
THE "HEALTHY HOMES ALABAMA" INITIATIVE
Safe, decent, and affordable housing is limited in Alabama. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that Alabama lacks over 95,000 available and affordable homes for low-to-moderate income residents. Alabama renters must earn at least $13.66 per hour in order to afford a basic two-bedroom apartment. Alabamians continue to live in a state of crisis given that we do not have the inventory to house all of our residents.
The Enterprise Green Communities (EGC) developed criteria for housing developers, architects, builders, etc. that provide a clear, cost-effective framework for developing affordable green housing in any location throughout the country. Although states and communities are adopting these criteria throughout the country, there is only one certified project in Alabama.
Made possible through the Daniel Foundation of Alabama, the Healthy Homes Alabama Initiative was designed to help ensure that the affordable housing units developed in Alabama are not only affordable, but health-conscious and energy-efficient. Through this initiative developers, architects, builders, and investors will have an opportunity to gain a better understanding of how to incorporate options that produce healthier housing.
For more information or to request hard copies of the "5 Easy and Inexpensive Ways to Build a Healthy Home" flyer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 205-939-0411.
BUILDING HEALTHY HOMES
We spend 90% of our time indoors, much of that in our homes. Home is supposed to be a place of comfort and safety, but all too often homes are more polluted than the outside. Indoor pollutants come from cooking, bathing, breathing, pets, gas appliances, and fireplaces. Pollen, dust, dirt, and excess humidity get into the house through leaks in the building envelope. Chemicals, gasoline, carbon monoxide from attached garages, and droppings from roaches, mice, and other pests further diminish air quality. Lawn chemicals and other pollutants from outside are tracked in on shoes and pet’s paws. Indoor air is improved by reducing pollutants in the house, exhausting those that we can’t eliminate, then adding ventilation to dilute the remaining indoor air. Indoor air quality and occupant health are impacted by decisions made during the design, construction, and occupancy of the home.
Home Design and Construction
Simple decisions like designing the home to encourage shoe removal upon entry and carefully selecting healthy construction materials can greatly impact occupant health. Shoe racks at entry doors encourage people to not wear street shoes indoors and installing tile or wood floors are easier to clean that carpet. To prevent harmful off-gassing of pollutants, use low- or no-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, finishes, and caulks; cabinets, and composite wood products with no added Urea Formaldehyde; and avoid flexible vinyl flooring and vinyl backed carpets. During construction, cover HVAC registers and exhaust fans to keep equipment and duct work clean. Before occupancy, run all fans for 48 hours to remove any fumes that may remain from cabinets and finishes.
Once you have a tight home, it’s important to minimize the entry of pollutants and thoughtfully exhaust those created during normal operation. Combustion appliances, like water heaters and stoves, are potential sources of carbon monoxide and should be inspected for proper operation when present within the home. Exhaust fans remove moisture and odors from bathrooms and cooking fumes and odors from kitchens. They should be installed with rigid ductwork in a direct route to the outside. Avoid flex duct and adding extra turns as they can reduce airflow.
Mechanical ventilation either brings outside air into the house and distributes it through the HVAC system, exhausts air out of the house, or does both through an air to air heat exchanger, such as an Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERVs) or Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRVs).
Healthy homes require careful design and construction, but also occupant education. Provide homeowners and tenants with a manual explaining how to operate their home or apartment for healthy living. Include recommendations on how to properly use exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens, how to select safer cleaning products, instructions on properly cleaning floors and carpets, how to change HVAC filters, and a schedule for preventive maintenance inspections to keep the home operating well for the long term.
One way to help ensure a healthy home is through green building programs that either require or provide incentives for air sealing, duct sealing, quality HVAC filters, combustion safety, ventilation, low VOC finishes, and other healthy home measures. Green building programs, such as the National Green Building Standard and LEED, require third party verification to help ensure proper home performance.
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