Green Building Analysis:
How Healthy Are National Green Building Programs?

Project Contact: Jonathan Wilson, jwilson@nchh.org, 4432.539.4162

Project Description: The green building market has exploded over the last several years, with consumers demanding homes that are healthier for their families, better for the environment, and less expensive to operate (i.e., energy-efficient). Recent studies have shown that people are willing to pay more for a healthy home. A 2007 survey by Robert Charles Lesser & Co. asked buyers about their attitudes toward green building and their motivations and willingness to pay for green homes (RCLC, 2007). Forty-one percent of respondents reported that they cared about and were willing to pay for the health and wellness components of a green building, even if the costs were not recoverable. This is compared with 18% for energy savings and 24% for the environment. Ideally, a home should be designed, constructed, and operated in a manner where all building goals are optimized, including environmental, energy, durability, affordability, and occupant health concerns.

In this update of NCHH’s 2006 report Comparing Green Building Guidelines and Healthy Homes Principles: A Preliminary Investigation, NCHH compared major national green building and indoor air quality guidelines with its own set of recommended healthy housing criteria to determine whether these programs adequately protect residents from housing conditions known to affect health status, such as asthma and respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, allergic reactions, cancer, and other health effects from contaminants and allergens. The analysis examined building guidelines produced by both the public and private sectors including Enterprise Community Partners’ Green Communities Criteria, National Association of Home Builders’ Green Home Building Guidelines, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star with Indoor Air Package, and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes.

We compared the selected guidelines with NCHH’s healthy housing principles, which also serve as the basis for training delivered through the National Healthy Homes Training Center training and education program. These include keeping homes dry, clean, ventilated, pest-free, contaminant-free, safe, and maintained.

The results show that while all the programs have components aimed at improving resident health, many are missing critical elements. For example, injury prevention is omitted from all of the guidelines and protection from contaminants such as lead, radon, and pesticides are not uniformly covered. Only one program, Green Communities, focuses on affordable existing housing, an important consideration since low-income families are disproportionately impacted by housing-related health problems. Overall, the analysis suggests that green building programs offer a significant opportunity to achieve public health benefits and have the potential to transform the housing market toward healthier building. This report suggests ways to strengthen the occupant health criteria for green building programs so that they may deliver even greater benefits to the families who reside in them.

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