by Annie Hauser
Fall leaves clogging your gutters? Cooler temps sending mice and other critters inside your home?
If you’re experiencing these barriers to healthy home living this fall, you’re not alone. Forty percent — or 30 million — of U.S. homes have one or more health-related problems, including water leaks, roofing problems, damaged walls and signs of mice, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing’s 2013 report.
As we head into winter, one of the deadliest home health hazards — carbon monoxide poisoning — becomes more of an issue, NCHH’s executive director Rebecca Morley told Weather.com. “Our report found that less than 50% of homes have CO alarms because they’re typically not required by code,” she said. “It’s a colorless, odorless gas people just don’t know is there.” Non-automotive CO kills an average of 170 people a year, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, so this should be a serious concern for homeowners and renters, Morley said.
Radon gas, which seeps from the ground through cracks and holes in a building’s foundation, is another concern. “Radon-related lung cancer kills more people than drunk driving each year,” Morley said. Nearly one in 15 U.S. homes have elevated radon levels, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates. A certified radon testing professional in your area can check your home.
In addition to cancer and accidental deaths, the unhealthy housing conditions detailed in the report can lead to asthma and other respiratory illnesses and poisoning. Any building constructed before 1978 may have lead in the walls, which can cause lead poisoning. Lead is a particular concern for children who are more susceptible to its negative health effects, and during the summer, when lead-painted windows and doors receive heavier use.
All of these environment-caused diseases together cost the U.S. $70 billion a year in additional healthcare costs, according to the report.
Rental properties, older homes and properties inhabited by low-income and/or minority families are more at risk for these health hazards, the report found. But even newer homes in affluent areas are not safe from all these health and safety risks, Morley emphasized. “This should be a wake-up call to Americans,” Morley said. “We tend to neglect our housing and the maintenance of it, even though it’s one of our most-important assets.”
Wondering how your home fares? Consider the seven principles of healthy homes**: “Homes should be dry; clean; contaminant free (no radon gas or lead-based paint); well ventilated; pest-free — there’s good evidence that mice and roaches trigger asthma and allergies; safe and well-maintained,” Morley said. “Maintenance is the last principle because one year, you could have a healthy house, but if you don’t pay attention, you could develop safety issues.”
**Update: There are now eight recognized principles of healthy homes.