Baltimore -- Homeowners want a payback in less then two years for energy upgrades, but they will pay extra with no expectation of a financial return for building products and construction practices that positively impact the health of their families, consultant Ellen Tohn told hundreds of public health and housing industry officials Sept. 15 during the National Healthy Homes Conference. And often, Tohn said, the products that make a home more energy efficient are ones that reduce health problems, too.

Tohn, of Tohn Environmental Strategies, said the main reasons houses make the occupants sick are mold, mildew, chemicals, malfunctioning combustion equipment, lack of or poor ventilation, peeling lead-based paint in older homes, and radon. The senior advisor to the National Center of Healthy Housing asked the attendees for the most prevalent health issues caused by these hazards and they noted:

  • Allergies

  • Asthma

  • Lung and other cancers

  • Lead poisoning

  • Hormone irregularities

  • Respiratory ailments

Tohn said many of health problems vanish when a home is energy efficient. Not only are utility bills lowered, but air quality and comfort are improved, and moisture and pests are reduced. Some ways energy efficiency can be enhanced, she noted, are through proper ventilation and insulation and the installation of window flashing and ultra-low-flow toilets. 

The two rooms where proper ventilation is critical are the bath and the kitchen, Tohn acknowledged. Under the new ASHRAE 62.2 standard, bath fans must be rated 20 cfm for continuous use and 50 cfm for intermittent use. Bath fans should be left on for 45 minutes after bathing, but because most people don't leave the fan on long enough, Tohn recommended installing fans with timers. In the kitchen, vent hoods should produce five air changes per hour for continuous use and 100 cfm for intermittent use.

Whole-house ventilation should be rated at 60 cfm for continuous use for the average 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home, according to the ASHRAE 62.2 standard.

As important, HVAC equipment must be sized correctly so it dehumidifies properly, and MERV-8 or higher filters should be utilized, the consultant said.

In the end, Tohn said, energy efficiency makes a house more livable--and saves money, too. "Energy efficiency keeps more money in people's pockets and makes it easier for land owners to maintain their properties."