Healthy Housing: A Timely Subject, But What Does it Really Mean?
More and more these days, we are hearing a lot in the media about the importance of “healthy housing” and its benefits to human health. There are many ways to define healthy housing; however, our concern here is with the physical characteristics of a structure that promote and sustain good human health.
So, what does that mean? Our basic definition of a “healthy house” is this: 24-hour access to clean water; interiors that are well ventilated without losing the insulative qualities that keep them cool in hot weather; construction methods that prevent water penetration; and materials that are free from toxins, are sustainable in their production and durable over the long term.
This is not a terribly long or complicated list; however, for millions of families living in developing countries particularly, this bare-bones description of a healthy home is a far cry from their reality. According to some public health experts, the majority of households in the developing world do not have a place at home to wash their hands, and only one in five do in sub-Sahara Africa. Forty percent lack running water on their property.
In addition, indoor air pollution, resulting mostly from poor ventilation and overcrowding, is a serious health hazard in the developing world. Prolonged exposure to high levels of CO2 from humans exhaling, fumes from cooking fuels and toxins such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and formaldehyde often found in furniture, carpets and cleaning fluids have been associated with cardiovascular problems and respiratory disease, including asthma. Constant exposure to high interior temperatures can contribute to these and other medical conditions. Moreover, a growing body of research indicates that these pollutants not only adversely affect a person’s physical health, but brain functioning as well.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported certain cooking fuels used in the homes throughout the developing world pose a serious health hazard, and researchers in India found a direct correlation between poor ventilation, the use of kerosene and biomass fuels for cooking and reduced cognitive function. A study conducted by the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University reported findings that exposure to CO2 and VOCs may dull problem-solving and decision-making abilities in adults. Research into the effects of indoor air pollution on the cognitive development of children is just beginning to take place.
Finally, as evident in our current global health crisis, the lack of sufficient ventilation and air circulation concentrates pathogens amplifying and accelerating the spread of dangerous airborne diseases.
The interiors of buildings are not the only factor. Building materials themselves can be a source of toxins that damage physical health. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a petroleum-based plastic polymer used widely throughout new construction in pipes, window cladding and roof coatings, and polystyrene and polyurethane, used extensively in roof and wall insulation contain probable carcinogens according to the WHO. Their harm extends beyond human health to the environment, as plastics breakdown, but are not biodegradable. As a result, plastics are now found in our soil and in both surface and ground water, as well as in humans and wildlife. House paints most often contain VOCs that are a known carcinogen when released into the air.
We at EchoStone think there is a scalable, more sustainable and affordable way to meet the formidable challenge of providing healthy housing for the millions of families who find their lives compromised by unhealthy living conditions. Our proprietary EchoStone Housing System places itself at intersection of design analysis, materials and innovative construction methods. We work side-by-side with our clients to analysis their designs for human health and environmental sustainability. In particular, we use the IFC EDGE tool to measure the effectiveness of a design with regard to ventilation. Especially important is the analysis of window size and placement to ensure that interiors have sufficient air circulation to maintain health without compromising the insulative properties of our proprietary cellular light weight (CLC) construction. In addition, we use the EDGE algorithm to identify strategies that will provide sufficient clean water to families while maximizing conservation measures. With both, we seek to add little or no additional cost to the project, insuring both profitability and affordability.
Complementing our design analysis is our use cellular lightweight concrete (CLC) and new construction technologies and methods that allow us to build a new generation of healthy homes. A biodegradable organic, foaming agent mixed into the concrete creates tiny air pockets that give CLC its light weight, high U-value and structural strength without the need for coarse aggregate. In EchoStone’s Housing System, CLC is poured monolithically, meaning there are no vertical seams anywhere along the walls preventing moisture to seep into the seams or insects to invade. In addition, CLC is naturally hydrophobic, or moisture repelling, and because of CLC’s insulative properties, houses that have CLC walls and/or roofs maintain a cooler interior in warmer climates and reduce the need for mechanical cooling.
It’s not only the world’s low-income population that suffer the effects of unhealthy houses. The widespread use VOCs, PVC and other toxins in the construction of homes for the middle class and wealthy presents a serious worldwide health hazard; however, the world’s most economically disadvantaged have the least ability to secure healthy housing.
EchoStone is stepping up to the challenge by defining a new era of housing construction technology that not only sustains human healthy but promotes human dignity as well.
EchoStone provides sustainable construction systems and services for affordable housing developers around the world to reduce housing deficits. www.echostonehousing.com