The Healthy Home Trend: Better safe than sick5 minutes
As buzzwords like IAQ and VOC enter mainstream vocabulary, it’s clear consumers are becoming more aware of what might be lurking in their home, and how it could be making them sick. 70% of homebuyers now rank a home’s health imprint as equal or more important than other factors like aesthetics, longevity, and cost, according to a study of green and healthier homes. Builders, remodelers and other home pros who fail to address health concerns such as indoor air quality aren’t just missing out on the opportunity to capitalize on this growing market. They risk harm to their clients, damage to their reputation, even litigation. In this next installment of our Healthy Home Pro series, we look at what builders, architects and others in the industry can do to protect homeowners – and their business.
Sick homes are a prescription for problems
Home buyers are beginning to make the connection between the work performed by their home professionals, and the effect it can have on their health. A homeowner survey commissioned by the National Association of Home Builders reports that those who had purchased a home built with at least five healthy building products or practices said they or their family members had fewer illnesses (30%), were more comfortable (31%) and were able to sleep better (39%). Choosing eco-friendly paint, flooring, insulation and other building materials is a great start, but not all consumers realize that ventilation, air circulation, filtration, and humidity all play major a role in a home’s health, and the health of its occupants – until it’s too late. As the move towards energy-efficient, tightly built homes increases, homeowners are having trouble bringing fresh air in, and getting bad air out. The World Health Organization reports that an estimated 3.8 million people die each year from household air pollution including carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. Indoor contaminants like mold, dust, and dander have also contributed to a rise in the number of Americans with asthma, according to research.
Are contractors the culprits?
The rise in home health awareness means more homeowners are looking to home experts to help, and also to blame. Inferior building products, inadequate installation and compliance issues can all result in unbudgeted returns to the job site, costing building pros time and money. One large HVAC contractor calculated that the average cost of a callback was around $3,000 per incident. That cost can grow exponentially if the homeowner decides to sue. A group of California residents was awarded $1.3 million for claims against the builders and contractors whose poor workmanship allowed leaks and mold to enter their homes. The blame game could even affect future sales if an unhappy client badmouths a business on social media. One study found that 95% of customers share bad experiences with others, and 45% take the time to leave negative online reviews.
Raise standards and peace of mind
Savvy building pros are incorporating home health into their business strategy – and making sure it’s a priority from the project start. Partnering with well-established distributors and manufacturers who are committed to creating healthy living environments will help ensure product quality and code compliancy and also inspire client confidence. An Eco Pulse study shows 74% of consumers say a companies’ environmental reputation impacts their purchase decisions.
Experts recommend that home pros take the time to truly understand how the whole house works as a system and do their homework to find the products and solutions that best fit each specific project’s needs. Builders should ask themselves: what is the best strategy for the home that I’m building, and for the clientele that I have, as well as for the climate zone that they’re in?
Cooking is one area that needs rethinking: just because a client installs a large capacity range hood doesn’t mean it is performing well. The newest trend is to select a range hood based upon capture efficiency, and the amount of air that is exhausted will become less important. After all, the goal is to remove contaminants, not conditioned air. The more conditioned air you exhaust, the more you have to bring in and heat, cool, humidify, de-humidify, filter, etc., which all consumes energy. The industry is developing new ratings that better reflect the capability of these products to exhaust contaminants efficiently.
Bathrooms are also ripe for performance improvements. A lot can go wrong in a ventilation system, preventing you from putting the pollutant where you want it. For starters, the fan. Just because the box says it can do something doesn’t mean that it will – contractors need to make sure that after it’s installed, the fan actually moves the required air. Test results on the box are not always accurate and may not factor in variables such as difficult ductwork or termination resistance.
After witnessing the problems caused by compromised installations, Panasonic recognized a need for more stringent standards. While the industry rates exhaust fans at an assumed static pressure of 0.1” SP and 0.25” SP, our research shows that these values need to be increased to more accurately represent the real world (.375” SP), and we are beginning to certify our fan performance accordingly.
Builders that want to ensure code compliance and meet design airflow requirements should insist on high-performance products that meet these higher standards. Greater awareness and assurance can only help ensure healthier homes.