NIEHS Windows Study

Project Funders: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Project Partners: New York University School of Medicine

Project Contact: David E. Jacobs,, 410.992.0712

Project Description: 
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences awarded an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act challenge grant to the NYU School of Medicine and National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) for “Preventing Child Residential Lead Exposure by Window Replacement.” With 20,000 applicants, this grant was one of just 200 challenge grants awarded. Michael Weitzman, MD, a Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at NYU and former Chair of the Centers for Disease Control workgroup on childhood low-level lead exposure led the project. NCHH Research Director David Jacobs and frequent collaborator Rick Nevin assisted as co-investigators. The project was also made possible through the collaboration with the New York City Department of Public Health and the Oneida County Department of Public Health, both of which helped to collect and analyse data, as well as local weatherization programs.

The lead-safe window replacement strategy was the product of over 20 years of research, incorporating data from many academic studies, an evaluation of lead hazard reduction grantees, the Economic Analysis of a Department of Housing and Urban Development regulation on lead paint hazard reduction, and the Federal Strategy to eliminate childhood lead poisoning (prepared for the President’s Task Force on Environmental Health and Safety Risks to Children).

Project Goal:
The NIH challenge grant helped to implement lead-safe window replacement with other weatherization (e.g., duct sealing and high-density insulation). This Windows of Opportunity initiative also documented costs, verified expected benefits, and evaluated evidence of potential benefits.

Ingested lead travels through the bloodstream to a child’s developing brain, causing many types of neurobehavioral damage that increase the risk of later criminal behavior and educational failure. Lead paint hazards in older homes, including deteriorated lead paint and lead-contaminated dust and soil, are the most common cause of preschool lead exposure today. Severe lead poisoning can be caused by lead paint chip ingestion, but the more common exposure pathway is lead-contaminated dust, ingested by very young children via normal hand-to-mouth activity as they crawl. Friction surfaces on old single-pane windows are a major cause of lead dust hazards, and inefficient windows are a major cause of inefficient home energy use.

The lead-safe window replacement strategy was designed to realize the long-term energy savings and lead hazard reduction benefits of window replacement and protect against other lead paint hazards. Combining lead-safe window replacement with other weatherization can reduce energy bills by 50%, increase home market value, and can also reduce the risk of asthma and other housing-related health risks.

Lead-safe window replacement is defined as the following simple four-step upgrade in homes with single-pane windows:

  1. Replace all single-pane windows with Energy Star windows.
  2. Stabilize any significantly deteriorated paint.
  3. Perform specialized cleaning to remove any lead-contaminated dust.
  4. Perform dust wipe tests to confirm absence of lead dust hazards after cleanup.

Windows have the highest levels of lead in paint of any building component. Lead paint chips are common in old window troughs, and friction surfaces on old windows create lead dust hazards even in homes without any deteriorated lead paint. After the 1978 ban of lead paint, double-pane windows were installed regularly in cold climates in the 1980s, and low-e windows that reduce solar gain to save on air conditioning costs became common in the 1990s. As a result, single-pane windows in older housing are reliable indicators of lead paint hazards and inefficient energy use.

The lead-safe window replacement strategy has yielded long-term energy savings and lead hazard reduction benefits from window replacement, and protects against other lead risks with paint repair, as needed, plus cleanup and clearance testing for lead dust. (Soil cover would also be required in homes with bare soil in excess of HUD regulatory standards). Substantial net economic benefits of lead-safe window replacement have been documented by academic research.

An Energy Efficient Healthy Home Strategy:
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) often uses duct sealing and high-density insulation methods that also reduce excess air infiltration to reduce home energy costs. Combining lead-safe window replacement with high-density insulation and duct sealing can reduce home energy bills by 50% or more. This integrated Energy Efficient Healthy Home upgrade could yield additional public health benefits because dust mites, mold, cockroaches, and other allergens in housing are triggers for asthma, and the specialized cleanup required to remove lead dust hazards is similar to cleanup methods used to reduce allergens in dust. High-density wall insulation can also reduce moisture infiltration and other allergen recontamination risk after cleanup by filling wall cavities vulnerable to rodent and roach infestation. Leaking air ducts that reduce energy efficiency can also cause moisture problems associated with mold-induced illness and indoor air pollution.

WAP research has shown that occupants of properly weatherized homes report a lower incidence of colds, flu, allergies, headaches, and nausea, while a control group showed no change over the same period. Some of these benefits may be directly related to energy efficiency improvements that reduce drafts and improve temperature consistency, but the WAP also routinely repairs combustion equipment and exhaust ventilation systems to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning and other health hazards, and seals leaking air ducts that can cause mold-induced illness and the distribution of indoor air pollution throughout a home. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also promotes Energy Star duct sealing specifications to increase energy efficiency and to improve indoor air quality.

The Energy Efficient Healthy Home strategy built on weatherization, lead hazard reduction, and other housing research to promote a whole-house approach to energy, home value, and health. This whole-house strategy also yields additional savings when heating and air conditioning (AC) equipment are replaced because improved structural efficiency reduces the size and cost of AC and heating equipment needed.

Public-Private Partnership Strategy:
The Windows of Opportunity initiative sought to build partnerships between window manufacturers, government-assisted rehab and weatherization grantees, researchers, mortgage underwriters, home inspectors and appraisers, utilities, and foundations in order to achieve energy conservation and public health goals. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided substantial funding for a variety of housing and energy programs that could be used to support this effort.

The near-term goal of the Windows of Opportunity initiative was to leverage and coordinate these ARRA funds to achieve multiple benefits from shared costs. The long-term goal was to establish market-based systems driven by informed consumers that demand for more energy efficient and healthy housing.

Specific Aims of the NIH Challenge Grant:
The challenge grant awarded to the NYU School of Medicine and NCHH encompassed three related, concurrent efforts: 

  1. New York State Demonstration Projects. NYU and NCHH partnered with two communities in New York State to compare the effectiveness, cost, and savings of weatherization work with and without window replacement. Specialized cleanup and post-upgrade clearance testing for lead in dust was performed in all units, and dust testing was repeated 12 months post-upgrade. Participants answered health survey questions before and 12 months after project completion.
  2. Outreach Communication. This effort produced documents explaining energy savings and lead hazard reduction benefits of lead-safe window replacement, and the additional energy savings and potential health benefits of combining lead-safe window replacement with duct sealing, high-density insulation methods, and other weatherization measures. The launch of the website was an integral part of this outreach. Although many government agencies and organizations are devoted to promoting child health initiatives, energy efficiency, and affordable housing, this outreach effort was unique in its commitment to communicating how energy efficient healthy housing investments can serve multiple policy objectives.
  3. Partnership Building. This effort sought to build capacity and trust between local communities, researchers, government officials, mortgage underwriters, utilities, and foundations to achieve both energy conservation and public health goals. Included among the updates to this website are progress reports on partner efforts.

Lead Based Paint Awareness Campaign Video


Lead Based Paint Awareness Campaign

Lead-based Paint Awareness Campaign