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APHA, NCHH Release Healthy Housing Standard

A new standard published Monday will serve as a blueprint for ensuring the health and safety of U.S. homes.

APHA and the National Center for Healthy Housing released a standard that defines livable housing conditions, targeting the 30 million U.S. families who live in unsafe residences. The standard is intended to be used by government agencies and property owners to make certain that the nation’s housing stock is adequately maintained and protects the health and safety of residents.

“We look forward to seeing lives saved and communities stabilized as the code provisions are implemented,” said Georges Benjamin, MD, executive director of APHA, in a news release.

The National Healthy Housing Standard identifies hazardous living conditions and offers safety protections to address these problems, with recommendations for household systems, including:

  • plumbing;
  • lighting and electricity;
  • heating, ventilation and energy efficiency;
  • moisture and mold control;
  • pest management; and
  • chemicals such as radon, lead, formaldehyde and asbestos.

According to Jon Gant, director at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the standard helps advance a federal housing strategy released by the agency on Feb. 4. It also updates a document co-produced by APHA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1986, using evidence connecting housing quality to asthma, cancer and other injuries.

“The development of this health-based standard is just the first step. The most important work of seeking its adoption by federal, state and local agencies is a heavy lift and will require the help and involvement of a wide array of partners,” said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing.

The National Committee on Housing and Health, which monitored the standard’s development is requesting comments on the standard through July 31.

Recessed Lights and Attic Insulation - A Losing Combination

When we had an energy audit done on our house in Maryland, we expected the inspector to point out a problem or two but otherwise give our home high marks. After all, the Victorian-style structure was built in the mid-1990s, long after building codes required homes to use energy-efficient windows and doors, and be wrapped in blankets of insulation -- unlike the 1950s Colonial we’d recently sold.

Instead, our inspector informed us that our attic was the insulation equivalent of Swiss cheese. Dozens of recessed lights installed in the ceilings upstairs were essentially open holes to attic air that was frigid in winter and sweltering during the summer. When we went into the attic ourselves to have a look we were stunned. All those canisters containing light fixtures were surrounded by exposed drywall. Whoever installed them had just shoved all the blown-in insulation aside, leaving piles of fiberglass batting and more than two dozen patches – each four or five square feet –utterly bare. It was tempting to just rake the fibers back across the empty spaces, but the recessed light fixtures weren’t insulated, meaning they didn’t completely shield the electronics and were capable of getting red-hot.

The result of this issue was a very uncomfortable home in the heating and cooling seasons – particularly on the top level of the home. There was often a 10 degree temperature differential between the top floor and basement levels of our home. Our gas/electric bills were also very high – often up to $600--to keep the temperature at 68 degrees in the winter and 74 degrees in the summer.

We didn’t want to pay thousands of dollars to hire a contractor for this job, so we researched the problem online. We found three companies that made insulation covers for recessed lights, and ordered samples of each. One was essentially a cardboard box coated with fireproofing substance, another was like an upside-down egg crate. To us, the Owens-Corning SmartCap seemed the best choice: inexpensive, simple to install and guaranteed safe. The caps look like silver scout tents: they come out of the box flat but pop up into an enclosed triangle (a tetrahedron, technically) that surrounds the light fixture.

We installed two dozen on a recent weekend. The work is a little messy and isn’t for everyone, but it wasn’t hard. You sweep away the insulation, pop open the Smart Cap, attach two flanges flush to the drywall with duct tape, and then pack the insulation around. Holes on the top of the caps make them easy to carry, and vent excess heat from the lights. We wore gloves and masks for protection from the fiberglass. When we were done, our attic looked like a field of tiny, silver Christmas trees poking out of puffy, fiberglass snow.

This was a timely project since our power went out during Hurricane Sandy and we couldn’t afford to lose any of the heat in our home. We already noticed a difference in comfort and are looking forwarding to reviewing our utility bills in the months to come. hocoblogs@@@

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