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In the most basic sense, houses are shelters, providing protection from weather and potentially hostile environments. But beyond the basics, housing can and should support good health. The connection between housing and health has long been recognized. The public health and housing movements have common roots planted more than a century ago in efforts to address slum housing. The first modern housing laws were established to respond to infectious disease threats to public health such as tuberculosis and typhoid. The provision of indoor plumbing improved sanitation and led to the control of cholera and other waterborne illnesses.
Why are green healthy housing improvements unlike other home improvements? For housing, there is not a consistent perceived “shared commons” for which the public feels a communal benefit and responsibility, unlike other more widely shared elements of physical infrastructure, such as water or outdoor air quality. Housing codes are almost entirely local affairs, unlike health or environmental laws, which typically have national standards of care.

So, why is an integrated approach that eliminates health hazards in housing so difficult? One answer is that the scientific evidence of harm to specific groups has not been assembled adequately, although that is beginning to change, as described below. Another is that we have had no dramatic moment of recognition of the problem to galvanize public action, although the recent mortgage crisis has shown the importance of housing to us all. A third is that responsibility for housing is diffuse, including architects, builders, maintenance personnel, designers, code and building inspectors, occupants, engineers, urban planners, public environmental health professionals, and others. A final answer has to do with economic investment and the inability of housing price to reflect health outcomes.

Despite these obstacles, there are signs that a more integrated approach is emerging in the form of green healthy housing guidelines and that such approaches do in fact improve health.

Healthy Air Quality:

Air quality significantly impacts people’s health. The health impacts from exposure to air pollution (indoor and outdoor) can include decreased lung function, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, and even some types of cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because their lungs are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight.
Indoor air pollution is often 2-5 times greater than outdoor levels of air pollution (sometimes as bad as 100 times more polluted) due to a  lack of air filtration and ventilation. Dirt, moisture, and warmth encourages the growth of mold and other contaminants, which can trigger allergic reactions and asthma. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce air pollution in both your indoor and outdoor environments.
1. Do not smoke on child care premises or near children. If you do smoke, wear a smoking jacket; remove it upon entering buildings.

2. Do not idle vehicles. Car exhaust releases pollutants that are harmful to health (especially to children) and the environment. Idling cars release even more pollution than moving cars.

3. Prevent mold and mildew. Reduce excess moisture by fixing leaks. Increase ventilation naturally by opening windows and using fans.

4. Clean spills promptly. For spills on carpets, clean and dry carpets ASAP to prevent mold growth.

5. Prohibit the use of scented candles and artificial air fresheners, which contain multiple chemicals, including dangerous solvents, to achieve their fragrance. See some safer scent alternatives.

6. Use biodegradable, least-toxic cleaning products certified by Green Seal or EcoLogo. Why? Many ingredients in cleaning products can make indoor air unhealthy to breathe, irritate the skin and eyes, harm the respiratory tract, as well as damage the natural environment. See green cleaning recipes and safer cleaning tips.

7. Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) procedures to manage pests. IPM is an effective,  environmentally sensitive alternative to pesticides used to control pests with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. See our safer pest management guide.

8. Seal all solvent, adhesive, paint, and art supply containers and store in a well-ventilated area. Or, buy only as much as you need and take the rest to a hazardous waste recycling facility.

9. Use non-toxic art supplies.
 Make sure they are approved by the Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc. or designated AP Non-toxic, or CP Non-toxic.

10. Remove pets with fur or feathers. Pet allergens can trigger allergic reactions and asthma.
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