Watts-to-Wellbeing: does residential energy conservation improve health?

TitleWatts-to-Wellbeing: does residential energy conservation improve health?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsWilson, J, Dixon, SL, Jacobs, DE, Breysse, J, Akoto, JY, Tohn, E, Isaacson, M, Evens, A, Hernandez, Y
JournalEnergy Efficiency
Pagination151 - 160
Date Published2014/02/01
ISBN 1570-6478
KeywordsEnergy efficiency

Residential energy conservation has been increasing in number of houses treated, frequency, and scope, but few studies have examined whether modern energy conservation measures improve the health status of the occupants. We measured self-reported general, respiratory, cardiovascular, and mental health via structured telephone interviews using an adaptation of the National Health Interview Survey at baseline and follow-up in 2009–2012 [n = 248 households in Boston, Chicago, and New York City (248 adults and 75 children)]. Housing included buildings with one to three units (n = 106 units) located in Boston and buildings with >3 units/building (n = 142) located in Chicago and New York. The energy conservation typically included insulation, heating equipment, and ventilation improvements. Adult respondents reported a 0.29-point improvement in the mean general health score (1 = excellent, 2 = very good, 3 = good, 4 = fair, 5 = poor) (3.07 to 2.78, p < 0.001). Sinusitis, hypertension, overweight, and reduced use of asthma medication during asthma attacks showed 5 %, 14 %, 11 %, and 20 % differentials between improvement and worsening (p = 0.038, p < 0.001, p < 0.001, and p = 0.077, respectively). Forty-two adult respondents reported doctor-diagnosed asthma at baseline. Two measures of asthma severity worsened (days with problems sleeping—differential between improvement and worsening −28 %, p = 0.009; and frequency of symptoms such as cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath—differential between improvement and worsening −26 %, p = 0.031). Nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide were low and showed no significant changes from baseline to follow-up in 41 housing units. This study found that residential energy conservation work conducted by trained professionals that balances energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality improves general health, sinusitis, and reduced asthma medication. Further research is needed to understand asthma-related outcomes.