Homeowner interest in healthy home trends increases

Homeowners have become increasingly interested in healthy home trends, according to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. The report also determined that while remodelers are aware of this trend, they are still in the early stages of using health-conscious materials and practices in their work.

JCHS partnered with the Farnsworth Group in the summer of 2018 to conduct an online survey on the topic, receiving responses from 1,751 homeowners, 718 renters, and 579 remodeling contractors. The findings were further bolstered by follow-up interviews with remodeling professionals in the autumn.

Healthy home remodeling was defined as anything involving products or techniques to improve indoor environmental health conditions. Thirty percent of homeowners and 35 percent of renters said they were concerned that some aspect of their residence was negatively affecting an occupant's health. This concern was more pronounced among younger households with people between the ages of 25 and 34 (42 percent) and those with children (37 percent).

Those who said they were concerned about home health were most likely to cite air quality, with three out of four naming issues such as cooking exhaust, dust, or mold. Asked about specific concerns, 41 percent named dust, 21 percent named pet dander, and 15 percent said air pollution.

Forty-four percent of homeowners said they were concerned about pests. Thirty-eight percent said they were worried about water quality, and 27 percent had concerns about the safety or comfort of the physical structure.

Just over 20 percent of homeowners were worried about chemical issues such as radon or formaldehyde. Less than one in five cited accessibility, neighborhood safety, or other basic safety concerns.

More than one-third of homeowners said they have already completed upgrades designed to improve their home's indoor environmental health or that they have firm plans to do so. Nearly half of these homeowners said they have already changed their air filters. More than 40 percent said they have used room darkening shades or plan to do so, while about 40 percent said they removed mold or intend to do so.

Sixty-two percent of homeowners said they haven't taken action to improve their home's health due to financial reasons. Thirteen percent said they haven't had time to complete this work.

Renters were most likely to be concerned about pests, with 34 percent naming this issue. Fourteen percent said they had concerns about noise at their residence.

Only about one in four renters said their landlord is highly concerned about tenants' health. Forty percent said they have been concerned about a property maintenance issue, such as a landlord's negligence in completing repairs, sometime in the past five years. Thirty-eight percent said the problem was concerning enough that they or another occupant moved or considered moving.

Both homeowners and renters were unlikely to mention light pollution or lack of natural light as a problem. Asbestos and lead paint were also rarely named as environmental concerns.

Homeowners were most likely to become concerned about home health issues after experiencing symptoms of an illness that may have been related to the home's indoor environment. Forty-one percent of those who addressed their ventilation system, 35 percent of those who changed their air filters, and 32 percent of those who used room darkening shades said they planned or completed the projects for this reason.

Other projects were more strongly influenced by media reports on a home health issue. One-third of those who planned or completed a smart home technology project became aware of this issue through the media, along with 32 percent who used paint with low or no volatile organic compounds and 31 percent who replaced toxic cleaning supplies.

About half of the remodeling professionals surveyed for the report said they have installed healthy home features, about even with the results of a similar JCHS survey conducted in 2014. While these features were more popular than automation, rapidly renewable materials, or renewable energy, they still lagged behind upgrades for energy efficiency and water conservation.

The report says the findings suggest that home health may be becoming a more standard part of home remodeling, but that remodelers are "apparently not yet widely engaged in seizing upon this growth." The average remodeler used techniques to improve home health in 28 percent of their projects.

Sixty-nine percent of remodelers who employed healthy home practices said they used non-toxic paints or finishes. Six out of 10 used non-toxic building materials, while 53 percent had installed a water filtration system. Less popular projects included sealed combustion appliances (28 percent), a radon gas remediation system (23 percent), and a central vacuum system (22 percent).

Most remodelers said homeowners have become more cognizant of home health issues, with 85 percent saying they are more knowledgeable about available options than two years ago. Remodeling contractors also had a greater awareness of these options. Seventy-eight percent said they are extremely or very confident about talking to clients about health home options, up from 52 percent in 2014. Forty-six percent said their firm routinely initiated discussion on the issue rather than their clients.

Asked about the benefits of addressing home health issues through a remodeling project, 68 percent said it improved customer satisfaction or loyalty. Fifty-eight percent said it helped expand their customer base, while 56 percent said it was the right thing to do.

Sixty-four percent said more expensive materials presented a constraint in healthy home remodeling, with one-third saying customers usually can't afford the expense of the project. Thirty-eight percent said these projects require specialized training.


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