The Intersection of Healthy and High Efficiency Building

January 08, 2020


Recently Albert Rooks and I went to California to participate in a presentation to a builder about Hayward Score and energy-efficient building with Hayward Score Founder Bill Hayward and Healthy Building Scientist Joe Medosch. Hayward Home Score helps homeowners identify major issues in their homes that can impact their health and gives them personalized actionable recommendations to remedy them. Their further work, The Five Principles of a Healthy Home, provides specific guidelines on how to have the healthiest home possible.

Even though we’ve been aware of Hayward Score for a while, this is the first time that it really became clear to me how much the the high-efficiency building world and healthy home principles have in common. It can also represent an additional way to add value to high efficiency homes and increase both your customer base and customer satisfaction. A study by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies shows that 30% of people remodeling their home expressed concern about some aspect of their home endangering their health, but only half of all remodelers actively participate in healthy home remodels. The good news for high-efficiency builders is that high-efficiency and healthy homes really share a lot in common.

High Efficiency Buildings and Healthy Home Share Two Important Strategies

Using Passive House (since it’s the building standard I know best) as a yardstick, it is instantly clear that healthy homes and high efficiency homes both emphasize airtight building. This is achieved by proper sealing and insulation (Healthy Home Principle #1). The optimal airtightness of a healthy home according to Hayward is .6 ACH50 which is the same requirement as Passive House. Hayward Healthy Home’s minimal recommendation for a healthier home is between 1–2 ACH50.

The second shared strategy is continuous fresh air (Healthy Home Principle #2). In Passive House building, having an HRV is a requirement because the high degree of airtightness necessitates it for occupant health and comfort. Similarly, Healthy Home Principles emphasize use of air systems to improve well-being. A stand-alone HRV/ERV provides the optimal air quality for home occupants and is recommended for best indoor air quality. For those without the ability to have an HRV/ERV, other ways to improve indoor air are recommended, including the continuous use of integrated bath and supply ventilation, as well as use of air filters or air purifiers.

Three Additional Principles of a Healthy Home

Hayward Healthy Homes’ three additional principles focus even further on home occupants’ health. The three remaining principles are:

  • Using non-toxic building materials and products. Constructing an airtight building will not eliminate all indoor air quality issues if the airtight enclosure keeps in Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). VOCs are a large group of chemicals that are found in many building materials and home care products. Once the chemicals are in the home, they are released or “off gas” into the air we breathe. Unfortunately, odor isn’t an indicator that occupants may be at health risk from these compounds. Some common materials that are sources of VOC include: paint, varnishes, caulks, adhesives, carpet, vinyl flooring, composite wood products, upholstery, and foam.
  • Cleanable surfaces. Choosing cleanable surfaces for your home decreases the prevalence of bacteria and dust-mites in your home. Forgoing carpets and drapes in favor of cleanable surfaces is especially helpful if someone in the house suffers from allergies or asthma.
  • Healthy Home Habits. This is empowering for homeowners because it is an action they can take at the home they are living in right now. Simple things, like running the bath fan for at least 20 minutes after showing, always using kitchen hood fans when cooking and avoiding plastic serve and cookware are easy steps anyone can take to improve the air quality in their home

Learn More About Healthy Homes

If you’re a builder, you may want to take a Hayward Score for yourself and see how where you live stacks up. You can also take advantage of their Resources page which offers links to useful on a wide variety of healthy home topics. You can then use it as a tool for your potential clients to see how the home they are living in now is affecting their health. Having your clients get their score can give them a way to better understand the importance of choosing healthier building products and systems when they build or remodel their home.


Small Planet Supply
Small Planet Supply
Eva Rooks has been trying to save the planet since 1982. During her 30 year career she has worked in social work, public policy, public…

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