Weatherization Plus Health delivers cost-effective energy and health benefits

Weatherization Plus Health, which combines weatherization and home environment improvements, shows potential for helping low-income households reduce their energy bills and their health care costs to control asthma.

A 16-month pilot through the Department of Commerce’s Low-Income Weatherization Assistance Programs is nearing completion. We expect the final data and analysis in the next few months to help us verify these benefits and quantify the savings.

The Weatherization Plus Health model is unique in bringing together construction professionals who can make home energy-efficiency improvements with community health workers who can assess asthma risks and target specific home asthma “triggers” for elimination.  For families with limited income and resources, the improvements offered can have a major positive impact on their lives.

We built our pilot on a solid base of existing research that pointed to significant health impacts:

  • Washington State Department of Health has identified the asthma home visits done in Weatherization Plus Health as a best practice – an effective intervention to help control asthma symptoms.
  • A review of 20 studies found home-based, multi-component interventions improve overall quality of life and productivity in children and adolescents with asthma. (1)
  • A U.S. Department of Energy review found that enhanced energy efficiency upgrades (a major component of Weatherization Plus Health) reduce air contaminants linked to chronic illnesses, and control environmental contaminants that can trigger respiratory symptoms. They also reduce symptoms of asthma. (2)
  • The same review found that base energy efficiency work (a secondary component of Weatherization Plus Health) can reduce asthma symptoms and make improvements in indoor air quality contaminants. (2)

Research also supports the benefits of a Weatherization Plus Health model on health symptoms, hospital and medications uses:

  • A November 2016 review of recent studies documented a 12 percent reduction in asthma-related emergency room use, a trend towards a 20 percent reduction in use of asthma “rescue” medicines, and a reduction in persistent colds, sinus infections, eczema and allergies. (3)

Closer to home, two pilot studies in Washington state with pre-Weatherization Plus Health funding found:

  • In a Seattle/King County Public Health demonstration with King County Housing Authority, greater improvements in asthma symptoms were observed when home repairs were done to address home asthma risks. When home repairs were combined with home asthma education, a 71 percent improvement in poorly controlled asthma was observed. (4)
  • In another demonstration, Opportunity Council in Whatcom County found a greater than $400 decline in annual Medicaid costs and fewer Medicaid claims for households receiving energy efficient health repairs or “healthy home’s” repairs. (5)

“We have seen the results repeatedly with families struggling with the risks and costs of asthma. Once we finish our evaluation in the next few months, we’ll have more evidence of what works that will help us make Weatherization Plus Health even more effective,” said John Davies, one of the early pioneers of Weatherization Plus Health work at Opportunity Council.

Tim Bernthal is a Commerce Specialist in the Housing Improvements and Preservation unit. This team’s work strengthens communities through a variety of programs that fund low-income energy assistance, weatherization, lead-based paint remediation and removal and other work to improve homes throughout Washington. June is Healthy Homes Month. Visit our Weatherization Plus Health webpage, or contact Commerce program manager Hans Berg for more information.

References

(1) Crocker DD, Kinyota S., Dumitru GG, et al. Effectiveness of home-based, multi-trigger, multicomponent interventions with an environmental focus for reducing asthma morbidity: a community guide systematic review,  American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2011;41(2 Suppl 1):S5-32.

(2) Wilson, J., Jacobs D., Reddy A., Tohn E., Cohen J., Jacobsohn, E., Home Rx: The Health Benefits of Home Performance – A Review of Current Evidence, US Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, DOE/EE -1505. December 2016.

(3)  E4The Future. Occupant Health Benefits of Residential Energy Efficiency (2016)

(4)  Breysse, J., Krieger, J., et al. (January 2014). Effect of Weatherization Combined with Community Health Worker in Home Education on Asthma Control, American Journal of Public Health (King County).

(5) Rose, E., Hawkins, B,; Tonn, B.;,Paton, D., Shah, L. (September 2015). Exploring the Potential of Weatherization Plus Health Interventions on Asthma-related Medicaid Claims and Costs in Washington State, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ORNL/TM-2015/213, Oak Ridge, TN.

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