The Positive Effects of Weatherization and Improved Indoor Air Quality on Asthma

Written by Quinton Young, Program Assistant

The U.S. Department of Energy released the results of the National Evaluation of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) on September 15 during the NASCSP Annual Training Conference in Sacramento, California. Carried out by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the results from these studies provides the WAP program with many strong talking points to showcase the success of its endeavors. Energy efficiency is a primary focus of Weatherization and the evaluations showed that single-family households saved an average of $223 in 2010 and $283 in 2008 on energy bills annually. Yet, the most inspiring benefits of the WAP program had nothing do with energy at all. It’s a proven fact that the non-energy benefits (NEBs) associated with weatherization and retrofit activities are huge!

The health benefits of the WAP were some of the most impressive results to come out of the evaluations. According to these peer-reviewed findings, participants in the Weatherization program can reduce the need for emergency room visits and other health-related costs, saving families thousands in non-energy related benefits.

This was particularly true in the case of asthma. Asthma is a chronic disease involving the airways in the lungs. The bronchial tubes allow air to come in and out of the lungs. The airways of those with asthma are frequently inflamed. They become swollen and the muscles around the airways can tighten when something triggers the symptoms. This makes it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, causing symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and/or chest tightness. For some people, asthma is a minor nuisance. For others, it can be a major health problem that interferes with daily activities and may lead to life-threatening asthma attacks.

According the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in the U.S. 8.0% of all adults suffer from this chronic illness. That equates to around 18.7 million adults. Asthma affects 9.3% of American children, or 6.8 million children. In the year 2009, asthma was responsible for 1.9 million emergency department visits and 8.9 million doctor visits. In 2010, asthma became the most common pediatric disease in United States.

Low income households are disproportionately affected by this disease. Asthma is more common and more severe among children, women, inner-city residents, and African American and Puerto Rican communities. In general, these disadvantaged and at-risk populations experience above-average rates of emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and death rates that are much higher than differences in asthma prevalence would suggest, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Because adequate indoor ventilation and indoor air quality are addressed when weatherizing homes, Weatherization was shown to have negating effects of many of the asthma triggers including insect allergens, molds, dust mites, and outdoor allergens, among others.athsma_ORNL

The National Evaluation found that asthma patients across all sample groups showed a decrease in emergency room visits of 11.5% over a 12-month period. The number of asthma-related hospitalizations decreased 3.1%, according to the evaluation. There also was a significant decrease in the amount of care needed for “high-cost asthma patients,” characterized as asthma patients who have a history of frequent doctor visits, greater amount of symptoms, use of urgent care facilities, etc. It was found that high-cost asthma patients decreased doctor visits by 11.8%.

As WAP moves forward in our commitment to low income communities, it is important to document the myriad of benefits that result from weatherizing. The National Evaluations highlighted many previously unknown facts about weatherization and the positive impact of this program on the health and non-energy related benefits of participants.

For the full article on Health and Household-Related Benefits Attributable to the Weatherization Assistance Program, including methodologies, charts, tables, and full detail; click here.