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The findings come from two studies, which examined the potential health benefits that could be expected from increasing residential insulation from current practice to just the minimum standard in energy codes, the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) levels. The studies indicated that upgrading insulation levels would result in significant reductions in energy usage and emissions, which, in turn, would result in fewer deaths and reduced instances of respiratory and cardiovascular ailments typically associated with air pollution.
Specifically, the existing homes study stated that if the 46 million existing single-family homes in the United States that have inadequate insulation were retrofitted with additional insulation to meet the 2000 IECC, the benefits would include 240 fewer premature deaths, 6,500 fewer asthma attacks, and 110,000 fewer restricted activity days per year. This translates into a potential savings of $1.3 billion per year in averted costs such as health care, and $5.9 billion per year in additional savings associated with reduced energy consumption, paying back the initial cost of the insulation in about six years.
The study based the projected health benefits on annual energy savings of more than 800 trillion Btu, which resulted in lower emissions of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and particle precursors (SO2 and NOx).
An earlier study focused on new homes and developed the methodology to make these estimates, with similar types of health benefits for increasing insulation in the approximately 1.2 million new homes built in the U.S. each year.
"This is one of the first studies to link the benefits of reducing energy consumption to public health using this type of methodology," said Dr. Jack Spengler, Akira Yamaguchi Professor of Environmental Health and Human Habitation, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard University School of Public Health. "This approach allows us to quantify the benefits of energy efficiency on a national scale not seen before, which takes us far beyond energy savings and energy security. Now, it is clear that improving energy efficiency not only helps us as a nation, but also has an immediate, positive impact on us, as individuals, and our families."
The researchers note in the study that "The magnitude of the economic and public health benefits indicates that creative public policies to encourage retrofits … may be warranted."
"These results are an important indicator of the tremendous benefits we can realize by increasing the levels of insulation and energy efficiency in our homes," said Ken Mentzer, NAIMA's president and CEO. "Our industry has worked hard to build a consensus to encourage adoption of better energy codes, and NAIMA hopes to see more jurisdictions taking steps to adopt the 2000 IEEC."
Publication date: 08/04/2003