Building healthier homes

HARTFORD — The state is looking for ways to combine making homes more energy efficient with also making them healthier — especially for moderate to low income families.

“An unhealthy home can cause sick time and leave, and can compound that,” said Robert Klee, commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Klee, along with other state officials and advocates, joined a roundtable discussion Wednesday over merging Green energy efficiency programs with new building codes and home health upgrades so residents are less susceptible to asthma and other environment-based disease.

“The use of materials in construction and furniture can have a great impact on health,” said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport and an organizer of an emerging Green and Healthy Home Project.

“Things such as air flow temperature and light can have a huge impact on health and well-being,” Steinberg said. “There is a big field out there on how we can make homes healthier. We need to explore this much more extensively.”

Although the discussion was at times wonky — terms such as “merging silos” were commonly used — the point of the roundtable was to find ways to sell a more comprehensive approach to lawmakers who can pass regulations and provide funding.

The need for uniformed building and zoning codes was highlighted as many participants noted those codes vary from town to town.

They also realized that eventually money would be needed — from taxpayers directly and through contributions by utilities, hospitals and the construction and real estate industries.

“Housing is at the nexus of so many issues,” said Nick Lundgren, the state’s deputy housing commissioner.

“From a governmental prospective, if you address housing you can have ripple effects in so many areas,” Lundgren said. “Education, energy efficiency, economic development, land use — when we think about housing, we think about it in the context of all these other issues.”

Dave Wilkinson, commissioner of state Office of Early Childhood, noted healthier homes can save taxpayers money by reducing learning disabilities related to asthma and other conditions impacted by the home environment.

“The chronic disease that effects young children is asthma and the biggest driver is the condition of your home,” Wilkinson said. “It’s the homes that often are the guilty party in making a small problem a big problem.”

Raul Pino, the state commissioner for public health, said Connecticut’s aging housing stock contributes to an unhealthy environment.

“Connecticut has an old housing stock and a majority of older homes,” Pino said. “This is affecting minorities and our economy. We need to address the physical space, air, temperature, water and the structure itself.”

Klee added “We have our energy efficiency programs. We have been learning a lot about other challenges and that’s why we are a real supporter of this effort.”

bcummings@ctpost.com

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