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Keeping Affordable Housing Healthy from the Ground, Up

By Kathleen Berube, Sustainability Associate

The National Housing Trust's healthy building materials initiate, in partnership with HAND and the Healthy Buildings Network, aims to create a built environment that is non-toxic and maintains the highest of air quality. From our homes to our places of work, the majority of us spend far more time inside than outside. In fact, humans spend 90% of their time inside of the built environment. That built environment is largely comprised of synthetic materials made from chemicals, with many structures not as safe and healthy to occupy as some may think. When interacting with the built environment, chemicals can enter the body through breathing, skin contact or digestion. Chemical exposure can lead to a number of negative health consequences., with young children more likely affected than adults.

Affordable housing tends to be older, with older materials inside the dwelling unit putting the affordable housing community at particular risk for living in dwellings that are unhealthy.

Although cost can be a factor, many healthy building materials are now offered for prices competitive to their more traditional counterparts. Further, as we transition healthier materials, prices will continue to decline. Below are some inexpensive changes that can make a dramatic difference in the healthiness and quality of a building:

  • Drawers - Avoid stapled particleboard sides and integrated side rails or under-mounted double-roller designs
  • Doors - Avoid laminate or Thermofoil over particle board
  • Cabinet Box - Avoid 3/8-inch coated particleboard
  • Shelves - Lesser-quality 5/8-and1/2inch particleboard may sag
  • Mounting Strips - look for 3/4 -inch hardwood or metal with bolt holes
  • Paints, Adhesives and Sealants - avoid Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

When developers, architects, and affordable housing industry leaders consciously select responsible building materials, they provide residents with homes that are safe and healthy. High-quality affordable housing increases the sense of pride, happiness and community among residents.

NHT is committed to using high-quality, healthy building materials in our existing and future communities.