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Making Affordable Multifamily Housing More Energy Efficient: A Guide to Healthier Upgrade Materials

There is no question that investing in energy efficiency upgrades has the potential to deliver substantial financial, environmental, and health benefits to building owners and residents. Robust evidence demonstrates that interventions such as weatherization and other energy-efficiency upgrades, particularly in poor quality housing, can significantly improve residents’ health by reducing thermal stress, asthma symptoms, and energy costs. What is far less understood and addressed, however, are the adverse health impacts produced by chemical emissions from some of the materials commonly used for these upgrades. Not only can a building’s residents be affected, but the chemicals of concern can also pose threats to the workers who manufacture, install, and dispose of these products, to the communities adjacent to these facilities, and to the broader environment.

Many of the populations potentially affected are some of the nation’s most vulnerable and have limited access to health care. A guide, developed by Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA), is designed for those who decide what products to use in the energy-efficiency upgrade process — specifiers, contractors, building owners, developers, architects and engineers, program managers, and scientific advisors. The focus is the affordable multifamily rental stock, a significant source of housing for low-income households that can be substandard and poorly maintained, with relatively high utility bills and increased exposure to biological, chemical, and physical hazards. However, the research and recommendations presented in the guide will be useful to practitioners across the entire building industry.

EEFA -- created by the National Housing Trust, Natural Resources Defense Council, Energy Foundation, and Elevate Energy -- brings together expertise in affordable housing, energy efficiency, community development, finance, and utility engagement.

For more information about NHT’s Energy Efficiency for All work, visit

Click to download the guide