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Healthy Homes
Protect People and the Planet

Concerns about the environment and occupant health have changed the face of Canada's housing industry. New practices related to the design, construction and renovation of homes now strive to protect both people and the planet. The good news for builders is that adopting Healthy Housing principles will add value to their product and will set community planners and builders apart for doing things better - at little or no additional cost to them - while helping homeowners reduce their operating expenses.

To assist the housing industry in adopting these new practices, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) developed the Healthy Housing initiative.
"The Healthy Housing concept is comprehensive," says Thomas Green, Senior Research in Housing Technology at CMHC. "It addresses site planning, materials, equipment and systems, as well as the ability of housing to provide shelter from adverse conditions - both inside and outside the home."

Occupant Health
One of the primary focuses of Healthy Housing is indoor air quality. With at least a quarter of the population bothered by asthma, allergies or a chemical sensitivity of s
ome kind, researchers believe there is a strong link between our homes and our health.
Outdoor air can also be a concern. Pollen, dust, smog, agricultural pesticides, vehicle emissions and even noise can infiltrate into homes, causing health and comfort problems.
"Conventional wisdom used to hold that loosely constructed homes were healthier because a house needed to breathe," says CMHC's Housing Technology Researcher, Duncan Hill. "However, there is a growing awareness that loose houses are expensive to operate, are uncomfortable to live in and can have just as many, if not more, indoor air quality problems as tighter homes. Build tight and ventilate right is our motto today."

Whether building or renovating, it doesn't need be complicated or expensive to improve an existing home's air quality. For example, select building materials that do not give off unwanted gases, store smelly cleaners and construction products in sealed plastic containers, and keep what you can outside of the home. Healthy building construction techniques include the use of water-based paints (they release fewer organic gases often referred to as low-VOC paints [those low in "volatile organic compounds"] ), adhesives, sealants and finishes.
As an added benefit to the homeowner, the builder can select pre-finished hardwood flooring and ceramic tile instead of carpeting. This not only limits emissions but is also durable and easy to maintain. If your clients desire carpeting, it is useful to know that the Canadian Carpet Institute (CCI) has a labelling program to identify healthier carpet options.
Moisture control is another key element of Healthy Housing. Problems can arise from exterior sources such as leaks in the roof, walls, windows and foundation, as well as from indoor sources.
Interior sources of moisture include cooking, bathing, and houseplants and can lead to problems such as mould. Point-of-use exhaust, as provided by bathroom fans and range hoods, can remove moisture before it becomes a problem. However, to be successful, the fans should be quiet and effective. Careful attention must be paid to the installation of the ducts and hoods serving exhaust fans since undersized, overly long, crimped ducts will prevent airflow. Better yet, use a heat recovery ventilation system to provide exhaust in kitchens and bathrooms while bringing in fresh air for all the rooms in the house.
Key to preventing water leakage in walls is the provision of a rain screen wall system complete with a drainage plane that diverts any water that gets into the wall assembly back out. Proper detailing (sealing and flashing) of wall openings for windows and mechanical-electrical services will also prevent water penetration.

Energy Efficiency
The second essential of Healthy Housing is energy efficiency. This involves paying greater attention to the energy requirements of heating, cooling and ventilation systems. Healthy Housing offers solutions, by reducing energy consumption through a high performance building envelope and energy-efficient appliances. As well, it includes integration of on-site renewable energy sources, such as passive and active solar, and choosing the most efficient construction methods.

Resource Conservation
Healthy Housing is resource efficient, conserving building materials and other resources by using good design and recycled materials, and promotes water conservation and the management of construction wastes.
The CMHC Canadian Wood Frame House Construction book contains many techniques for reducing the amount of framing and material in houses, which are often over-built. Such techniques use less material and save both the builder and the homeowner money.
A healthy home conserves water and reduces the many hidden costs associated with purifying it and getting it to the home. Nearly 75 per cent of the water used in a home is used in the bathroom. Low-flow toilets, efficient showerheads and flow restrictors on faucets can reduce water use by as much as 60 per cent.

Environmental Responsibility
It's possible to reduce the impact of construction and operation of houses on the environment by eliminating housing related emissions and combustion by-products, reducing fresh water use and the production of waste water, and evaluating community and adequate site planning before the work begins.
The environment also profits when renovators and builders think ahead when choosing building materials. Buying recycled materials and choosing ones that can later be reused or recycled reduces the amount of waste dumped into landfill sites. For example, ceramic tiles made of recycled glass are a great idea.

Affordability means making sure all the above elements blend into an integrated package that renders the house suitable for the Canadian climate, attractive to the consumer's budget, adaptable to the occupants' changing needs, viable for the industry, and marketable as a practical solution.
Consider choosing products that are readily available at reasonable cost, flexible design that will reduce the need for future renovation, and low-maintenance, long-lasting materials and finishes.
For more information, or to order a CMHC publication, contact CMHC at 1-800-668-2642 or visit www.cmhc.ca.

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