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Watts-to-Wellbeing: does residential energy conservation improve health?

An Erratum to this article was published on 13 October 2013


Residential energy conservation has been increasing in number of houses treated, frequency, and scope, but few studies have examined whether modern energy conservation measures improve the health status of the occupants. We measured self-reported general, respiratory, cardiovascular, and mental health via structured telephone interviews using an adaptation of the National Health Interview Survey at baseline and follow-up in 2009–2012 [n = 248 households in Boston, Chicago, and New York City (248 adults and 75 children)]. Housing included buildings with one to three units (n = 106 units) located in Boston and buildings with >3 units/building (n = 142) located in Chicago and New York. The energy conservation typically included insulation, heating equipment, and ventilation improvements. Adult respondents reported a 0.29-point improvement in the mean general health score (1 = excellent, 2 = very good, 3 = good, 4 = fair, 5 = poor) (3.07 to 2.78, p < 0.001). Sinusitis, hypertension, overweight, and reduced use of asthma medication during asthma attacks showed 5 %, 14 %, 11 %, and 20 % differentials between improvement and worsening (p = 0.038, p < 0.001, p < 0.001, and p = 0.077, respectively). Forty-two adult respondents reported doctor-diagnosed asthma at baseline. Two measures of asthma severity worsened (days with problems sleeping—differential between improvement and worsening −28 %, p = 0.009; and frequency of symptoms such as cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath—differential between improvement and worsening −26 %, p = 0.031). Nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide were low and showed no significant changes from baseline to follow-up in 41 housing units. This study found that residential energy conservation work conducted by trained professionals that balances energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality improves general health, sinusitis, and reduced asthma medication. Further research is needed to understand asthma-related outcomes.

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We thank the residents who participated in this study, Amanda Escobar-Gramigna of CNTEnergy, and John Wells and Eva Jacobs of Action for Boston Community Development. This project was funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, Grant # ILLHH0191-08. The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009” under an award with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The substance and findings of the work are dedicated to the public. The author and publisher are solely responsible for the accuracy of the statements and interpretations contained in this publication. Such interpretations do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government.

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The authors declare they have no competing interests. This study was approved by an Institutional Review Board.

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Correspondence to David E. Jacobs.

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Wilson, J., Dixon, S.L., Jacobs, D.E. et al. Watts-to-Wellbeing: does residential energy conservation improve health?. Energy Efficiency 7, 151–160 (2014).

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