Hannah Wilber

Want to play a little word association? Come on, indulge me, it will only take a few seconds.


Here's your word: home. Close your eyes and think about the words and imagery that come to mind as you toss this word around in your brain.

So, what did you think up?

My results are almost always the same—I see my brother and I eating cereal at the kitchen table before school; I see my dog lying belly up on the entryway carpet, all four legs sticking straight out at bizarre angles; I think of rooms filled with soft furniture, copious blankets and the occasional napping dad.

I feel warm, happy, safe.

I'm willing to bet you experienced something similar. Ok, maybe you didn't picture my kitchen table, but that fuzzy, feel-good feeling? Yeah, odds are you definitely had some of that. After all, isn't that why they call it “the comforts of home?”

It makes sense. The places we deem "home" are the stage upon which much of our lives play out. They are where we gear ourselves up to face the day ahead, and where we unwind when all is said and done. They're where we come together with family and friends.

To put it in more concrete terms, adults in the U.S. spend about 65% of their time in their own residence—that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Home: Where we spend our time

I mean that both figuratively and literally. Ever heard of sick building syndrome? It's a real condition brought on by exposure to the harmful substances that can accumulate in spaces designed and built without much consideration for occupant health and well-being. Here are some of the symptoms: headaches, itching or burning eyes, skin rashes, drowsiness and, you guessed it, sneezing attacks.

Taking the gravity of healthy spaces to the next level, air pollutants like particulate matter (PM), nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nicotine—particles commonly found in poorly ventilated residences—are known to contribute to, and exacerbate, health conditions ranging from asthma to cancer.

When you consider where you will spend the majority of your adult life, don’t you want it to be a place that keeps your exposure to these harmful substances to a minimum?

That seems like a no-brainer to us at USGBC (and hopefully to you too!), which is why some of us have been jumping for joy—I'm looking at you, Brendan Owens—at the release of a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology.

Report: Air quality in your home

With authors from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Boston Housing Authority, and the Committee for Boston Public Housing, “Indoor Air Quality in Green vs Conventional Multifamily Low-Income Housing” describes the results of a two year experiment examining the many impacts a home's air quality has on its occupants.

Through environment sampling, home inspections and health questionnaires, the researchers compared buildings in two conventional Boston housing complexes (the control group) and new, LEED Platinum buildings (the green group) recently completed in one of the same complexes being used for the control group. A subset of participants were also observed as they moved from one conventional home to another, or from a conventional home to a green home.

The report does a great job of laying out the precise methodology and data-gathering techniques used for this research, so if you’re curious I highly recommend you check it out. But if you’re strapped for time, allow me to summarize the essential info you should take away:

  • Of the homes in the control group, 86% were found to have inadequate ventilation, while only 11% of green homes were considered not up to par.
  • Additionally, participants living in green homes reported problems with mold, pests and overall stuffiness significantly less often than those of conventional homes.

What does that mean for air quality? Compared to conventional homes, green homes contained 57% less PM2.5 (the specific type of PM measured in this study), 65% less NO2 and 93% less nicotine. Let those numbers sink in for a moment—pretty impressive, right?

While the first two changes are largely attributed to the LEED-certified units' tighter building envelopes and use of mechanical ventilation (which reduced the need to open windows, keeping outdoor air pollutants outside), the reduction in nicotine is attributed to no-smoking policies in the green homes.

What's even more impressive, however, are the associated health outcomes the authors observed: participants in the green group experienced 47% fewer incidents of sick building syndrome symptoms than those in conventional housing. Just think about how liberating it would feel to have half as many headaches, or to half as many sneezes.

The findings described in this study underscore what we've been arguing all along—that designing our built world with the goal of greatly reducing indoor air pollutants and other harmful substances can make a significant, measurable difference in the lives of occupants.

Improving your home with LEED

At its core, LEED is about creating buildings that are better not just for the environment, but for the people that use them every day. This means spaces that are inviting and comfortable, with ample natural lighting and well-ventilated fresh air, and without harmful pollutants and toxins; spaces worth spending say, 65% of your adult life in, and worthy of the title “home.”

To learn more about the rise of green homes in the U.S. and around the world, take a look at our latest LEED in Motion report, featuring an introduction by Nest CEO and Founder Tony Fadell, key statistics on the size and growth of the green residential market, a deep dive in to LEED for Homes numbers and much more.