The Energy Chronicles

Energy Efficiency: A Breath of Fresh Air

Air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels does significant harm to public health in the U.S. Here are some revealing facts:

  • Pollution from fossil-fueled power plants causes nearly 20 deaths every day.
  • Fossil fuel pollution contributes to four of the leading causes of death: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Four in 10 Americans are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution, much of which comes from power plants.

Energy efficiency efforts aimed at reducing electricity consumption, thereby reducing production of electricity from coal and natural gas, can significantly reduce these impacts. A study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) found that reducing electric usage by 15% for a single year would result more than six lives saved daily, up to $20 billion in avoided health harms annually, and nearly 30,000 fewer asthma episodes each year.

 

Similarly, energy efficiency measures can have a positive impact on indoor air quality and climate. Poor indoor air quality can pose significant health risks, particularly for people with respiratory illnesses such as asthma or compromised immune systems.

 

Typically, health risks are posed when outdoor air pollution or allergens enter the home or when organisms such as mold and mildew take root. These problems are often associated with a poorly sealed building that allows outdoor air and moisture to enter through small openings throughout the home’s exterior.

 

A similar problem is posed when a home is under-heated or under-cooled, often resulting from a poorly sealed building and low levels of insulation. The problem may be exacerbated for low-income households, where high bills lead some people to reduce heating and cooling to save money, or to make trade-offs between utility payments and other essentials. Poorly conditioned homes can increase symptoms of respiratory illnesses, heart disease, arthritis, and rheumatism. Under-heated homes put adolescents at double the risk of respiratory problems.

 

Weatherization efforts can mitigate these problems by air-sealing the home from outdoor contaminants and moisture and by creating a more comfortable indoor environment. Typically, an energy auditor will use a blower-door test and thermographic imaging to determine the source of air leaks, and will record insulation levels. A contractor or the homeowner can then use this information to air-seal and insulate the home. The Weatherization Assistance Program is a federal program that offers these benefits at no cost to eligible low-income households. The program is open to Iowans year-round through local Community Action Agency outreach offices.

 

In addition to the immediate benefits of cost savings and improved comfort, better health outcomes have positive impacts on individuals and society at large, including fewer sick days and health care expenditures. Other positive impacts include greater home durability, longer life of heating and cooling equipment, and more money put into the local economy through weatherization jobs and savings on utility payments.

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