Healthy Home Study Examines Indoor Air Quality and Childhood Asthma

Doctor and Boy with Asthma
May 3, 2016
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Apply to participate in a new study about improving asthma symptoms in children.

The National Center for Healthy Housing has opened a new study that examines the link between enhancing indoor air quality and reducing childhood asthma symptoms.  The Housing and Energy Attributes Linked To Health through Retrofits (HEALTH-R) will focus on children with asthma who live in single-family homes or townhomes.  Participating children also need to be covered by a private medical insurance plan.

Asthma attacks and asthma symptoms are typically caused by the body’s reaction to asthma triggers. Pollen, dust mites, pests, mold spores, pet dander, and cigarette smoke are examples of triggers. Many triggers are always present in the home in low amounts. But when the amount or concentration of a trigger gets too large, it can trigger asthma symptoms or asthma attacks.

Previous studies have shown that asthma attacks and asthma symptoms can be reduced by avoiding asthma triggers. This study examines a new approach for removing certain asthma triggers from the home. This new approach will make modifications to the building structure and to the heating, ventilation and cooling systems in the home based on current industry best practices. This study will test whether these modifications enhance quality of life for children with asthma living in modified homes.

The study uses the term, “enhance indoor air quality” to describe home improvements that are designed to help reduce triggers. Triggers can be brought in from the outside (such as pollen or dust particles that come in from open doors and windows), or they can be created when people or pets do things inside the house (such as burning candles, shedding hair, or smoking), or they can be created because the house is a good environment for them to grow (such as dust mites or mold that grow in high-humidity environments).

The Building Performance Institute (BPI), the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) have developed building standards that define high quality building practices, which includes methods to enhance indoor air quality. These standards have influenced the “Breathe Easy Home Indoor Air Quality System” that will be tested in this study. This system includes the best-in-class methods in the residential energy efficiency industry and the residential heating, ventilation and air conditioning industry.

When comparing a typical older home with a home that meets the Breathe Easy Home Indoor Air Quality System guidelines, some or all of the following measures would typically be installed:

  • Air Sealing and Insulation
  • Duct Sealing
  • Duct Design Modifications
  • Fresh Air Ventilation
  • Whole Home Air Filtration
  • Humidity Control Devices

The study is being managed by the National Center for Healthy Housing, a non-profit research and policy organization. Ecobeco LLC, a Rockville, MD-based Home Performance with ENERGY STAR® contractor specializing in home modifications to improve energy efficiency and indoor air quality has been retained as the general contractor. The “Breathe Easy Home Indoor Air Quality System” guideline is created and maintained by Breathe Easy Home, a Rockville, MD-based non-profit.

The study has been approved by the Chesapeake Institutional Review Board. The study design was reviewed by an expert advisory panel including Dr. Daniel Ein, Professor and Director of Allergy & Asthma Center at George Washington University, Dr. Janet Phoenix, Assistant Professor at the George Washington School of Public Health, Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, Brett Singer, Researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Paul Francisco, Researcher at the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and current Chair of the ASHRAE 62.2 standards committee.

This Indoor Air Quality and Childhood Asthma study is funded by National Center for Healthy Housing non-profit organization, and the results will be made public after the study concludes. More information is available at and the study is accepting applications until May 31, 2016.

Guest blog by Brian Toll, Board Member, Breathe Easy Home

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