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ICAST Experts Weigh In: Optimizing Health and Energy Solutions for Affordable Housing

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Max Wilkinson | Healthy Homes Program Manager

Mr. Wilkinson helps design and shepherd ICAST’s efforts to improve home health for tenants in multifamily affordable housing.

ICAST’s goal with every multifamily retrofit is to increase home health, safety, comfort, and affordability for low- and moderate-income tenants. We have a custom, whole-building approach—in other words, we identify and deliver the best solutions for each household or property. Projects can incorporate weatherization, healthy home interventions, high-efficiency heat pumps, solar energy storage, EV chargers, energy management systems, and more.

We rely on a cross-section of tools, insights, and best practices for improving housing to get this done. For example, ICAST is a national leader in leveraging resources from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes (HH) Program and the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). The HH program focuses on identifying and mitigating home health hazards, such as pollutants that contribute to poor indoor air quality (IAQ). The WAP focuses on reducing utility bills and improving home energy efficiency. Both are crucial for improving the quality of life for low-income households.  

A study by Enterprise Community Partners and the National Center for Healthy Housing found that ventilation meeting ASHRAE standards significantly improves IAQ. It shows that if all multifamily housing in the U.S. could install continuous mechanical ventilation systems, the resulting decrease in particulate matter (known as PM2.5) indoors would likely lead to:

  • 14,800 fewer deaths
  • 11,800 fewer emergency department visits due to asthma
  • 8,100 fewer hospitalizations due to respiratory or cardiovascular illness

ICAST has been installing ASHRAE-compliant ventilation systems in multifamily housing as a standard intervention for our New Mexico WAP for years, applying an HH lens to our projects. Now, we have data that zeroes in on the health benefits. While there are guidelines and tools for IAQ, there are no established standards nor are there IAQ requirements for building owners and operators. To help property owners switch to upgrades we know will have the most significant impact, ICAST culls financial resources such as funds from the HH Program and the WAP, utility rebates, tax credits, and more. This reduces project costs for owners and gives us the greater financial flexibility to address all three tools for providing healthy IAQ: Ventilation, Air Cleaning, and Source Control (i.e., addressing the source of the pollutant). Our solutions include installing bath fans that meet ASHRAE 62.2 Ventilation Standard, installing high-efficiency furnace filters (MERV 13), and often replacing combustion appliances such as furnaces with non-combustion alternatives like mini-spilt heat pumps.

ICAST is working at the leading edge of integrating home health and clean energy solutions. Beyond the economic benefits (e.g., cutting household utility bills, improving property value, and reducing operations and maintenance costs for property owners), this work could be saving incalculable healthcare costs for residents. This is new territory for our industry, and we are eager to help drive the conversation.

 

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