Industry consensus needed for multifamily energy efficiency retrofit approach

Choice of insulating materials can impact indoor air quality, resident health.

September 26, 2018 |

Energy efficiency upgrades in multifamily properties offer benefits to residents including lower utility bills, but some of the materials used in these projects to better insulate buildings can create health hazards.

A new report by Energy Efficiency for All (EEFA)—Making Affordable Multifamily Housing More Energy Efficient: A Guide to Healthier Upgrade Materials—offers a comprehensive guide for builders and policymakers in the use of readily available, healthier insulation and sealing materials. It includes policy frameworks to accelerate these materials’ adoption and improve air quality.

Currently, contractors and building owners are most focused on boosting efficiency performance levels of insulation and air sealing specifications with less consideration for the potential air quality impact of materials such as spray foam and modified polymer and polyurethane sealants. These materials commonly contain isocyanates, flame retardants, and phthalates that have been linked to health problems.

There are opportunities to promote healthier retrofit materials through green standards, but a broad industry discussion is needed to build consensus around a common approach, according to an article at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, the most common financing source for building, renovating, and retrofitting affordable multifamily housing, for example, is a key driver in materials decisions. It could be used to promote the use of healthier insulating materials.

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