Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree is a national initiative supporting leaders in affordable housing who are improving human health by using less toxic building materials.
The goals of HomeFree are to raise awareness of toxic building materials and their associated health hazards, build the capacity of affordable housing practitioners to make informed decisions, and transform the current practice of affordable housing products specified to healthier options for everyone.
CAPACITY BUILDING AND CO-CREATION
HBN’s HomeFree brings together the passion, commitment, and expertise of two dynamic communities--affordable housing and environmental health. It is based on the premise that our affordable housing community partners possess critical skills and experience, and knowledge of regionally specific solutions. Our environmental health partners help connect the dots between the toxics in the built environment and their human health implications – implications such as asthma, developmental delays, cancer, and more. We can all learn from each other and co-create strategies to take action on producing healthier buildings. On this website, HBN’s HomeFree has created science-based open-source data and resources on best practices that are accessible to anyone and everyone.
HEALTH EQUITY - WHAT’S MISSING?
Though all people are impacted, low-wealth communities are disproportionately exposed to chemicals hazards on the job, in their neighborhoods, and within the home. The average person spends up to 90% of their time indoors. Buildings, both old and new, can contain chemicals of concern. From lead poisoning to asthma, our health can be as impacted by building materials as by the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.
The affordable housing sector has been increasing efforts to create programs that mitigate health disparities in low-wealth communities. Yet, a significant and critical health component is still being overlooked – chemical toxics in the built environment. It is possible for affordable housing developers, owners, and operators to make informed choices about affordable, healthier materials, as part of a complementary and holistic approach to health. Through the HomeFree initiative, HBN and our partners are working to minimize the health disparity by raising awareness and increasing building capacity in the affordable housing community.
EVOLUTION OF MATERIALS MARKET
Most people think that chemicals used in building products are strictly regulated or tested for their impacts on human health, but that is not the case. In fact, it is difficult to get clear and reliable information about product ingredients. Even manufacturers are often uninformed about the chemicals in their products, and many chemical companies refuse to disclose details. Healthier options often come at a price premium or are deficient in performance.
However, it is also true that options for healthier and more affordable products are available, with equal or superior performance. We live in a time of extraordinary innovation in the building products industry. A new transparency movement led by our partner, Health Product Declaration Collaborative, is increasing the accessibility of information about building products. A growing array of assessment tools, such as HBN’s Pharos Project, is making it easier to assess and compare health hazards in building products. Another HBN partner, Green Science Policy Institute, is focused on reducing harm to communities from six classes of chemicals of concern, starting with flame retardants in furniture and in building insulation. Manufacturers are listening, innovating, and optimizing their building products at an unprecedented rate. Across the country, affordable housing providers are successfully identifying and installing superior materials. It is the mission of HomeFree to share that data and help affordable housing providers keep pace with current changes, make informed decisions, and engage with manufacturers to create high performing, healthier products that are available at price points that work for the affordable housing industry.
To this end, HomeFree is targeting commonly used products in the dwelling unit, since that is where most people spend the most time. Product categories include flooring, drywall, paint, countertops, cabinetry, doors, and more.
COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE - SCALING IMPACT
HBN launched HomeFree in 2016 with six communities of practice across the country, each anchored by a demonstration project. The work in these communities has shaped the HomeFree approach. The regional demonstration projects tested and modeled best practices, identified superior products, and generated knowledge shared with an involved regional cohort. Regional activities and outcomes will advance national change. Summaries of these projects, including details on the materials used and lessons learned, can be found under the project tab here.
Looking ahead, HomeFree’s communities of practice will expand across the affordable housing sector through partnerships with organizations such as the Housing Partnership Network and SAHF and NRDC’s Energy Efficiency for All. Together with the leadership of affordable housing providers, HBN can accelerate the adoption of healthier materials in new and existing housing and improve human and environmental health.