Healthy Building Network’s HomeFree is a national initiative supporting affordable housing leaders who are improving human health by using less toxic building materials.
The goals of HomeFree are to raise awareness toxic building materials and the associated health hazards; build the capacity of affordable housing practitioners to make informed decisions; and transform the baseline affordable housing products specified to healthier options for everyone.
CAPACITY BUILDING AND CO-CREATION
Our work brings together the passion, commitment and expertise of two dynamic communities. 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 us connect the dots between the toxics in our built environment and human health implications – like asthma, developmental delays, cancer, and more. We learn from each other and co-create actionable strategies for healthier buildings. Our open-source data and best practices through HBN’s HomeFree web platform 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. We spend up to 90 percent of our time indoors. Today's buildings can contain many different chemicals of concern. From lead poisoning to asthma, our building materials can impact our health as much as the food we eat, the water we drink or the air we breathe.
There has been a growing effort to create programs that mitigate health disparities. Yet, there is a significant and critical health component still being over-looked – chemical toxics in the built environment. Working together, it is possible to make informed choices about affordable, healthier materials, as part of a complementary and holistic health approach, minimizing the health gap of low-wealth communities.
MATERIALS MARKET EVOLUTION
Most people think that chemicals used in building products are strictly regulated or tested for human health impacts, 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 the details. Often healthier options come at a price premium or performance deficiency.
However, it is also true that there are available healthier and affordable product options with equal or superior performance. Today is a time of extraordinary innovation in the building products industry. A new transparency movement led by our partner, Health Product Declaration Collaborative, is making information about building products more accessible. 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 partner, Green Science Policy Institute, is focused on reducing harm to communities from classes of chemicals of concern, starting with flame retardants in furniture and building insulation. Manufacturers are listening, innovating, and optimizing their building products at an unprecedented rate. Across the country, there are recent examples of affordable housing providers who have successfully identified and installed superior materials. HomeFree will share that data and help affordable housing providers keep pace with these changes, make informed decisions and engage with manufacturers to make high performing, healthier products available at price points that work for our industry.
We are targeting commonly used products in the dwelling unit since that is where people spend the most time. It includes product categories such as flooring, drywall, paint, countertops, cabinetry, doors, etc. This focused approach will allow us to rapidly scale.
COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE - SCALING IMPACT
HBN is launching HomeFree with six communities of practice. Each will have a demonstration project to test and model best practices, and identify superior products. HBN staff will provide support to each project team. Local advisors will engage and shape the HomeFree approach, and share knowledge with an involved regional cohort. Regional activities and outcomes will advance national change. We will work together to influence and shift the responsibility of transparency and health disclosure onto the chemical industry and product manufacturers.