The conditions of our homes reflect on us. Good living conditions promote good health. Poor living conditions can make us sick. This is not a commentary on personal habits or housekeeping. It’s a commentary on old or poor housing stock where many low-income residents find themselves living.
Let’s take a look at a few of the more common conditions that can cause poor health:
Air Quality – We spend quite a bit a time in our homes and breathing poor quality air can take its toll quickly. Bad air quality can cause allergic reactions, asthma, dizziness, fatigue, chronic respiratory problems, heart disease, some forms of cancer, and can also spread disease. Common contributors to poor air quality include mold caused by wet or damp conditions; heat sources which burn coal, wood, kerosene, or oil; and deteriorating building materials that may contain asbestos.
Building Materials – Older homes may still have lead paint and pipes. Exposure to lead, especially in developing children, can cause cognitive and behavioral problems. Asbestos, a type of fireproof insulation, can cause a certain form of cancer known as mesothelioma if the insulation particles are breathed in.
Carbon Monoxide – Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause illness and sudden death. Gas space heaters, furnaces, charcoal grills, portable kerosene heaters, and wood stoves are the leading causes of carbon monoxide. Many older homes are not equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.
Radon – Exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in most soils and some soil has higher than normal levels. It can enter the home through structural damage such as cracks in basement walls. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nearly 1 in 15 homes have radon levels at a level in need of abatement
Vermin – Homes that are in disrepair can offer a haven to rodents and insects. They are not necessarily attracted by food or dirty living conditions but they like to take residency in walls and floors that have less insulation because it offers them space to make nests. Exposure to vermin and their waste can cause serious illness.
Water and Plumbing– Many homes in Appalachia don’t have access to clean, running water. Water is necessary for so many aspects of our lives from cooking to cleaning that not having a ready supply can greatly hinder a household. Without proper plumbing for sewage families either have to build an outhouse or they may have a straight pipe system where the waste leaves the house to be directly deposited on the ground that can seep back into ground water.
Safety – Older homes in disrepair can also be physically dangerous. While the young and elderly are more susceptible to falling injuries, if a home has faulty floors anyone can be at risk. Older homes are often times not equipped to deal with the needs of individuals whom need assistance walking with devices such as canes, walkers, or wheelchairs.
It is important to remember that a home is far more than just shelter; it’s a place where we spend a good portion of our lives. This is why safe, quality homes are important. Fahe and our members build new homes and improve existing structures so that the residents in Appalachia can live safer, healthier lives.