Green Rehabilitation of Elder Apartment Treatments: The GREAT Study

The GREAT (Green Rehabilitation of Elder Apartment Treatments) Study is being lead by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) with a diverse team including the Center for Sustainable Building Research (CSBR), the Mankato Economic Development Authority (the local public housing authority), Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, and Question and Solutions Engineering. This is the first national study that will evaluate the health outcomes among older Americans following rehabilitation, using green healthy housing methods. Positive health outcomes for older Americans are important for a variety of reasons, including the following: Life expectancy at age 65 in the U.S. is lower than that of many other industrialized countries. In addition, after adjustment for inflation, healthcare costs among older people rose from $8,644 in 1992 to $13,052 in 2004. Furthermore, in 2006, there were an estimated 37 million people age 65 and older, but the older population is expected to be twice as large in 2030, growing from 35 million to 71.5 million. This growth will represent nearly 20% of the nation's population. These trends suggest that if green healthy housing rehabilitation is shown to improve health and contain healthcare costs, such investments in elder housing are likely to alleviate suffering in later years and also be cost-effective. While the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) focus in healthy housing has traditionally been on childhood diseases and injuries associated with housing quality, this proposed study will determine if improvements also occur in the at-risk and growing population of elders.

CSBR's role in the GREAT Study will be to track and measure the environmental condition within the units. The testing will include tracking temperature; relative humidity; carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide levels for a year post-construction; and pre- and post-construction measurement of total volatile organic compounds, formaldehyde, and allergens. CSBR will also assist NCHH with local coordination for the study.

Leading up to the study kick-off, CSBR lead a series of goal setting charrettes for the design and construction of the renovation in early 2010. The intention of these meetings was to clearly define performance of systems and establish tools to evaluate design options.

Study Goals and Objectives
This study is modeled after the recently completed Viking Terrace Health Outcome Study in Minnesota that demonstrated statistically significant health improvements in adults and children following green rehabilitation of low-income housing. In this study, the team will examine if green healthy housing rehabilitation of public housing occupied by elders improves their health status. Health status includes respiratory, cardiovascular, mental health, and overall health status. One of the desired outcomes is to be able to characterize occupant health factors that can be related to housing undergoing green and energy conservation rehabilitation. The study will take place over a three-year period of time in a multi-family housing setting.

Expected Study Results
The proposed study is likely to demonstrate that building improvements related to green rehabilitation of housing for the elderly result in health benefits. This can be expected to stimulate further investment in housing for both energy and other resource conservation and health improvement. This proposed study will be the first to evaluate specific health improvements among the elderly following green healthy housing rehabilitation.