Viking Terrace Health Outcome Study

The Viking Terrace Health Outcome study combines a residential health outcome study, post construction building evaluation, ecological impact assessment, and a cost analysis. This broad view renders a clear image of both the potential and challenges of sustainable building and brings together the disparate disciplines of public health, design, and construction. Located in Worthington Minnesota, the Viking Terrace Apartments project is one of the first Green Communities grantees. The project undertook the rehab of a 1974 three-building apartment complex of 60 units. The rehab added fresh air ventilation to units, mold abatement, low-VOC materials, integrated pest management, improved moisture management, increased insulation and air sealing of the envelope including new energy-efficient windows and roof structure, and installation of a geothermal heating and cooling system with individual unit control.

The association between housing and health has been well known for over a century. However, the use of modern green and healthy homes principles in the renovation of low-income housing and implementation of healthy homes training for residents remains inconsistent and requires evaluation. With funding from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Minnesota, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Enterprise Community Partners, and the McKnight Foundation, this project examines health outcomes in residents over a two-year period during and after "green" renovation. Resident health is assessed with a structured questionnaire and visual inspection of the unit. Residents attended a health fair and a celebration of their diverse nationalities, which provided entertainment and taught them how to keep their homes healthy. Preliminary results show that many residents report improved child and adult overall health, increased safety and time spent playing outdoors, improved ability to clean homes, increased comfort, and other benefits within a few months following the renovation.

Building performance testing and monitoring was done concurrent with the health study outlined above. The evaluation was done to characterize the residential environment post rehab and to evaluate the sustainable design strategies. Follow-up testing of the building included overall building tightness, unit to unit air leakage, fresh air flow rate, duct tightness, unit pressure differentials, and exhaust rates from kitchen and bath. One-year post construction testing included temperature and relative humidity tracking, radon, and VOCs. Results of building testing have resulted in radon mitigation, additional duct sealing, and unit retrofit to address high pressure differentials.

An economic analysis of both first and long-term operational costs of each individual sustainable green criterion was conducted. In addition, a lifecycle assessment of Viking Terrace was conducted using the Environmental Impact Estimator™ to evaluate the material diverted from the waste stream and new materials that were prevented from being used. The indicators calculated include global warming potential, air and water pollution, solid waste, raw material use, and embodied energy. The monetary benefits of green sustainable rehabilitation of low income housing vastly outweigh the initial increased cost.