|The adage “An ounce of prevention
is worth a pound of cure” directly applies to health hazards in housing.
Protecting children and other residents from health hazards in their homes
requires preventing hazards from developing, or identifying and controlling
hazards before anyone’s health is harmed.
Unfortunately, in most cases, housing-related health hazards are overlooked
until after illness develops. For example, the standard approach to childhood
lead poisoning relies on using children as “lead detectors,”
postponing action to identify and control lead-based paint hazards until
after a child has been identified as poisoned. Similarly, asthma triggers
in the home environment usually are ignored until after a child has developed
asthma or until after an attack requires a visit to the emergency room.
In the case of housing-related health hazards, the goal must
be prevention rather than waiting to treat disease after it
develops. Prevention requires viewing the home as the vector
of disease and taking safeguards to prevent and control hazards
in the first place.
While some homes present severe problems that require highly trained
experts and complex diagnostic equipment, in most homes, much simpler
strategies exist to avoid and control health hazards. Most hazards can
be avoided altogether through good maintenance based on common sense principles,
such as ensuring good ventilation, controlling moisture and water damage,
properly venting combustion appliances, and following basic safeguards
to avoid exposure to toxics. In most cases, only modest changes in maintenance
practices are needed to keep homes safe or to avoid inadvertently creating
a hazard during renovation or remodeling. In some cases, low-cost improvements
can be made that will significantly contribute to a healthy home. For
example, every bathroom and kitchen should have an exhaust fan that is
vented to the outside to remove moisture and reduce humidity.
In addition, it makes sense to periodically check homes for clues to
health hazards. One of the most revealing tools is easy and economical:
a visual inspection. It makes good sense to take a few minutes at least
once a year to do a visual check of every home for signs of problems,
such as leaky roofs and gutters, plumbing leaks, standing water around
the foundation, other moisture problems, peeling paint, and vent connections
on combustion appliances. Serious and complex housing-related health hazards
may require the assistance of experts to diagnose and remediate the problem.