The Homebuilder Protects the Health of the Nation

By Aaron C. Smith

In the early 20th century, when diseases like typhoid and polio were prevalent in the United States, America’s plumbers adopted a new slogan: “The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation.” With a sharp poster and marketing campaign, plumbers successfully rebranded their professional image from “dirty and menial” to “heroic and essential.” Ever since then, generations of plumbers have rightfully taken pride in the notion of protecting the health of their country.

Today, the homebuilding community needs a similar upgrade to our public- and self-image.

We’re at a point in time when everyone involved in homebuilding, from the builder, to the contractor, to the subcontractor, to the frontline construction worker, needs to think of themselves the same way that health care professionals do—as defenders of public wellbeing. They each have a professional obligation to put in products and systems that protect the health of the families they serve.

Take HVAC contractors for example. Today, homebuilders like those who make up EEBA’s membership are building air-tight houses, which is great news for energy conservation. But in these well-sealed homes, it’s more important than ever for contractors to install mechanical ventilation that delivers fresh air, smart filtration and fans that remove contaminants, and indoor air quality monitors that are connected directly to a smartphone app and easy for homeowners to use.

The same laser-like focus on health should be adopted by other subcontractors (plumbers included). The painting contractor should use low-VOC paint and the flooring contractor should avoid materials that off gas into the home. And of course, the builder ultimately needs to lead the charge and set the tone, including by sourcing the right materials, like proper insulation, and the right appliances, like induction cooktops instead of gas stoves.

It’s dawning on homebuyers like never before that, just as our water needs to be safe, the air we breathe must be clean and pure. The Covid-19 pandemic has made this painfully clear. Our homes have been our last line of defense against this viral invader. Many became increasingly conscious of their air filtration systems, sending sales of portable air purifiers soaring by 57 percent in 2020.

Consider another recent trigger of health anxiety: millions of Americans suffered last year from the worst west coast fire season in recorded history, causing a months’ long air quality crisis in California, Oregon, Washington State, and elsewhere. Those with modern, smart, and eco-friendly homes were better equipped to manage the danger. Fire or no fire, all of us are facing the ongoing threat of air pollution, which is responsible for nearly 6.5 million deaths every year, making it the world’s fourth-largest threat to human health.

You get the point. Our houses are where we live out our lives, particularly as working and learning from home becomes the new normal for millions. If we are to improve human health as a society, the homebuilding community must play a starring role.

That is why we at EEBA joined with Allergy Standards Limited (ASL) and Construction Instruction (CI) to create an educational program called Healthier Homes Awareness for building professionals. It will launch on Earth Day, April 22, and teach the latest in medical and building science knowledge regarding health in the home, and will be available on the EEBA Academy.

The course focuses in part on asking the right questions of homebuyers so that we can better recommend products based on their needs. For example, a buyer who has a child with asthma may need an even more advanced whole-home smart air purification system. The course also teaches about the baseline features that should come standard in every home – for instance, the smart fan systems that can measure air quality and turn on mechanical ventilation to replace contaminated air with fresh air.

The fact remains that many of us are already taking the necessary steps to protect human health, and have been for years. But we aren’t always marketing it effectively to consumers. We need every homebuyer to understand the impact of home health so that they join us in demanding modern features in every home.

That is where we must learn from our plumbing friends on marketing and branding. No one doubts today that plumbers protect the health of the nation. It’s time for homebuilders to gain the same recognition. We protect the health not just of homeowners, but of all people throughout the world who benefit from lower fossil fuel emissions and a healthier planet.

We must keep our duty to protect human health in the front of our minds. Remember that how we build our homes is how we build our future.

This poster from the Energy and Environmental Building Alliance recognizing the heroic work of high-performance homebuilders on behalf of human health and environmental safety. It was inspired by "The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation" poster and story found here. Purchase our poster designed by artist Rob Noel here:


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