Estimating the Public Health Benefits of Increased Residential Insulation: A Risk Assessment/Life Cycle Assessment Approach

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Increased residential insulation can potentially provide environmental and public health benefits, given reduced emissions from power plants and residential fuel combustion. Quantification of these benefits could assist in developing energy codes that are socially optimal, considering both economic and environmental endpoints. Two primary research methods are often used in the evaluation of environmental impacts or benefits of products - life cycle assessment (LCA) and risk assessment. LCA provides a methodology to account for environmental impacts during the products’ life from production to disposal, but is often confined to direct costs or inventories of emissions rather than external costs. Methods to aggregate life cycle impacts across impact categories are still under debate. Risk assessment can provide the means to determine aggregate impacts, but it is often difficult to conduct a risk assessment for a national-level analysis. Within this paper, we begin to construct a combined risk assessment and life cycle assessment, with the goal of estimating the public health benefits of increased residential insulation for new housing from currently mandated codes to the latest International Energy Code. Past studies have estimated the state-by-state potential energy savings and emission reductions, but this may differ substantially from the public health benefits, given differences in climate, source characteristics, population patterns, and meteorological conditions. To estimate public health benefits, we use regional dispersion models coupled with exposure efficiency concepts to estimate exposure. We focus on particulate matter (primary and secondary) and determine dose-response functions for respiratory and cardiovascular outcomes using current epidemiological knowledge. This analysis allows us to determine the geographic regions where increased code stringency would provide the greatest public health benefits. The public health benefits can be compared with the cost implications for homeowners to determine the influence of external costs on benefit-cost calculations. Future analyses will extend the model to incorporate the adverse environmental impacts associated with the manufacturing life cycle of the insulation materials.

Work supported by the North American Insulation Manufacturers Association.

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