While some of the energy efficiency benefits, such as reduced energy consumption, have a direct positive effect on public budgets, other benefits occur more indirectly, for instance through improved health over several years.
Due to ineffective use of heating energy in poorly insulated dwellings, low-income households often cannot afford the costs of heating. Cold and damp houses expose occupants’ health to the risk of respiratory, cardiovascular, allergy-related and infectious diseases, psychological stress, and even cold-related death. Children, the elderly and sick people are particularly at risk from a lung disease that is linked to poor insulation, because they have less robust thermoregulatory systems, and are more likely to spend more time indoors.
Cold houses are also likely to be damp, which can lead to the growth of mould that can provoke respiratory problems. Mould also causes faster deterioration of housing, inflicting the necessity of more frequent repairs and refurbishment measures than in energy efficient buildings.
Most energy efficiency measures improve the indoor temperature. Renovations such as thermal insulation, ventilation, more effective heating systems, and lighting improve the indoor climate giving rise to better general health and well-being, fewer respiratory diseases such as asthma, increased worker productivity and reduced occurrence of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Studies have shown that respiratory and circulatory hospitalisations have been reduced by insulating houses, as these diseases have shown to be particularly responsive to the effects of temperature. Moreover, better indoor air quality and lighting can even improve students’ ability to learn.
Energy efficiency retrofits tend to increase the average room temperature, which helps prevent energy-poverty related diseases and mortality. While most of these benefits affect the society in general, the public budgets may also be improved through reduced healthcare and hospital expenses and fewer sick days.
Health benefits also occur due to decreased air pollution. The air pollution primarily happens through the emissions of CO2, SO2, and small particle matters (PM2.5) during the energy production on individual household level (where filtering the emission is not efficient) and in power plants and district heating plants (where filtering is more efficient but rarely implemented). By reducing energy consumption through energy efficiency measures, the amount of air pollution will be reduced.
Health benefits of improved indoor climate include:
- Increase of personal well-being e.g. fewer illnesses and reduced stress
- General improvements in the quality of life e.g. increased comfort at home
- Reduced mortality
- Fewer days of work missed due to illnesses related to poor indoor environmental quality
- Fewer hospitalisations
- Reduced spending on health care due to these types of illnesses
- Improved productivity and learning
- Minimized exposure to toxic chemicals used to treat recurring mould