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Estimating and monetizing the health benefits of improving household energy efficiency in Michigan

Inefficient residential energy use, which often occurs in conjunction with low-quality housing, raises greenhouse gas emissions and negatively impacts health. Residents may face the “heat-or-eat” dilemma, having to choose between paying utility bills and buying food and medications. Given that Americans spend around 90% of their time indoors, suboptimal indoor conditions, such as unsafe temperatures and air pollution from poorly functioning gas appliances, are likely responsible for a substantial health burden.

Weatherization can help ease this burden. Cost-effective efficiency retrofits can improve indoor air quality and reduce home energy costs. In addition, weatherization reduces both home energy usage and peak electricity demand, so it is on the critical path to heating electrification and residential decarbonization.

Current federal subsidies for weatherization are based only on utility savings calculated by an energy auditor. The failure to account for the health savings of weatherization and corresponding energy-use efficiency improvements represents a market and policy failure leading to underinvestment. Quantifying the full benefits of weatherization likely would justify additional spending for these programs.

To that end, this project team aims to quantify the carbon emission reductions and health savings of weatherization using a novel dataset of linked housing, weatherization, and Medicaid emergency department (ED) visits to characterize how weatherization impacts ED-visit risks. They will monetize their findings, as well as the health impacts of improved outdoor ambient air quality. Their research uses individual-level health and contextual data, allowing for accurate estimation of the independent effects of weatherization and energy use intensity on health. They plan to share their findings with state legislators and federal policymakers to help inform policy changes.

U-M Graham Sustainability Institute
Research Areas
Urban Systems and Built Environment
Energy Systems