October, 2016
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



"Health Sells": Serve Your Clients in a New Way by Offering the Healthy Home Checkup

CAROL DIKELSKY






Y
ou might have noticed that some articles in the Reporter these past few months have fallen under a “health” theme. Although many of these articles have described ways to improve or maintain inspectors’ health, there’s another key aspect to health that home inspectors can tap into to help your clients and your bottom line: Consider offering the Healthy Home CheckupTM by Healthy Housing Solutions, Inc.® as an additional service. 

“Consumers value health and comfort in their homes,” said Jack Anderson, president and CEO of Healthy Housing Solutions, headquartered in Columbia, MD. “The results of surveys we’ve conducted have told us that ‘health’ sells in ways that ‘green’ and ‘energy-efficient’ do not, and that having a healthy and safe home is a concept that resonates with consumers.”   

He added, “Younger homeowners are especially savvy and want—even expect— healthy and safe homes. They also want assurance that their homes won’t make them sick or injure them. Home inspectors need to get up to speed on this. People will be asking for it.” 

Healthy Housing Solutions is a consulting firm with experience in environmental health and safety. Since 2003, Solutions has worked with public and private clients, including the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“Four years ago, we began exploring opportunities to leverage our knowledge and expertise, and expand beyond our governmental contracts. We learned that there are at least a dozen certification and rating programs that focus on ‘green’ or ‘energy’ issues as they relate to homes, but none of these programs were comprehensive or holistic enough to cover all the health and safety deficiencies that can be found in residences across the country.” 

Anderson said, “We saw this as a business opportunity, so we sought out results of previous surveys and data that focused on green home issues and energy efficiency. In 2013, we hired a survey research consultant to complete extensive nationwide research, with over 1,100 people responding via online surveys. The respondents’ demographics were very similar to the U.S. population, according to 2010 census data.” 

“We asked questions to determine consumers’ interest in and knowledge about home health and safety. Respondents wanted to avoid fire hazards, ensure a high level of indoor air quality, solve any problems in their homes that affected residents’ physical health and control the level of radon. The survey results also showed that people are motivated by a greater sense of comfort and peace of mind. They want to avoid causing or perpetuating triggers for allergies and health problems. Additionally, parents want to protect their children from getting sick.” 

“The survey also asked whether people would pay to have their homes tested. We learned that approximately 75% of those surveyed said that they would or might act on information provided about the health and safety of their homes. As a result of this analysis, our consultant estimated that more than 11 million homeowners might pay a professional to determine their homes’ health and safety. And that’s why we created the Healthy Home Checkup.TM 

According to its website https://healthyhomescheckup.com, the Healthy Home CheckupTM is a cost-effective way to check for critical health and safety risks that are common in American homes. It takes an integrated approach that encompasses the structure of a home, its major mechanical systems, all of its rooms and areas and its occupants. The Healthy Home CheckupTM is designed to identify potential health and safety problems before they can cause injury or health issues. It relies on a science-based protocol that uses a visual assessment plus diagnostic testing to check a home for hazards and deficiencies, and then provides practical repair recommendations to correct them. 

After getting results of the Healthy Home Checkup,TM homeowners can make informed decisions about, and take actions to address, the health and safety of their homes. Here are some “triggers” for requesting an assessment: 

• bringing home a new baby or simply having young children in the home 

• a person living in a home who has a newly discovered or a chronic health condition or illness 

• a person living in a home who has physical limitations or disabilities

• an elderly person who wants to continue to live in the home (or a person who wants to bring an aging relative into his or her home)

• the completion of remodeling or renovation projects

• significant water, wind or even fire damage to the home

Anderson cautioned that the Healthy Home CheckupTM is not a replacement for a home inspection. One difference from a traditional home inspection is in the way the information is organized and presented. The Healthy Home CheckupTM covers nine domains: the home’s exterior and yard, mechanical systems, appliances (including smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and fire burning devices like woodstoves), “specials” (for example, pools, spas, hot tubs, wells, trampolines), air flow and circulation, allergens and dust, moisture, chemicals and physical safety and accessibility.

By using the Healthy Home Checkup,TM the assessor has access to over 160 health and safety hazards and deficiencies, which are prioritized based on their likelihood of causing illness or injury. For each hazard or deficiency found, there’s at least one associated repair recommendation. Assessors can also flag the repairs that can be addressed for a low cost (about $100 or less), which will reduce or eliminate allergens and other respiratory illness triggers or that are simple maintenance steps or behavior changes such as eliminating the use of air fresheners to mask odors from other causes.

Assessors who perform the Healthy Home CheckupTM assessment use its “Software as a Service,” which is tied to a structured query language (SQL) relational database that allows flexibility to make enhancements and modifications. The software includes the preloaded hazards and associated repairs. Assessors can use a tablet or laptop with Internet connectivity to complete the Healthy Home CheckupTM in real time, or they can operate their devices in an offline mode at the site, then switch to online when they have Internet connectivity. Assessors can take up to three photos of each hazard and add notes via typing or even a voice-to-text function.

A 17-question survey enables assessors to gather pertinent data such as residents’ ages, health conditions and injuries, as well as information about recent home repairs and environmental testing such as for radon. It also allows the assessor to document the presence of pets, residents’ disabilities or smoking status. The Healthy Home CheckupTM software generates an easy-to-read PDF report that links priority ratings with each identified hazard and associated repair recommendation, including those that are most urgent to address.

After field-testing in more than 100 homes, Healthy Housing Solutions launched the Healthy Home CheckupTM in early May. The software is available for purchase as a technology license subscription. Home inspectors are the primary audience, followed by building analysts and energy auditors. Other individuals who could be good assessors are those who already assess indoor air quality and perform green ratings, as well as specialists who help people “age in place,” remodelers, renovators and restoration contractors.

The Inspector’s Role in Healthy Home Assessments

Home inspectors can expand their businesses by offering this assessment to people currently “settled” in their homes. Another benefit is to become known as an expert associated with the expanding Healthy Homes movement. The Healthy Home CheckupTM can be performed in addition to other inspections or assessments or as a stand-alone service.

Anderson said, “This past January at InspectionWorldTM in San Diego, I talked with more than 50 home inspectors. Some started off skeptical as they listened to the pitch and watched our live demonstration, likely thinking ‘How is this different from what I do as a home inspector?’ But as they learned more, I could see the wheels turning. For one, they noticed that some items related to health don’t always get covered in a general home inspection. And they seemed to be thinking, ‘I’ve got a database of clients, and I could offer this assessment to them even when they are not looking to buy a new home.’ The beauty of this assessment is that it does not have to be connected to a real estate transaction.”

Consumers eventually will be able to find assessors by visiting the Healthy Home CheckupTM website. A geo-locator will help connect them with assessors in their areas. Before that happens, Anderson said, “We want to build a cadre of licensed assessors in many regions of the country.” Joe Konopacki is one ASHI-Certified Inspector who served on the Healthy Housing Solutions’ advisory team that helped finalize the assessment protocol design and gave feedback on how it works in the field. (See the sidebar for Konopacki’s thoughts about being a Healthy Home CheckupTM assessor.)

Anderson explained, “We offer a 30-day free trial to test drive the Healthy Home Checkup.TM A user’s manual and an online, self-study course provide information and hands-on interactive training. Those who stay with it pay for a monthly or a full-year subscription. Businesses with multiple inspectors receive tiered subscription discounts.”

“We offer a ‘technology license’ that gives each person the freedom to set the price they will charge for providing this service, and there’s no limit on the number of assessments an assessor can conduct. The software is intuitive and doesn’t dictate a user’s ‘process.’ Essentially, when you find a hazard or deficiency in the home, you click on the domain, add photos and notes, and make adjustments to the priority levels up or down if warranted by the situation. The Healthy Home CheckupTM primarily relies on a visual assessment for detection, but you can record readings from up to six diagnostic tools. You can also append laboratory reports, such as from radon testing or mold sampling, to the report.”

The Healthy Home CheckupTM offers home inspectors a new way to effectively market their services. Anderson noted, “Even though the real estate market is robust in many areas of the country right now, it’s good for home inspectors to be prepared for slowdowns, whether seasonal or caused by market or economic downturns. This is a way to leverage your experience and expertise working in and inspecting homes. Think about those past clients with whom you’ve only had one engagement. You could contact them and offer to check their home again, specifically focusing on these health and safety issues.”

“Why not take advantage of the 30-day trial?” Anderson suggested, “You can even practice by assessing your own home and the homes of your friends and family to get comfortable using the Healthy Home Checkup.TM Then you’ll be ready to offer the service to your clients. After all, we all want our homes to be healthy and safe!”

For more information, visit https://healthyhomescheckup.com 

Jack Anderson is President/CEO of Healthy Housing Solutions, Inc., in Columbia, MD. He is a senior-level leader, director and operations manager with over 39 years of experience, including management of public policy–related projects for safe and healthy housing. Anderson led the startup of Solutions in 2003, which was created to provide applied field research, program evaluation, technical guidance document creation, training, strategic planning, and regulatory support services to public and private clients. He was directly responsible for the company winning five multiyear, multimillion dollar contracts with two federal agencies. Anderson is a nationally recognized and published expert and trainer on lead poisoning prevention and other housing-related health and safety issues, and he spearheaded the creation of the Healthy Home Checkup™ by Healthy Housing Solutions, Inc.® Contact him at janderson@healthyhousingsolutions.com.