Save Your Energy: the Impacts of Indoor Energy Use on Our Health

Asthma, lung health, person coughing

While energy use contributes to global warming at large, it can also have negative effects even closer to home. When created through oil, gas, or coal combustion, household energy - used for heating and cooling, cooking, hot water, and more - is directly detrimental to occupant health.

By Kelly Morton,

Published March 8, 2024

Asthma, lung health, person coughing
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Contributors: Nobi Kennedy, Wyatt King, Kelly Morton, Bamidele Osamika, Leah Ross, Mitch Singstock, and Savannah Sullivan
This piece is part of Green Umbrella’s 2024 PSA Campaign on climate health impacts, highlighting a recent report done with Scioto Analysis which was supported in part by a bi3, HealthPath, and Interact for Health Data for Equity Grant.

Energy use is a significant driver of greenhouse gasses and climate change, impacting our ecosystems, infrastructure, and health in compounding ways. Picture a snowball rolling down a snowy hill: it grows larger the farther it falls, accelerates in unpredictable ways, and destabilizes the area around it. Just as a simple snowball can become an avalanche, greenhouse gas emissions escalate climate change, causing cascading effects including strains on infrastructure, energy network disruptions, and risks to human health and safety. 

While energy use contributes to global warming at large, it can also have negative effects even closer to home. When created through oil, gas, or coal combustion, household energy – used for heating and cooling, cooking, hot water, and more – is directly detrimental to occupant health.

Health Effects from Energy Use

Common household appliances – such as stoves, furnaces, dryers, and others – that use gas, wood, or coal as their energy source release particulate matter into the indoor air. Particulate matter can consist of pollutants like carbon, ammonium, metals, formaldehyde, nitrates, and sulfates. These pollutants can lodge deep in our lungs, causing or exacerbating diseases like asthma, COPD, heart attacks, and stroke. Children living in households that use gas stoves for cooking are 42% more likely to have asthma.

The build-up of particulate matter within the home can lead to poor indoor air quality. Poor air quality is bad for all occupants but disproportionately affects the health of those who spend most of their time indoors, renters who don’t have control over their landlords’ and fellow occupants’ energy choices, and those who live in low-income housing spaces. Those in low-income housing communities also experience higher levels of fuel poverty – when more than 10% of a household’s income is spent on energy. Fuel poverty can take a toll on mental health and comfort within their own homes. 

Since 1973, household energy use in the United States has doubled as warming regional temperatures and erratic weather patterns increase the growing need to modify our homes’ internal temperature. Our Tri-State area of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio uses coal and natural gas combustion as primary energy sources, demonstrating our region’s urgent need for clean energy infrastructure and our increased exposure to indoor air pollution.

Indoors, Outside the Home

Indoor air quality isn’t just an issue in our homes; it affects health and well-being in any building where people spend significant amounts of time, including workplaces, schools, hospitals, restaurants, and public facilities. Buildings that are energy efficient and have effective ventilation systems help protect the health and well-being of their occupants. Retrofitting existing buildings to become more efficient improves physical health, decreases heat-related illness, and prevents excess winter mortality. 

Reducing Your Risk – What You Can Do Right Now

Know What You’re Using

The greenest, healthiest, and least expensive energy is the energy you don’t use! Conserving  energy and using energy efficiently are the best places to focus your initial efforts on reducing energy risk. Being conscious about your energy usage can help you become more aware of how to conserve it. Start by reviewing your monthly energy bills to see how much and when you use energy in your home. Compare current bills to past ones to see how your consumption patterns change. Remember – comparing a July bill to a December bill won’t be as useful as comparing months with similar weather and temperature conditions.

Reduce What You’re Using

Once you have a better grasp on your energy use habits, it will be easier to reduce your footprint. Are you a night owl? Try going to bed earlier, turning the lights off and the heat down. Big foodie? Challenge yourself by cooking one-pot meals (bonus points: cook only with appliances that use electricity rather than natural gas!). Love being cozy? Put on a snuggly sweater before turning up the heat. Reducing your energy consumption is a great way to improve your home’s air quality – and save money! 

Replace What You’re Using

For those with the resources and freedom to do so, replacing your home’s existing gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances is the best way to improve your internal air quality and save money. For example, when replacing your appliances, choose an electric heat pump over a natural gas furnace and an induction cooktop stove over a gas-fired range. Not all replacements have to be big: smaller investments, like a clothesline for line-drying your laundry instead of using a dryer, can make a big difference (and your clothes will last longer!). 

Many consumers may qualify for federal, state, or local subsidies or tax incentives that can help defray the costs of upgrading to cleaner appliances. Resources for switching to clean energy can be found at the end of this post. Don’t be afraid to talk about the money you’ve saved and the air quality you’ve improved after switching up your habits and appliances: providing an example may encourage your friends and family to take the next steps on their clean energy journey.  

Driving Change in Our Region

Large impact on a regional scale is possible, and change is happening now!

A Network Committed to Energy Reduction

The Cincinnati 2030 District*, facilitated by Green Umbrella, is a collaborative effort to create a network of healthy, sustainable, and high-performing buildings in the City of Cincinnati. Participating members make a collective commitment to reduce their buildings’ energy use, water consumption, and transportation emissions by 50% by the year 2030 – saving money and improving community and occupant health at the same time. Since its inception, the Cincinnati 2030 District has accumulated 321 participating buildings, accounting for 28.2 million square feet, and reported a 31.5% reduction in energy use; a 31.3% reduction in water consumption; and a 20.8% reduction in transportation emissions. 

Solar Energy in Cincinnati

The City of Cincinnati is working towards using more clean energy and plans to use 100% clean power in its facilities by 2035. In addition to 4.4MW of solar installed across 36 facilities, the City is involved in the 100MW New Market Solar array in Highland County – one of the largest city-established solar array projects in the country. The power generated will be used for City facilities and residents participating in the City’s electric aggregation program, reducing the region’s carbon emissions by 158,000 tons annually. 

Focusing on Equity

WarmUp Cincy was a 2023 pilot program designed to combat fuel poverty, prevent utility disconnection, and increase energy efficiency for renters and owners in Cincinnati’s 16 most energy-burdened neighborhoods. The results were positive; the next step is making energy efficiency upgrades to buildings within the existing Over-the-Rhine Community Housing (OTRCH) portfolio to benefit tenants, the organization, and the environment. 

Energy Efficiency Standards

In 2023, the University of Cincinnati was awarded a $2.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for a 3-year project to create a new, cost-efficient approach to Building Performance Energy Standards, which address the energy efficiency of existing buildings. After the new standards are developed, they will be implemented in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, and Cleveland. 

These initiatives are great steps on the road to healthier, cleaner living, but there’s more to do throughout the region. You can be a leader for change by advocating for switching community buildings to clean energy and making development codes more sustainable; supporting research and reductions in the amount of energy that public buildings use; and talking with your friends, family, and neighbors about ways to make healthy energy changes.

*The Cincinnati 2030 District is part of the 2030 Districts Network, a global network of districts committed to making meaningful changes within cities that address climate change.

National Support for Healthier Energy

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022, Congress created new streams of federal support for energy efficiency and clean energy projects. These resources provide funding for projects that utilize clean energy, reduce emissions from buildings and transportation, and improve climate justice (see the Resources section of this post for more information). 

Learn More

Webinar: Energy, Climate, And Health Outcomes

Watch the recording of the second installment of the Climate Health Public Service Announcement Webinar Series, Energy, Climate Change, & Health Outcomes, on YouTube. Guest speakers include Molly Robertshaw – Sustainability Manager, City of Cincinnati, Office of Environment & Sustainability and Alison L. Knasin, Ph.D. – Energy Justice Lab Manager, University of Pennsylvania. This webinar was originally recorded on March 28, 2024.


Infographics – download and share!

More information

Inflation Reduction Act resources:

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