Suppose the practical questions of how to make a home healthy are solved. Suppose we do untangle the science of houses and indoor air, and how they make people sick. Fantastic.
Then what? Who will you call to figure out whether your home is making you sick, and what can be done about it? You’ll call an HVAC contractor, or some other kind of building contractor. It’s your house you want fixed, and they fix houses.
But you will be asking for a whole new kind of home improvement, that contractors have never encountered. You will be asking them for health care. You will not be satisfied, or feel your money was well spent, if the result only looks good, the way a new patio looks good. You will expect the contractor to make somebody in the house, who is sick, feel better.
How do you find a contractor who can do that? They don’t have diplomas on their trucks.
Already there is enough buzz about healthy housing that all sorts of businesses, from carpet installing to duct vacuuming, promote their services as health-giving. Before building scientists even know how to make homes healthy, a market, with too many invisible hands stirring the pot, is emerging.
We’ve seen this – I mean, we historians – have seen this before. The nineteenth century was a hazardous time to be sick. All the training most doctors had was a few weeks of lectures in a commercial medical school. Real medical education could be had, in Europe, at a high price few could pay. Since the commercial system produced way too many doctors, its graduates competed with each other in aggressive self-promotion. A conscientious or modest doctor, who just wanted to do right by his patients, would have had little chance of success.
I’ve met some contractors who light up when they talk about this new dimension of their work. When a customer hugs you and your whole crew, because you made her kid’s asthma go away, the glow lasts a long time. But most customers that they try to help do not experience such relief. The learning curve is steep.
As scientists pursue practical ways to decide what to do for each house, and contractors learn case by case just as medical students do, the HVAC equivalent of quacks and charlatans may burn out the public.
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