A majority of millennials and Gen Xers feel that their house impacts their physical health and stress levels, according to a recent Freddie Mac survey. As homes have become more important to individuals and families—particularly during pandemic-induced mandates and recommendations—the quality, features, and amenities of an abode continue to play a big role in people’s wellbeing.

Rural homeowners point to outdoor living spaces, proximity to natural elements including trees, plants, mountains and water, and abundance of natural light as beneficial aspects of their surroundings. Yet despite this much-needed connection to the environment—referred to as biophilia—rural residents also have health concerns about outdated, lacking or non-functioning features inside their homes.

Just 89% of rural homeowners rate the quality of their home as good or better, compared to 95% of total homeowners.

Rural Residents Need Home Improvements to Live More Comfortably Now and Age in Place

U.S. Census data revealed that of the 25 million housing units located in rural and small communities, more than 5%, or 1.5 million, are considered either moderately or severely substandard. Among all rural housing units, almost 30% either lack at least one essential element or home feature or identify it as non-functioning. In addition, more than half of all U.S. housing stock was built before 1980, meaning that more renovations will be needed over time.

This is potentially unhealthy for rural residents both now and in the future.

Considering that by 2040, 25% of rural households will be aged 65 or older compared with only 20% of urban households, addressing these housing issues will assure that rural seniors can use their homes to healthfully and comfortably age in place.

How to Identify and Address Health-Related Home Concerns

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Healthy Housing Reference Manual lists fundamental physiological needs and disease prevention measures related to healthy housing. Some of these factors mirror the concerns of rural homeowners including protection from the elements, disease, vermin, and excessive noise; sufficient space, fresh air, clean water, and sunlight; and adequate sanitary conditions. Specifically cited are:

  • Pests, which can contaminate the air, bite or sting, and spread disease. Keep them out by repairing holes and gaps in walls, windows, doors, screens, and trim, and storing food in drawers, cabinets, or a dedicated pantry rather than on the counter.
  • Mold and bacteria, which can cause allergic reactions, trigger asthma, and pose a serious threat to those with compromised immune systems. Telltale signs include areas with a damp or musty smell, water stains, standing water, and fuzzy growth on ceilings, walls, windowsills, and pipes. Fix or replace a leaky roof, install a sump pump in the basement, use an air conditioner or dehumidifier and ventilation fans in kitchens and bathrooms, and avoid carpet in these rooms.
  • Ventilation and air quality, which is essential for healthy living, especially for those suffering from asthma or allergies. Replace missing screens so windows can be opened, change out air filters regularly, install an air purifier and radon detector, replace carpet with natural or synthetic hardwood, tile or laminate flooring, and vacuum and dust often.
  • Dilapidated features, which can pose safety and sickness risks. Replace lead pipes, repair or maintain septic systems, use window locks to prevent accidental falls by children, and fix structural issues including stairs, handrails, and banisters, which can be especially dangerous to older adults.
  • Privacy levels, which have become even more of a consideration during the pandemic as open floor plans are falling out of favor. Rural residents say they want to be able to close a door and be alone for rest, relaxation, down time, work, or hobbies. A major renovation can create permanent room divisions; for a less-expensive fix, install partitions or screen dividers. Outside, add fences, shrubbery, or other landscaping to maintain privacy from next-door neighbors.

Renovations and Fixes Can Make a Big Difference in Rural Homeowners’ Everyday Lives

Despite the concerns rural homeowners have about some of their homes’ features, 54% of them report having enough money to go beyond each payday, suggesting that the funds exist to make necessary repairs that will allow them to live more healthfully. Home renovation loans can help rural homebuyers fund major repairs and updates during their initial purchase or a refi, or serve as a more streamlined option for smaller or minor fixes.