How to Build Healthy Buildings?

Why Do We Need Healthier Indoor Spaces?

 

Surely, most of us can recall feeling exhausted after a day in the office, or having a bad headache caused by being in certain spaces. We spend up to 90% of our time indoors - it’s time to take a closer look at the effect this has on our mental and physical well-being. And then - let’s see what are the main factors of a healthy building!

Do you ever feel exhausted after a day spent in the office? Who doesn’t, right? We most likely blame stress and work overload, which is probably right, but there may also be some other factors profoundly affecting our physical and mental well-being.

For the last couple of years, we have become increasingly aware that the buildings we spend most of our time in have an immense impact not only on our health and mood, but also on our ability to stay focused and creative.

According to WHO, Europeans spend around 90% of their time indoors, and according to the US government’s data, the same applies to Americans. For UAE, it can be even up to 95% of the time due to heat. These numbers could have been even higher with the onset of COVID-19! Looking at those stats, we cannot ignore indoor environments' effect on our lives. It is high time we started building not only greener and more energy-efficiently but also healthier!

But what does “healthy building” even mean? Are there any guidelines or standards? And how much does it really affect us? Let’s answer each of these questions and start building a healthier future together. Let’s go!


What Is A Healthy Building?

A healthy building should integrate its users' well-being concerns into architecture, interior design and all solutions applied in the project. It should have a positive impact on its users' physical and mental health.

Healthy buildings can be perceived as the next step after green buildings, as they include not only resource-efficient solutions and environmental responsibility, but they also put human well-being and performance at the centre of the building concept.


Why Is It Important?

As we have already stated above, many people spend most of their time indoors. It would therefore be highly irresponsible to ignore the impact a built environment has on their well-being.

For a couple of years now, there has been a growing body of interdisciplinary research data on the impact that an office environment and building design have on one's cognitive functions, behaviour and health. In the article published by the American Psychological Association, data from multiple research groups were analysed and here are the main findings:

  • Comparing the cognitive performance (including focus, creative thinking, memory and problem-solving) of office workers in a “typical” office environment and in the improved one in terms of amounts of ventilation, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (the toxic byproducts of standard office products), proved that in the improved conditions people scored 61% higher results in the cognitive tasks!

  • Comparing the experience of workers in six “standard” offices and six green-certified offices in different cities, researchers found that those in the certified ones exhibited a better cognitive performance and 30% fewer “sick building” symptoms, such as headaches or respiratory complaints. They have also reported a better sleep quality. While examining buildings for differences, the team found that the certified facilities had lower humidity levels and brighter light than the non-certified ones.

  • During the eighteen-week-long research with changing office conditions, it was found that the conditions that impacted self-perceived well-being the most were: the lack of daylight, too dim lighting, temperatures below 21.6 Celsius degrees and the noise exposure.

"

The true cost of running our buildings should take into account the health and productivity of people in those buildings.
- Joseph Allen, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental health at Harvard University

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The analysis published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that the cost of making changes that could hugely improve cognitive performance in the workplace was minuscule compared with the increase in productivity - $40 per person per year, compared with a $6,500 increase in employee productivity! So even if one were to set aside concerns about the well-being of building users, it would be beneficial for the companies renting offices to look for improvements and seek certified buildings while looking for office spaces.


What Makes A Building Healthy?

Now that we know what a healthy building is and why it is so essential for us to start taking employees’ health into account while creating new personal and public spaces, it’s time to look closely into what makes a building healthy.

Harvard University’s Centre for Climate, Health and Global Environment determined 9 key factors that constitute a healthy building:


  • 01

    Ventilation

    Ventilation is necessary to bring fresh air into the building and diffuse pollutants, both those produced by its occupants (like the carbon dioxide we breathe out) and the product-generated ones (like volatile organic compounds).

    Research report that a comprehensive ventilation management plan can reduce transmission of pathogens up to 80% by utilising air scrubbers occupancy management. To ensure good ventilation, some golden standards include: filtering outdoor and recirculated air with a minimum of 75% particle size fractions, limiting intakes on a street level or near other outdoor sources of pollutants, conducting regular maintenance and monitoring ventilation in real-time to prevent and resolve ventilation issues promptly.

  • 02

    Air quality

    Ventilation is necessary to bring fresh air into the building and diffuse pollutants, both those produced by its occupants (like the carbon dioxide we breathe out) and the product-generated ones (like volatile organic compounds).

    Research report that a comprehensive ventilation management plan can reduce transmission of pathogens up to 80% by utilising air scrubbers occupancy management.

    To ensure good ventilation, some golden standards include: filtering outdoor and recirculated air with a minimum of 75% particle size fractions, limiting intakes on a street level or near other outdoor sources of pollutants, conducting regular maintenance and monitoring ventilation in real-time to prevent and resolve ventilation issues promptly.

  • 03

    Water quality

    This is quite a no-brainer - clean water is crucial for keeping any building’s users healthy.

    The good practice here is meeting the drinking water standards for a given country at the point of use. If necessary, it can be achieved by installing water purification systems to remove the contaminants. It’s also vital to prevent water stagnation in pipes. Water quality must be regularly checked to act quickly in case of any problems.

  • 04

    Thermal Health

    Thermal comfort, influenced by factors like air temperature, mean radiant temperature, airspeed, humidity, as well as by personal factors like metabolic activity level, is crucial for the performance of a building’s occupants, whether it’s an office or a school. Too warm indoor environments increase sick building syndrome symptoms, negative moods, heart rate, respiratory symptoms, and feelings of fatigue. Cold environments, on the other hand, have been found to facilitate the spread of viruses.

    With efficient HVAC systems, we can now establish consistent, comfortable thermal conditions in buildings. The golden standard for setting thermal comfort in buildings is making sure the temperature levels are comfortable for at least 80% of people in a given space. It’s great to provide individual-level thermal control where possible or to survey the space users on their thermal comfort and adjust the temperature accordingly.

  • 05

    Dust and pests

    Dust is a reservoir for a variety of harmful agents – viruses, bacteria, chemicals, allergens, building materials, and so on. If the indoor spaces contain high levels of dust, people ingest all these harmful things, and studies have shown that the amount of chemicals present in indoor dust directly correlates with the amount of chemicals in the blood of those who live and work in such environments.

    The main health risk associated with pests is introducing allergens to the indoor spaces that they inhabit. It can cause mild immune reactions, like a runny nose or watery eyes, but also more severe responses, such as asthma attacks.

    To avoid adverse health effects of dust and pests use it’s crucial to ensure regular cleaning to stop dust accumulation. Preventative pest management measures can seal entry points or prevent moisture build-up. It is also essential to train building’s management to quickly respond to pest-related problems and complaints.

  • 06

    Lighting and views

    Light’s intensity and spectrum significantly impact people’s well-being and performance. It was proved that bright light with a greater short-wavelength content (blue light) during work or a school day enhanced productivity, cognitive performance, and mood, as well as reduced sleepiness and fatigue.

    Even better results can be achieved by providing an abundance of daylight indoors, as studies show that it enhances mood, improves sleep quality, lowers blood pressure, and promotes activity. Spending much time in spaces with none to little access to natural light and views overlooking an outdoor environment leads to a higher risk of shortsightedness.

    Additionally, providing access to “green” views has been proven to enhance one’s mood and promote fast recovery from stress and mental fatigue. Humans' need to interact with nature can be incorporated into the building design, for example by cultivating plants inside, creating an outdoor space for building users, or introducing nature-inspired designs indoors.

  • 07

    Noise

    Noise is defined as an “unwanted and disturbing sound.” It can come under the form of an outdoor environment, such as aircrafts, car traffic, trains, road works or it can have its source from inside, like a loud HVAC system, machinery, office devices, talks. Noise is reported to cause frustration, increase stress and fatigue. It can also cause higher blood pressure, increase production of stress hormones and negatively affect our ability to focus and learn, especially when it comes to children.

    Healthy buildings should be sufficiently sound-proof to all outdoor noises. The indoor ones should be reduced as much as possible - for example, by providing a quiet HVAC system and placing printers or coffee machines in separate rooms.

    If possible, it would also be beneficial to provide spaces that reduce background noise to 35db for unoccupied work and learning.

  • 08

    Moisture

    The primary source of moisture in buildings are leaks from plumbing, roofs and widows, flooding condensation on cold surfaces, poorly maintained drain pans and wet foundations from landscaping. The entrance of excessive amounts of water into the building has been identified as the main source of building-related illness due to exposure to mould.

    The most prevalent health issue related to mould is asthma, allergic reaction and airway infections.

    For a healthy building environment, regular controls of roofing, plumbing and HVAC systems should be conducted to identify the sources of moisture and potential condensation spots. When moisture or mould is found, it should be immediately addressed and contaminated materials should be dried or replaced.

  • 09

    Safety and security

    This point is quite self-explanatory - healthy buildings should meet all safety standards, like fire safety or carbon monoxide monitoring. It should provide adequate lighting in common areas. It should also be monitored through video, patrols and a responsive incident reporting system. It is also crucial to maintain a holistic emergency action plan and have a trusted system of communication for the building occupants.

Sustainable buildings are the only way forward for the construction industry and we cannot talk about sustainability, without taking into consideration the impact our projects will have on the future occupants and users of the buildings we create. Green solutions must go hand in hand with healthy solutions to provide a better future for our planet and for us - and the good news is that it seems that very often these aspects are connected!

Have you found that interesting? We provide new interesting content on construction news and best practices every week! Check it out!

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2022-06-25 05:29:06