The building industry is undergoing a revolutionary transformation. There is more emphasis on quality as opposed to quantity in real estate. There is a trend where building sciences intermarry with health sciences in a bid to provide safer and more sustainable living spaces. This is how the concept of a healthy building has emerged.
Distressing developments such as the Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) have fueled the demand for healthier and more comfortable buildings. This is a trend that threatens to disrupt both residential and commercial real estate.
A sick building is characterized by high levels of indoor pollution. Some causes of indoor pollution include paints, carpet, upholstery, manufactured wood products, adhesives, chemicals from copy machines, pesticides, and cleaning agents – often referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). Indoor air pollution can also include environmental tobacco smoke, breathable Particulate Matter (PM 2.5), and ozone, radon, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide gases.
There are also biological contaminants such as bacteria, molds, pollen, and viruses. The building occupants will complain of a variety of health issues ranging from headaches, dizziness, coughing chest tightness, fever, fatigue, chills and muscle aches.
While there’s a lot of talk about healthy buildings, there is still a lot of confusion about what it entails. With this in mind, the Healthy Buildings Team from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health created 9 foundations of a healthy building. Here they are:
1. Ventilation – Air Flow
The goal is to meet or exceed local ventilation rate guidelines to effectively control indoor sources of chemicals, carbon dioxide and odors. Outdoor air intakes shouldn’t be at street level or near outdoor sources of pollutants.
Aim for a minimum efficiency level of 75% when filtering outdoor and recirculated air. Ventilation systems should undergo regular maintenance, and ventilation monitoring should be in real-time. If you have an old HVAC system, you should also consider replacing it and install a more efficient unit for better ventilation and be sure filters are checked and replace annually.
2. Dust and Pests – Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
· Develop an integrated pest control plan
· Focus on preventive measures (sealing entry points, removing trash, etc.)
· Surface cleaning through high-efficiency filter vacuums
· Avoid pesticide use
· Train property management on how to respond to pest problems
3. Moisture – Relative Humidity
Viruses and mold flourish at certain temperatures and humidity levels. Carry out regular inspections (HVAC systems roofing etc.) to identify sources of moisture and potential condensation spots. In the case of mold, there is always an underlying moisture problem, address the issue promptly and repair/replace the contaminated area.
4. Safety and Security
The building must meet fire safety and carbon monoxide monitoring standards. Common areas must have adequate lighting (stairways, parking, egress points, entryways). Monitor through video cameras, interactive patrolling, managing the physical perimeter, and point of egress. Have a holistic emergency action plan and channels to communicate with the buildings’ occupants.
5. Air Quality
· Use local-chemical and emissions free building materials and furnishings, if possible
· Use a vapor barrier to limit vapor intrusion
· Conduct thorough Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) testing and monitor IAQ constantly
· Maintain humidity levels between 30-60%
6. Thermal Health is important, fluctuating temperatures and humidity affect virus and mold growth factors and building occupant safety, health, and overall productivity
Thermal conditions (for temperature and humidity levels) should meet minimum comfort standards throughout the day through real-time monitoring. If possible, provide individual thermal control, regularly survey the space and occupants, and respond to concerns. Carry out regular system maintenance and resolve issues promptly.
7. Water Quality
Water quality at the point of use should meet National Drinking Water Standards, and you should confirm this through regular testing. Install a water purification system and prevent water stagnation in pipes.
8. Noise – Decibel Level
Protect against outdoor noises and control indoor sources of noises. Provide spaces minimizing background noises to min 35db for unoccupied working spaces/learning spaces and a maximum reverberation time of 0. 7 seconds.
9. Lighting and Views
Provide as much natural lighting/high-intensity blue-enriched lighting as possible without compromising comfort during the day. Blue-enriched task lighting is necessary for comfortable viewing. Work/habitation space must have direct views through the windows. Before sleep, reduce light intensity.
The concept of “Healthy Buildings” promotes the physical, psychological, and social health and well-being of the occupants, the most valuable assets inside the building. Whether you spend most of your time at home, in school, or at work in a government building, office building, or other retail locations, building owners and operators need to provide healthier indoor environments for us to live, work, shop, learn and play. By continually measuring, monitoring, tracking and communicating the Nine Foundations of a Healthy Building using the latest tools, you can develop an action plan to make your building safer and healthier, and improve credibility and trust along way. In a post Covid-19 environment, employees and consumers will demand greater transparency and access to indoor air quality and healthy building metrics.