Many people work within indoor environments in a commercial building. In these office buildings, you may take for granted that the inside air will be easy to breathe, the filtration system will be clean, and the floors and walls will be free of mold and mildew.
It’s a reasonable right to assume that you’re working in a healthy environment in a commercial space. It’s this expectation that’s bringing together leading builders and designers to create healthy buildings for a new generation.
What Is a Healthy Building?
A new movement is afoot in America. It’s a movement away from older, sick buildings to a new healthy building environment.
A ‘healthy building’ is generally defined as a structure that’s innovatively designed with environmentally responsible building methods, sustainable technology, and natural design elements. The result of a healthy building is that its occupants get a fresher, more vibrant space to breathe clean air, with almost zero exposure to any harmful chemicals or pathogens.
Across the US, commercial real estate developers, building owners and operators, facility managers, energy managers, and others are getting behind industry efforts to create more buildings with eco-friendly green construction and quality environmental targets.
9 Factors Businesses Focus On When Working Towards Healthy Buildings
There are nine foundations for a healthy building environment, highlighted in the book Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity by Joseph Allen, a Harvard professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and John Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.
The list of foundations according to the authors are: air quality, thermal health, moisture, dust and pets, safety and security, water quality, noise, lighting and views, and ventilation. Here, you can visit these nine foundations for healthy buildings.
1. Outside Air
A healthy building should embody a promise to its occupants that it aims for low chemical emissions in its operations. A healthy building manager should seek to limit volatile organic compounds, while also guarding against pollutants like asbestos, lead, and PCBs.
Air quality testing should become routine for a healthy building to ensure that outside air is not tainted with carbon dust, carbon dioxide, and other pollutants via machine emissions and construction work.
2. Air Quality
It’s extremely important for workers and other occupants in a building to have good air quality through the ventilation system. Building owners should make occupant health a high priority in designing the air filtration systems for buildings, adhering to city and state codes.
For years, commercial building owners have relied on various airflow specifications for ventilation design to limit contaminant levels in buildings. More recently, new ways to measure environmental health aspects in a building have emerged with Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities.
3. Water Quality
Ensuring drinkable water quality is another prerequisite for a healthy building. Facility managers should ensure that their healthy building delivers and maintains clean water to its occupants with the U.S. National Drinking Water Standards as its check. Ensuring top-level water quality above required standards should be on the priority list for all building owners.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, buildings were shut down or were vacated due to remote work changes or other disruptions. When buildings are vacated, water quality can deteriorate in the plumbing and pipes. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends checking water stagnation in the building’s plumbing for a closed building. Owners must re-address the water quality upon reopening the building.
4. Thermal Health
Keeping the heating and cooling system in top-notch operating condition is a must for green buildings. Heating and cooling consumes nearly half of a building’s energy, which factors into the overall energy consumption for a healthy building.
Keeping the temperature in the building regulated is a primary factor for the environment. If an environment is too warm, occupants might have lower productivity, bouts of drowsiness, and other indicators of a sick building. Use healthy building materials to ensure optimal operating conditions.
5. Dust and Pests
Dust and pests can contribute to sick building symptoms, and managers of a healthy building should be wary of these issues. Foul smoke, dust, and other particulate matter can get into a building’s ventilation. When they do, they can impact a person’s heart, lungs, and breathing functions. This in turn can cause mild to severe health effects for the impacted persons.
Pests can also get into buildings. Building managers must take non-poisonous sprays and chemicals into consideration when conducting a pest blowout. Removing cockroaches, ants, beetles, or other pests is a top-line requirement for a healthy building.
6. Lighting and Views
Comfortable lighting and adequate window views are more requirements for a healthy building. People need access to light, either from smart lighting systems, or daylight exposure.
Building developers must plan for limiting sunlight exposure through windows, so glare and other visual distractions don’t overload the occupants. There needs to be suitable light throughout all seasons as well, so compensating for limited light in winter months must also be considered.
Designers of a healthy building can work with the WELL building standard, as well as LEED and BREEAM guidelines to ensure compliance with lighting and views.
7. Noise Level
Noise is another consideration that owners of a healthy building must prepare for and/or contend with. A healthy building must shut out loud external noise levels with tightly sealed, thick tempered glass coverings. Window coverings can block outside traffic noises, the sound of jet planes, and nearby construction sounds.
In a healthy building, spaces should minimize background noise, like indoor office equipment, or any adjacent mechanical equipment.
Moisture should be avoided for a healthy building. Managers must check for any extra moisture which can form into mold or mildew on HVAC equipment, plumbing, and ceilings. If found, they should work to identify and eliminate the source.
9. Safety and Security
Safety and security measures for a healthy building design must include provisional codes to meet standards for carbon monoxide monitoring and fire safety issues. A healthy building must offer acceptable lighting in common areas, like building entryways, stairwells, and parking garages.
IoT tools can help to accomplish these safety standards, along with proper audio/video monitors, security systems, and guard patrols.
Healthy Building Certifications
Healthy building standards are growing across the globe, and various certifications are developing alongside that growth. After an era of social distancing, these standards can help bring people together safely again.
The main certifications available for owners of healthy buildings include BREEAM (UK), LEED (USA) and DGNB (Germany).
Starting Your Journey to Healthy Buildings
Attune can help. Formerly known as Senseware, Attune connects all monitoring data to bring greater levels of awareness to the importance of indoor air quality among building owners and energy managers.
Our easy-to-use AI platform provides real-time assurance in critical areas such as indoor air quality, energy consumption, risk of water leaks, equipment status, and more. Visit us today to learn more about our Attune water and energy products and services.