Where Green Building intersects Health & Wellbeing: indoor environment

Indoor

A lot has a lot has been written recently about the value of health and wellness in the built environment.  While man-made infrastructure affects health and wellness in many ways, the indoor environment is especially important because we spend up to 90% of our time indoors and indoors is where our largest exposure to pollutants occurs.

Specific to green building, health & wellness is an emerging trend in building performance and certification. So while health & wellness may be new to some, it’s broad foundation has been integral to BREEAM since 1990. How these issues are addressed in BREEAM In-Use are demonstrated below.

And since why is as important as what, I have relied on an article conveniently supplied by the Harvard School of Public Health entitled “Nine foundations of a healthy building” to provide the answers.

Light

HEA 01, 02, 08, 09

This section aims to optimize daylighting and artificial illumination for the comfort and needs of the occupants. This includes having sufficient glazing in the envelope and making sure that glare is well-managed. For illumination, light levels and occupant control are emphasized.

Why this matters: “Daylight exposure and access to windows at work has been linked to improved sleep duration and mood, reduced sleepiness, lower blood pressure and increased physical activity, whereas lack of natural light has been associated with physiological, sleep, and depressive symptoms… Low levels of light indoors, coupled with less time spent outdoors, have been associated with increased risk for nearsightedness”.

Thermal comfort

HEA 03, 12, 13

Users should have zoned control of heating/cooling systems and reasonable operating temperatures should be maintained.

Why this matters: “Temperature and humidity may influence disease transmission… Thermal comfort has been suggested to be more important to office workers’ performance than job stress or job satisfaction.”

Air Quality

HEA 04, 11, 13, 15, 16-19, WAT 07, 12

Similarly, occupants should be able to control the rate of air that is fresh, with recirculation minimized. Following the axiom that you can’t manage what you don’t monitor - Monitoring of carbon dioxide, monoxide, and nitrous oxide, as well as water leaks that might produce mold growth, helps ensure air quality. Activities and policies for renovations, procurement, process, and maintenance should address the risk of exposure to harmful VOCs, chemical and/or dust.  Adequate air extraction helps keep pollutants from printers and specialized equipment at acceptable levels. Further, deep cleaning of soft furnishings and/or carpets helps reduce the risk to health associated with cleanliness.

Why this matters: “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that indoor pollutants pose higher human health risks than those outdoors…VOCs has been associated with everything from minor irritation of the eyes to certain forms of cancer…Exposure to indoor air pollutants have been repeatedly linked to asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.”

Water

HEA 05, 06

Drinking water must be accessible and in a hygienic location. Additionally, water at risk for Legionella such as cooling towers, domestic water systems, humidifiers, baths and pools, must have preventative control systems in place.

Why this matters: “We all know that water is an essential nutrient for life… Legionella bacteria in building water systems accounted for two-thirds of waterborne illness outbreaks in the U.S., 26% of reported illnesses, and all 14 reported deaths.”

Acoustics

HEA 20

Acoustic conditions should be in line with national standards or best practice guidelines and monitoring be carried out when changes might influence acoustic conditions.

Why this matters: “..noise exposures [is] negatively correlated with children’s learning outcomes and cognitive performance. In the workplace, environmental noise exposure can increase accidents and impair employee performance and productivity, especially during difficult and complex tasks.”

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Julia Craighill

Ensight Consulting, 6911 Maple Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD, 20815