Did you know, according to Zane Benefits, employees who eat well and exercise regularly are 27% less likely to call in sick than employees who don’t?
The physical and mental health of employees is directly tied to their productivity and efficiency in the office. Healthy employees are happier, have more energy, and will generally be more willing to work hard as a result.
However, making all the right life choices isn’t always enough to make us as healthy as we can be. Many people don’t realize it, but the condition of the buildings that we work in has a dramatic effect on our body chemistry and even our mental state.
Healthier buildings mean more productive employees. This means contractors, architects, and building owners need to understand how the materials and systems they are installing in buildings tie directly to the overall healthiness of the finished product.
What Makes a Building Healthy?
We’ve talked about trends in healthy building design before and know that many factors contribute to a healthy building:
- Indoor air quality and contaminant risk assessments
- Environmental responsibility and reduced chemical emissions
- Durable construction that increases the building's life-cycle
- Social and emotional balance for building occupants (green space, recreation, sunlight)
- Collaborative layouts and communal areas
It takes intentional planning and creativity to ensure that your building design incorporates these features. Let’s take a look at some effective strategies.
Ventilation Is Essential
One factor that can have a dramatic effect on the health of your building is the effectiveness of mechanical and ventilation systems. How air moves in, out, and around the space impacts the quality of air and controls climate factors like temperature and humidity.
Research indicates that poorly ventilated buildings have been linked to 'sick building syndrome' (SBS). SBS is phenomenon where building occupants experience higher levels of discomfort or illness, depending on the time they spend working within a building. Studies on SBS found that symptoms include coughing, chest pain, edema, palpitations, nosebleeds, cancers, pregnancy complications and even miscarriages.
Addressing the efficacy of your ventilation and thermal systems has a direct effect on reducing SBS symptoms and can also improve the cost-efficiency of your building systems. Strategies for improvement include:
- improving the quality and quantity of outside air
- maximizing natural ventilation with mixed-mode HVAC systems
- separate ventilation air from thermal conditioning
- improve pollution source control and filtration
Case studies from around the world have demonstrated that a well-ventilated building system reduces “respiratory illness up to 20% and increase[s] individual productivity up to 11%.”
Use Healthier, Sustainable Materials
Without even realizing it, the building materials in your existing office space continually release microscopic particles, gasses, and other chemicals that can have a negative impact on air quality.
Chances are, if the office occupies a building that was built over 20 years ago, the materials used are contributing to poor air quality and an unhealthy built environment. But even new building materials such as paint that contains VOCs (volatile organic compound) or plywood products made with formaldehyde, can be bad for your health.
Eco-friendly wall panels, insulation, carpet, flooring, and paint will go a long way to enhancing the interior air quality of your office. This resource for green building products is a great place to start when specifying materials that won’t produce harmful off-gassing that adds up to an unhealthy work environment.
The Bautex Block Wall System, for instance, contains a minimum of 28% recyclable materials, is mold-resistant, and contains 0% VOCs. With a 4-hour fire wall rating, using a construction method like Bautex offers a highly energy-efficient, healthy building solution that helps protect the building’s occupants for a long period of time.
Design for Access to the Natural Environment
Healthy building materials and mechanical systems are important components in a greater strategy to design for a better quality of life. But giving building occupants more access to the outside environment also improves overall health.
In fact, providing building occupants with access to the natural environment outside of the building “may increase individual productivity up to 18% and reduce absenteeism, SBS, and recovery time while saving even 40% of lighting energy.”
Designers looking to build healthier buildings could employ tactics like maximizing natural light in the building, making use of natural ventilation methods, and including passive solar heating and cooling in their plans.
Office building design should be about creating an efficient, desirable place to work, and the best way to do this is to bake that mindset into the design process. Develop a list of internal design standards that promote that mindset, then couple it with external standards such as LEED or Built Green to result in the healthiest finished product possible.
Hopefully you can walk away from this with an understanding of building health and the effect of building design on the occupants inside. These steps should help start your next project off right and help continue to cultivate a society where healthy buildings are the standard instead of the exception.