Healthier Building Design Means More Productive Employees

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.

Healthier Futures

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.