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.