Trends in Designing Healthy Buildings

A healthy build­ing exem­pli­fies a clean, pro­duc­tive atmos­phere and has a pos­i­tive effect on its occu­pants as well as the envi­ron­ment. The chal­lenges in Design­ing Healthy Build­ings are com­plex, yet the human­iza­tion of archi­tec­ture should not be con­sid­ered an unde­sir­able increase in con­struc­tion costs, but a return on invest­ment from decreased ener­gy costs and increased occu­pant pro­duc­tiv­i­ty. Accord­ing to an abstract pub­lished by the Nation­al Cen­ter for Biotech­ni­cal Infor­ma­tion (NCBI), many fac­tors con­tribute to a healthy build­ing which can be dis­cussed from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, name­ly:

  • Indoor air qual­i­ty and con­t­a­m­i­nant risk assess­ments
  • Tech­ni­cal and social val­ue of mixed-used com­mu­ni­ties
  • Effi­cient use of ener­gy resources (both pas­sive and active)
  • Envi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­i­ty and chem­i­cal emis­sions
  • Durable con­struc­tion adding to the build­ing’s life-cycle
  • Social and emo­tion­al bal­ance (green space, recre­ation, sun­light)
  • Col­lab­o­ra­tive lay­outs and com­fort­able com­mu­nal areas

What Makes a Building Unhealthy?

The sick build­ing syn­drome’ (SBS) is a ver­i­fi­able and doc­u­ment­ed phe­nom­e­non in which build­ing occu­pants expe­ri­ence neg­a­tive health con­se­quence or high­er lev­els of dis­com­fort linked to the time spent with­in a build­ing. Most com­plaints cen­ter around indoor air qual­i­ty (pos­si­ble mold), but have also includ­ed poor­ly cal­i­brat­ed HVAC; insuf­fi­cient or over­ly bright light­ing; and expo­sure to volatile organ­ic com­pounds (VOCs) from the vapor­iza­tion of con­struc­tion mate­ri­als caus­ing eye, nose, throat, and skin irri­ta­tions.

Tox­ic build­ing mate­ri­als do con­tribute to a build­ing’s unhealthy sta­tus. Lead, PVC, mer­cury and some flame retar­dants are just a few. Lack of ade­quate ven­ti­la­tion can cause flu-like res­pi­ra­to­ry symp­toms due to a buildup of dust and high lev­els of gasses emit­ted from some par­ti­cle board prod­ucts. From an envi­ron­men­tal stand­point, an unhealthy build­ing can be one which thins nat­ur­al land­scapes and depletes nat­ur­al resources like the use of wood or nat­ur­al stone. Met­al min­ing, har­vest­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing, and dis­pos­al places an unhealthy demand on the envi­ron­ment also.

Construction Trends Supporting Healthy Buildings

Major trends in land devel­op­ment and new con­struc­tion are hav­ing a favor­able influ­ence on occu­pant com­fort and pro­duc­tiv­i­ty, incor­po­rate eco-friend­ly and ener­gy effi­cient con­struc­tion mate­ri­als, mon­i­tor and man­age ener­gy usage, and increase the build­ing’s life-cycle and return-on-invest­ment:

1. Active Design and Construction is a design trend in which the inte­ri­or spaces of urban build­ings sup­port phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and health. This includes pro­vid­ing green space or glass atri­ums, con­ve­nient­ly locat­ed stairs, secure bicy­cle stor­age, fit­ness areas with show­ers, and site loca­tions with above aver­age walk­a­bil­i­ty scores (with­in walk­ing dis­tance to pub­lic trans­porta­tion, restau­rants, enter­tain­ment, etc.). Active design strate­gies main­tain an under­ly­ing envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fit; that is encour­ag­ing a healthy lifestyle will decrease employ­ee’s depen­dence on pri­vate vehi­cles. The result is less ener­gy con­sump­tion and reduced green­house gas emis­sions.

2. Healthy Construction Materials use advanced man­u­fac­tur­ing process and engi­neered mate­ri­als to cre­ate build­ing solu­tions that enhance ther­mal man­age­ment, reduce depen­dence on nat­ur­al resources, are recy­clable and non-tox­ic, and increase com­fort lev­els while main­tain­ing the struc­tur­al integri­ty of tra­di­tion­al mate­ri­als and com­po­nents. The Bau­tex Block Wall Sys­tem com­bines cement with expand­ed poly­styrene foam to form an alter­nate con­crete mason­ry unit (CMU) for struc­tur­al exte­ri­or walls. The engi­neered blocks con­tain a min­i­mum of 28% recy­clable mate­ri­als, have a 4‑hour fire wall rat­ing and offer a high-ener­gy effi­cien­cy solu­tion. The prod­uct also con­tains 0% VOC, does not dete­ri­o­rate and resists mold and rot­ting.

3. 'Smart Building' Systems use auto­mat­ed process­es to mon­i­tor and con­trol ener­gy usage, by man­ag­ing peak demand usage when pub­lic util­i­ty fees are high­est. A high­ly reac­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tions plat­form com­bined with ener­gy sen­sors and acti­va­tors will con­tin­u­ous­ly col­lect data on a build­ing’s func­tions and usage. Every ener­gy sys­tem is con­nect­ed, mon­i­tored and auto­mat­i­cal­ly adjust­ed for opti­mum effi­cien­cy; secu­ri­ty, light­ing, ther­mal com­fort, ven­ti­la­tion, water meters and pumps, fire safe­ty, and ele­va­tors. The result­ing healthy ben­e­fits include ener­gy effi­cien­cy and sav­ings, pro­duc­tiv­i­ty gains, and improved facil­i­ty man­age­ment.

4. Reducing the Opportunities for Unhealthy Problems Archi­tects and build­ing own­ers are search­ing for new wall sys­tems that are designed for the needs of today’s health­i­er build­ings. Wall sys­tems that are sim­pler to design and build with few­er and not more com­po­nents. The more com­po­nents the more chances for prob­lems that can lead to health issues.

The Bau­tex wall sys­tem is an exam­ple of this type of inno­v­a­tive new wall sys­tem that is sim­pler, faster and bet­ter than tra­di­tion­al wall sys­tems. Click here to learn more about the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem.