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.