Architects, city planners, and engineers have been tossing around the idea of green or sustainable buildings to counter the rise in energy costs since the 1970s. Although the initial focus of green buildings was on the construction process and how to keep it energy-efficient and environment-friendly, with a change in lifestyles and amenities over the years, the indoor environment has also become a concern especially with regard to the occupants’ health. The emphasis has switched from green to healthy buildings as a result.
In order to improve the indoor environments where people spend the majority of their waking hours, ideas and insights are being drawn from various domains such as engineering, construction, medical, and psychology. Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health point us towards some key focus areas:
Ventilation- Bringing fresh air from the outside into the building, typically through HVAC systems.
Air quality- The presence and abundance of harmful agents, including particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOC), and carbon dioxide (CO2).
Thermal health- The combination of thermal conditions that affect the occupants’ sense of comfort, mainly temperature and relative humidity.
Dust and pests- Dust easily finds its way indoors through shoes of every walk-in, and pests such as dust mites can carry unwanted allergens.
Impact of IEQ on businesses
Unhealthy indoor environment can wreak havoc on our day-to-day activities by affecting our cognitive functions. Several researches conclude that good Indoor Environment Quality (IEQ) and healthy buildings are:
a. important for a positive impact on health, quality of life, cognitive functions and productivity
b. good for businesses as they attract and employ better and more productive talent
c. beneficial for reducing medical costs borne by companies as lesser workplace-related health issues are seen
d. known to have a higher employee retention rate as employees are content and well taken care of.
Impact of IEQ on homes
We know now that health, quality of life and focus are improved with good Indoor Environment Quality which is good for businesses as well as residential spaces. Improving productivity and cognitive functions is also important in homes. Be it the children studying for exams, or the homemakers in the kitchen working with high heat and sharp knives, absolute focus is required.
Another study also mentions that a healthy indoor environment also helps residents sleep better. Not to mention, that most of our critical life-changing decisions are made at home, so why not maintain a healthy environment that helps us go about our lives smoothly.
Recently, there has been an increase in demand for certified healthy buildings, as evidenced by global capital flows and rental rates. Rental premiums of 4.4 to 7.0 percent over comparable standard buildings were specifically received by certified healthy structures.
Humans spend up to 90% of their time in indoor environments. In the era of digital technology and 'work from home' culture, we are increasingly becoming an ‘indoor species’. Therefore, we must understand and emphasize the impact of indoor environment on our health and productivity.
What should be the goal for the future?
All old and new buildings must have structural and engineering upgrades to increase fresh air circulation via high-performance ventilation systems. Appropriate policy action can ensure that the benefits of a healthy building are enjoyed by all. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic and potential air-borne diseases, we must opt for sustainable buildings with good indoor air and environment quality for a healthier future.