When you think of a healthy environment, you probably think of nature and the great outdoors, but a key concept in the environmental movement is that the indoor built environment also impacts the health and well-being of people who spend their days in offices, schools, hospitals and industrial and manufacturing facilities. Here are nine important factors for commercial property owners and facilities managers to take into consideration for creating and maintaining healthy buildings.
1. Building Design and Construction
Commercial developers, architects, designers, and builders can ensure a healthy building environment from the start by choosing non-toxic materials for new construction and removing health hazards, such as asbestos when upgrading older facilities. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system provides widely accepted guidelines for developing healthy “green” buildings. For new and existing buildings, professional facilities management services offer testing, evaluation, and benchmarking of factors that affect the health of indoor environments.
2. Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency may not seem to affect building health, but modern building systems and operational solutions can both significantly reduce energy consumption and improve indoor environmental quality. Commissioning for new construction or retro-commissioning for existing facilities can optimize a building’s energy use and operation through system calibration and optimization, as well as lowering costs. Energy efficiency can also help control indoor temperature, e.g., during power outages, and impact safety concerns such as smoke and carbon monoxide detection. Power quality systems can avoid irregularities in frequency and voltage. An energy audit can detect ways to save energy by re-tuning and upgrading heating, cooling, and lighting systems.
3. Air Quality and Ventilation
Clean air is healthy air. According to the EPA, maintaining a building’s good indoor air quality requires an efficient heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system with efficient controls that brings in an adequate amount of outdoor air, ducts that can move the air around the building, and filter the air to remove contaminants. Interior furnishings should be made of materials with low or no chemical emissions.
4. Temperature and Humidity
HVAC system controls should maintain a consistent, comfortable ambient temperature: OSHA recommends a range of 68-76° F. Ideally, temperature controls should be available for occupants of a space to maintain desired warmth and cooling. Many employers believe that
chilly temperatures improve productivity, but in addition to causing discomfort and complaints, a cold environment can also increase the risk of respiratory disease. It’s important to maintain stable humidity levels of between 30-60 percent for comfort as well as to control odors.
5. Natural and Artificial Light
A healthy building will have windows or skylights that admit natural daylight and allow outside views while reducing uncomfortable glare. Lighting fixtures and controls that mimic natural daylight with dimming and color tuning are the most comfortable for occupants, as well as the ability. Many people report that blue-enriched LED lighting improves alertness, mood, and comfort. Today, ultraviolet lighting that can disinfect surfaces, air, and water is a growing trend, boosted by the pandemic.
6. Water Quality and Building Hygiene
A building’s plumbing infrastructure is hidden, and people usually take it for granted that the water in their buildings is clean and safe. But water quality, like indoor air quality, is a crucial factor in ensuring building health. Facilities managers should regularly test the water in sinks and drinking fountains to verify that it is not stagnating in pipes and confirm that it meets the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR). A water purification system will prevent contamination; for example, a reverse osmosis system will remove up to 97 percent of lead, if any is present in the water supply. Taking measures for water safety will reassure building occupants, who have a heightened awareness of sanitation and public health concerns following the pandemic.
7. Safety and Security
The duty to provide reliable security is a critical component of building health and safety. Occupants need to know that their daily environment meets fire safety and carbon monoxide monitoring standards. Adequate lighting throughout interiors and parking areas helps to prevent injuries and is a deterrent to crime. Building owners can be held responsible for violations committed on their premises and need the legal protection of a security system that will hold up in court. Security and surveillance solutions include electronic monitoring equipment such as video camera networks at all points of access, 24/7 onsite or remote support for emergencies, and scheduled equipment maintenance that will minimize risks to a building and its occupants.
8. Sanitation Maintenance
Regular janitorial cleaning used to be considered necessary mostly to make indoor spaces look neat and attractive, but the pandemic has changed the focus to the need to clean for health. In addition to daily control of dust, contamination, and pests, it’s important to retain professional sanitation services that support infection prevention and modern cleaning methods that meet the highest standards to maintain healthy indoor environments.
9. Continual Monitoring of all Systems
Facilities managers need to conduct regular, proactive tuning and auditing to keep building systems functioning at their highest level and extend the lifecycle of a healthy building.
Strategic maintenance services go beyond basic repairs for problems or malfunctions to include updates to evolving software systems and, when needed, systems redesign to keep a healthy building up to environmental standards that may become more stringent over time.
Owners need to consider these nine factors to protect their investments by making optimal building health a certainty.