Tag Archives: health

Health & Well Being of Buildings

Mona Holtkoetter

The building services profession has long moved from pipe, ductwork and equipment sizing to a much broader and more complex role. Topics like sustainability, energy savings, renewable energy and BIM (building information modelling), just to name a few, have become a huge part of building services design, sales, manufacturing and construction. Renewable energy, for example, has been brought back to the top of our priority list through the recent release of Building Regulations Part L 2017 (NZEB), and sustainability rating systems such as BREEAM, LEED and the Home Performance Index are part and parcel of our daily jobs.

A new topic has recently entered the Irish market – building design and operation that focuses on the benefit of health and well-being of people. This “second wave of sustainability” is focused on providing the optimal working environments where people can thrive and fulfil their highest potential.

Why is this important?                                                                                                        There are multiple ways we, as building services professionals, can positively impact the health and well-being of people in buildings through our design and construction practices. Here are a few aspects to consider.

A ventilation system, designed and built for optimal indoor air quality, has the potential to reduce the negative effects attributed to asthma, headaches, hay fever and the flu. Recent studies have also shown that improved indoor air quality has the potential to enhance individual cognition by up to 61%.1 Attention to detail when selecting materials such as paints, ductwork sealants, glues, ceiling tiles, carpets and furniture can reduce the toxic off gassing within the first year of installation and with that, potentially reduce the risk of cancer.

Another aspect is the design of water systems. Legionella has been the key word in the design and construction of water systems within the last 20 years. While this is still an important topic that cannot be neglected, the design of water systems should also take other harmful contaminants into account. Project-based water quality testing and the design of a consequent filtration system that removes  all contaminants and optimises the testing of drinking water, should become part of our scope in the future. Providing employees with access to high-quality and good-tasting drinking water has shown to positively influence hydration and therefore concentration levels.

The lighting environment we design for the people inside our buildings, who spend 90% of their time indoors, can impact their visual, circadian and mental health. Presently, most spaces are fitted with lighting systems that meet the visual needs of individuals, but do not consider the effects of lighting on our internal body clock or mental health. Research and design provides huge opportunities in this area.

A building’s indoor thermal environment not only affects its energy use, but also influences the health, well-being and productivity of the people inside. Thermal comfort is ranked as one of the highest contributing factors that influence our satisfaction with our buildings. While designs typically meet thermal comfort standards on paper, there is limited on-site verification to ensure that the space actually performs as intended.

As landlords and tenants alike increasingly demand healthy workspaces, we would do well to shift the focus towards on-site performance testing when it comes to these design and construction practices. Certification programmes such as the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) already require testing for air and water quality, thermal and acoustic comfort, as well as lighting levels, propelling the industry to integrate this practice into the commissioning process and the day-to-day working lives of building services professionals.

Companies have already started to investigate the financial value of health and well-being interventions. A recent study by the World Green Building Council outlines The Business Case for Health and Well-being in Green Building. The published study features Cundall’s London office at One Carter Lane, which has claimed £200,000 annual savings based on reduced absenteeism and staff turnover.2 This office is the first space to be WELL Certifiedin Europe and has seen huge benefits by focusing on human-centred design, construction and operations.

Arup’s office in Cork, the first WELL Certifiedspace in Ireland, has also generated significant interest in healthy office environments. IPUT’s headquarters at St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin is on track to become the first WELL Certified™ office in the capital.

With these and other exciting developments, building services professionals are now faced with their most important role … supporting the health of the people who use their buildings every day.

References

[1] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2016.

[2] Doing Right by Planet and People: The Business Case for Health and Well-being in Green Building. World Green Business Council, April 2018. www.worldgbc.org/news-media/doingright- planet-and-people-business-case-healthand- wellbeing-green-building.

New focus on health and ‘WELL Being’ in building design

Mona Holtkoetter, Arup

Most people can correlate to scenarios where buildings or surroundings have a negative impact on our health. Why are you feeling more stressed after sitting in a meeting room with bad  acoustics for several hours? Have you experienced the post-lunch coma and tried to fight against it with a large amount of coffee in the afternoon? Have you left the full-day conference in a room without access to daylight and then been blinded by the sun when leaving the building? Have you experienced back pain from sitting at your desk all day?

Then there are the not so obvious effects of the indoor environment to your health? What is the indoor air quality that we breath for 90% of the day? What is the drinking water quality from the kitchen tap? A large amount of research has been published to analyse these questions. This research has been transformed into a new building certification system, the WELL Building Standard, bringing the key items together.

So, what does the WELL Building Standard include and how can we, as professionals in the built environment, play a key role in enhancing the health and wellbeing of occupants? How can we contribute to tackle main lifestyle-related  health epidemics, such as stress, obesity and muscular-skeletal complaints?

The WELL Standard separates the opportunities to promote health and well being in buildings into the following categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Air                                                                                                                                                                                  We breath more than 15,000 litres of air each day but outdoor air quality is deteriorating globally due to pollution from traffic, construction, agricultural activity, combustion and particulate matter. When considering the outdoor air quality, filtration of outdoor air by air handling units becomes a critical component for the HVAC design of a building services engineer. But which of the components mentioned above is captured by the F7 filter that we usually specify? Is this sufficient or do we need to re-think?

Further important aspects of indoor air  quality are ventilation levels, selection of combustion equipment, management of pesticides, cleaning practices to remove microbial pathogens and exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which can evoke asthma, allergies and can impact on productivity.

Water                                                                                                                                                                            While the objective when considering water at design stage focuses on accessibility to drinking water to promote hydration, the main emphasis should be the water quality. As building services engineers we are responsible for planning the water installation, but testing the water quality is typically not within our scope. We are purely relying on the water supplied by the city council to be the correct quality. While the Irish drinking water is tested for compliance with the EPA standards, not all contaminants dangerous for the human body are covered by these tests.

Also, any impacts on drinking water quality through pipework distribution is typically ignored. WELL requires a broad assessment of the water delivered at the site and requires the installation of adequate filtration if needed.

Nourishment                                                                                                                                                                To avoid the post-lunch food coma and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, access to healthy and balanced food within a building or its surroundings is key. A healthy food offer goes hand in hand with healthy food advertising and information about ingredients, and can be advanced through the provision of gardening space. Imagine you are working late and instead of going down to the vending machine to buy a chocolate bar, you are going onto the balcony to pick an apple from the tree?

Light                                                                                                                                                                              The lighting codes we currently design to provide recommendations on illuminance levels to ensure sufficient light is provided for the task, to avoid eyestrains, to maintain productivity and to reduce headache. But light also influences our internal body clock that synchronises physiological function. Lighting exposure plays a key role for our sleep patterns and sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on our health and wellbeing. Do we need to go beyond code compliance to ensure our lighting design is providing a healthy environment?

Fitness                                                                                                                                                                Inactivity is now one of the biggest threats to public health, directly attributable to 9.4% of all deaths worldwide. While we as building services engineers have limited influence to the design for fitness, there are great opportunities to promote fitness within the built environment. This can go from the promotion of staircases, to the provision of bicycle parking, shower and changing facilities, gym or other internal or external fitness opportunities. Or, better still, how about combining fitness and work? Great innovations, such as sit-standing desks, treadmill desks or bicycle desks are already available on the market.

Comfort                                                                                                                                                                        Open-plan is the office layout of choice for most companies in Ireland. While it is great for collaboration with colleagues, the provision of quite areas to concentrate or make a phone call is important. As building services engineers, the selection of HVAC equipment has a great influence on the acoustics. Next to acoustic comfort, thermal comfort is important. While I typically sit at my desk with my jumper on, drinking a tea, my colleague next to me sits in a t-shirt and asks if we could open the windows as he feels too warm.

We are a key example for different temperature preferences. Why not be innovative with our HVAC design and provide different temperature gradients within a building?

Mind                                                                                                                                                                              Our minds and bodies are inextricably connected and play a vital role in our health and wellbeing. Buildings can provide spaces, such as balconies or green areas to reduce stress levels and promote relaxation. Workplace policies can have a positive impact on mood, sleep and stress levels, and can positively benefit our overall health and wellbeing. The reaction to indoor plants provided in the first WELL-certified office building in the UK was employees fighting about the plant positioning – they all wanted the plants to be located close to their desks. Maybe planting is not the best strategy for stress reduction after all!