What is a healthy building?
Consider healthy buildings as the next generation in the green building movement. A movement that has been picking up steam well before the pandemic. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a healthy building not only includes environmentally responsible and resource-efficient building concepts, but it also integrates human health elements like the reduction of air and sound pollution and access to healthy, sustainable light.
Components of a healthy building
In 2016, the Harvard School of Public Health created the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building as a standardized and holistic view of how buildings affect the people inside of them. Click the link above to learn more about each foundational element.
Here’s a summary of each:
Ventilation: Ventilation in buildings is required to bring fresh air in from outside and dilute occupant-generated pollutants. This is especially important during the pandemic. The more fresh air, the healthier the space. The report suggests to filter outdoor and recirculated air with a minimum removal efficiency of 75% for all particle size fractions including nano.
Air Quality: Indoor air quality (IAQ) depends on the presence and abundance of pollutants in the indoor environment that may cause harm. It includes chemical and biological pollutants in gas, liquid or solid states that we are exposed to indoors. The report suggests to maintain humidity levels between 30-60% to mitigate odor issues. From the recommendations we are seeing, the range of humidity should actually be higher than 30% because the humidity will help bring down virus droplets, lowering the amount of time they are in the air.
Thermal Health: Refers to thermal comfort standards for temperature and humidity. Recommended guidance is to keep conditions consistent throughout the day. During the pandemic, you will find that you will probably need to “flush” your building with fresh air before and after school, which will create inconsistent temp levels and humidity.
Water Quality: According to the study, 61% of total drinking water intake comes from the tap, however, many of the country’s water pipes and mains are reaching the end of their useful life, which increase concern for contamination. Healthy buildings have a water supply that meets the U.S. National Drinking Water Standards and is tested regularly.
Moisture: It’s recommended to conduct regular inspections of roofing, plumbing, ceilings and HVAC equipment to identify sources of moisture and potential condensation spots. When moisture or mold is found, the moisture source must be immediately addressed and dried or replace the contaminated materials. Identify and remediate underlying source of the moisture issue.
Dust and Pests: Many contaminants reside in dust and lead to exposure in three different ways: inhalation of re-suspended dust, direct dermal absorption, or ingestion from hand-to-mouth behaviors. Use high efficiency filter vacuums and clean surfaces regularly to limit dust and dirt accumulation, which are reservoirs for chemicals, allergens, and metals.
Noise: This one might not be easy to control in a school! However, the study recommends minimizing background noise to 35 db for learning areas.
Safety & Security: According to the Harvard study, the safety and security category includes sufficient lighting, video monitoring, incident reporting protocols, fire safety preparations, and maintaining an emergency action plan. These can ease safety concerns and reduce stress of occupants within a building.
Lighting & Views: All work and habitation spaces should have direct lines of sight to exterior windows. There should be sufficient lighting for work and living and as much natural daylight as possible without causing glare.
The Future of Healthy Buildings
One of the experts in this area, John Macomber, was recently quoted saying he expects the public focus on health measures to drive significant change around healthy buildings and anxieties around COVID-19 should only accelerate the trend. Let’s hope this acceleration extends to school buildings, as well.
The ForHealth organization recently published guidance for schools on reopening. Using the guiding principles on healthy buildings, they recommend common sense strategies for classrooms, buildings, policies, schedules and activities. To learn more, visit their website at https://schools.forhealth.org/risk-reduction-strategies-for-reopening-schools/