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Healthy Buildings: why new technologies are the great enablers of change

Building Automation
26 August 2021
Buildings city in mist
From improved heating and lighting to building management systems, Priva’s latest white paper underlines why new technologies are vital to delivering healthier workplace.

For any organization looking to make improvements, the process of review should begin by looking at the essentials of a healthy building. In recent years these have been helpfully consolidated into the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building by Dr Joseph Allen’s team at Harvard University: Air Quality, Dust & Pests, Lighting & Views, Moisture, Noise, Safety & Security, Thermal Health, Ventilation and Water Quality.

Taking action in all these areas might seem daunting. Fortunately, as the white paper shows, new technologies mean that it is now easier than ever to achieve – and maintain – a working environment that is supportive of the wellbeing of employees and visitors.

In the wake of a devastating respiratory virus, it’s to be expected that there will be a trend towards upgrading air-conditioning and filtration systems. More than ever, people will expect a robust and reliable supply of fresh air. But there are numerous other examples of wellness-related technologies that can make a real difference: from tuneable LED systems that aid concentration to programmable heating systems that ensure pleasant temperatures all year round.

Achieving healthier and more productive working spaces does not need to be as demanding as we sometimes imagine. With a clear plan of action, virtually any building can be made significantly healthier.

Jerry Vermaas

Office with desk and chair

‘The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building’

Although it will always be preferable to design a new healthy building from the ‘ground up’, these principles can be readily applied as retrofits to existing buildings. In light of current events – where the need to maintain fresh air supplies and cleaner working environments has become even more critical – we would encourage everyone to become familiar with the 9 Foundations, which are explored in detail in Dr Allen’s acclaimed new book, Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity (2).

1) Air quality

This ‘foundation’ calls for low-emission building materials and a maintenance of humidity levels from 30-60 percent.

2) Dust and pest

Use high-efficiency filter vacuums and clean surfaces regularly.

3) Lighting and views

Provide as much daylight and/or high intensity blue-enriched lighting as possible.

4) Moisture

Avoid moisture or mold build-up by regular inspections of roofing, plumbing, ceilings and HVAC equipment.

5) Noise

Protect against outdoor noises and control indoor noise such as mechanical equipment.

6) Safety and security

Ensure safety and carbon monoxide standards are satisfied, and put an emergency action plan in place.

7) Thermal health

Meet minimum thermal comfort standards for temperature and humidity.

8) Ventilation

On many people’s minds due to current events, this calls for users to meet or exceed local guidelines for outdoor air quality.

9) Water quality

Ensure relevant national standards are met, which may require the installation of a purification system.

The report backs up these principles with extensive background on the connection between working environment and performance. For instance, multiple studies, including one by Harvard, “have shown that substandard ventilation rates negatively impact cognitive function”.

9 Foundations Of A Healthy Building

Alert on absenteeism

Long before the pandemic struck, the number of working days being lost to physical and mental illness had been a source of concern for some time. Rates of absence had been high in many countries, including the Netherlands, where sick leave has affected as many as 47% of employees and cost employers 11.5 billion euros per year (source: Dutch Green Building Council).

Statistics like these have given the workplace wellness debate much of its recent momentum. From air quality preferences to lighting levels that aid concentration, there has been a lot of study about the elements that make up a healthy workspace. Increasingly, too, there has been a recognition that new technologies – from LED lighting to building management systems – are crucial to achieving these improvements.

It’s a safe bet that, in the post-pandemic world, the focus on these issues will be even stronger. Hybrid working will mean workplaces have to maintain safety levels while also becoming more flexible. Employers keen to have staff back in the office will need to show they have taken steps to enhance internal climate and comfort. Then, in the longer-term, it is the employers who continue to take this subject seriously who will be advantaged in securing top talent.

Office with desks and chairs

The case for a BMS

While the benefits of these newer core building technologies are in no doubt, they can bring challenges in terms of complexity. In particular, they herald the prospect of more expansive control functions and higher levels of system data – very useful in theory, but also potentially overwhelming if not integrated into a broader control set-up.

It’s in this context that the value of having a core Building Management System (BMS) has become increasingly apparent. Providing an overarching control function, a good BMS allows for the coordination and optimization of individual systems for air, heating, lighting and so on. Not only does this help to reduce the time spent interacting with separate control systems, it also provides a quicker path to identifying potential problems.

A BMS can also help a company determine a course towards continued reductions in energy expenditure and carbon emissions. That’s because of its ability to aggregate data from separate core systems and allow Facilities Managers to easily identify the headline figures. On a day-to-day level this helps with optimizing systems in relation to occupancy patterns and employee preferences. But in a longer-term sense it can be instrumental in enabling a company to achieve its environmental goals.

Recent calls from multiple research groups for more official validation of air quality underline the expectation that, in time, a BMS will enable companies to show that they are providing a healthy workspace. This kind of data is also likely to feed into job applicants thinking and help determine which companies attract the best talent.

With the latest generation of BMS being easier to install in both new-builds and refurbishments, our white paper makes a strong case for these systems being a massive asset in delivering the healthier workplaces that we are all coming to expect.

Sources:
(1) ‘The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Buildings’, available in full here: https://forhealth.org/9_Foundations_of_a_Healthy_Building.February_2017.pdf

(2) Published by Harvard University Press, April 2020: www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674237971

White paper: Healthy Buildings

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Cesar Salaverria

Sales Account Manager Horticulture

Cesar Salaverria