For years, our culture has embraced “going green” when building new commercial construction. Reducing water and energy use, using sustainable materials, and minimizing environmental impact during construction are widely accepted practices in the commercial construction industry. The latest “go green” trends, however, offer an even more expanded and impactful approach to building—with the health of the people who will work in the building in mind.
What goes into a building can negatively or positively affect the health of those who occupy it. We all need good health in order to work and live. How many of us have considered how the building in which we work impacts our health?
From a commercial building’s inception—prioritize the health of its future occupants
Mold, dampness, and other unhealthy conditions in older buildings can often be fixed, but considerable resources can be saved if buildings are built with people’s health in mind in new commercial construction—from the start.
Our society spends 90% of their time indoors, so indoor air pollution can have a negative effect on health, mainly on those exposed for prolonged periods of time. Indoor air pollution especially impacts young, elderly, and chronically ill individuals (particularly those with respiratory problems or cardiovascular disease). Even in the largest metropolitan cities, indoor air is often 2-5 times more toxic than outdoor air due to limited ventilation and off-gassing of chemicals of everything from carpet to furniture.
Is it possible to build in a way that is more physically healthy for people?
Healthy Buildings, a program at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has a vital mission: “Our goal is to improve the lives of all people in all buildings, everywhere, every day.” They have outlined several foundations of a healthy building. Here are some vital aspects they urge others to keep in mind when building with the health of people in mind:
- Air quality—Rather than build with minimum acceptable standards, build for optimal rates of ventilation. Choose building materials with low chemical emissions, and keep humidity levels between 30% and 60%. Surprisingly, maximizing ventilation capacity can improve the cognitive function of people who live or work in the building, making them more productive in their work.
- Thermal health—Keep thermal conditions consistent, and meet thermal comfort standards for temperature and humidity.
- Moisture—Once a building is completed, schedule regular roof inspections, and check HVAC equipment to discover if there are any moisture issues that need to be addressed. Address mold issues promptly, and resolve the root cause of any moisture problems that arise.
- Dust and pests—Implement a preventative pest management plan and use high-efficiency filter vacuums.
- Safety and security—Provide standard fire safety throughout the commercial building, and do carbon monoxide monitoring. Use video monitoring, and illuminate parking lots, stairs, and building entries adequately to ensure people’s safety. Establish an emergency plan and communication system for employees in case of emergency.
- Water quality—Test water regularly, and meet the National Drinking Water Standards. Use a purification system if needed.
- Noise—Protect against outdoor noise such as construction, traffic, and airplanes.
- Lighting and views— Nature benefits mental health and can even inspire creativity, so design direct lines of sight to exterior windows for all workers. Bring the outdoors inside by incorporating plants into your commercial building design. Incorporate as much natural light or high-intensity, blue-enriched lighting as possible. Build task lighting, dimmers, and timers into commercial buildings to save energy and make people more productive throughout the work day.
Choose a lighting design that parallels natural circadian rhythm. Skylights and blue-enriched light during the day mimic daylight and can result in better sleep quality at night.
- Ventilation—Provide optimal ventilation in the commercial building to control indoor sources of odors, chemicals, and carbon dioxide. Avoid designing outdoor air intakes at the street level.
- No smoking—Establish a smoke-free indoor policy.
- Active design—Implement design elements to encourage activity: stairs and recreation or common areas. Design stairs in a bright, inviting part of the building to encourage people to get more steps in each day. Help reduce obesity and the diseases related to it with design elements that encourage mobility.
The benefits of building with the health of people in mind are worth the investment
Choosing commercial construction practices with people in mind produces long-term results. Employees with healthy indoor office environments perform at their very best. Also, healthy employees are more engaged in their work, more creative, more collaborate, and stay at the same job longer.
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
LEED is a green building certification system that verifies—by a third party—that a building is designed and built with strategies to ensure:
- Energy savings
- Water efficiency
- Carbon dioxide emission reduction
- Improved indoor environmental quality
- Good stewardship of resources and awareness of their impacts
Ways going green benefits employees
When employees are given the opportunity to work in LEED certified green buildings, great things result:
- Absenteeism decreases
- Productivity increases
- Workplace satisfaction increases
- There is an overall better well-being of employees
- In schools, test scores increase
- Stress reduction occurs in employees
- Sick days due to asthma and respiratory problems decrease
If we can simply embrace the responsibility to not only build sound structures that are functional and aesthetically pleasing, but also healthy for all the occupants throughout the years, we will create a better tomorrow for others.
Commercial Construction, Design, and Remodeling
Construction by Daniels, a Tulsa professional general contractor specializing in commercial construction services including new building construction, additions, and remodeling projects, is ready to serve you and your company. With passionate commitment to quality, detail, and service, our team brings building projects from concept to completion within budget and on time consistently.