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SWA’s Top 10 Tips for a Healthier Indoor Environment – Part 2

Lauren Hildebrand

The evidence in support of more healthful buildings is overwhelming. Children living in green housing have significantly lower incidents of asthma. In the workplace, we see greater employee productivity, with staff that are more engaged, creative and innovative, and less likely to leave for a competitor. And, the same concepts can be applied to tenants in apartment buildings and condos as well.

In Part I of this article, published in the January 2019 issue of Green Energy Times (http://bit.ly/IndoorEnvironment_GET_Jan2019), we outlined our top five (of 10) tips for more healthful buildings, which discussed strategies for better indoor air quality as well as mitigation of harmful household chemicals. We now conclude with our remaining top tips for a healthier indoor environment:

  1. Pests, Leave My Kids Alone!

More than 20 million people suffer from chronic asthma, including eight million children. There is a correlation between the prevalence of asthma among children and adults and the presence of pests, allergens, and pesticides. To help manage and avoid pests, use our PEST strategy: Prevent by design; Evaluate existing conditions and create an integrated pest management (IPM) plan; Service existing issues and implement preventative measures; and, Train building management, maintenance, and occupants on best practices.

  1. Reduce Noise, Reduce Stress

Studies have shown a correlation to depression, stress, and heart disease when occupants are exposed to high levels of sound, such as road traffic and construction. According to Harvard’s 9 Foundations of Health, each year roughly 30 million Americans are occupationally exposed to hazardous noise levels, and another 26 million Americans ages 20 to 69 have hearing loss that may have been induced by noise exposure in the workplace or leisure activities. To control for sound, we recommend specifying sealing and sound attenuation to separate dwelling units, choosing fans based on sone ratings, installing remote-mount fans, studying ‘free area’ for grilles and louvres to avoid whistling, and testing for background sound.

  1. Brighter Work Days, Dimmer Nights

Lighting affects our alertness, productivity, decision making abilities, and circadian rhythm. Artificial (electrical) light throws off our natural rhythms and can lead to sleep disorders, increased risk for accidents, metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer. Visually induced health impacts include visual strain, eye irritation, and blurred vision. Access to natural light is always the best option, but for spaces where that is not possible, a lighting strategy that follows natural circadian rhythms through balanced lighting levels, intensities, and colors should be employed.

  1. Bring the Outdoors In

In a 2018 report published by the World Green Building Council, studies found that people are seven times more engaged if they have a friend at work and that 80% of people feel relaxed after spending time in a garden. Tip #8 touches upon the benefits of natural light, and we can also incorporate elements such as benches and rooftop gardens that provide a communal space to gather and promote more time outdoors. Perceived connection to the outdoors from within buildings through daylighting, views and natural design elements (biophilia) have been linked to improved sleep duration and mood, reduced sleepiness, reduced stress, lower blood pressure, and increased physical activity. We can also help foster this connection with nature – and with each other – by installing murals, pictures, living walls, and other patterns that we observe from our exterior surroundings.

  1. Get Accessible and Get Active

Many of the issues targeted by public health initiatives (i.e., asthma, diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, etc.) qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Healthy People 2020 cites the design of the built environment as being critical to “achieve growth, development, fulfillment, and community contribution” for the disability community. We recommend incorporating Universal Design elements that align with strategies for aging in place, social networks, active living, age-friendly workplaces, and person-centered healthcare. Additionally, physical inactivity rivals smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the world. A 25% increase in physical activity could avert 1.3 million untimely deaths worldwide annually. Using NYC’s Active Design Guidelines can help encourage people to move more within their buildings.

The healthy building movement is increasingly being embraced by real estate professionals and the marketplace. Let’s not only get healthy through smarter design choices – let’s invest in it!

Lauren Hildebrand is the Sustainability Director at Steven Winter Associates, Inc.

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