When it comes to health, is it any surprise that we not only expect our bodies to be healthy but the very spaces we occupy, especially with the likes of COVID and other respiratory ailments around. With this in mind, we focus on the Foundations of a Healthy Building according to research conducted by a team of experts from the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Ventilation in buildings is required to bring fresh air in from outside and dilute occupant-generated pollutants (e.g., carbon dioxide) and product-generated pollutants (e.g., volatile organic compounds).
If mechanically ventilated, a building’s mechanical system is designed to bring in outdoor air, filter that air, and deliver it to occupants. Even with proper ventilation, the concentration of pollutants indoors can be higher than concentrations found outdoors.
Outdoor pollutants, like PM2.5, can penetrate indoors through several routes, one of which is through the mechanical system if the air stream is not properly filtered. Because people spend so much time indoors (90% or more for many people), most of a person’s exposure to outdoor air pollution may occur indoors. Ventilation systems also influence temperature, humidity, and air pressure.
- 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. When IAQ is poor, occupants can experience building-related illnesses such as asthma, fatigue, irritations, and headaches.
- Water Quality
There are several key ways water quality may be compromised. First, wear and tear on service pipes can exacerbate corrosion, dissolving metals due to chemical reactions between water and plumbing fixtures. Secondly, drinking water may be contaminated by improper treatment, poor maintenance of distribution systems. Thirdly, the duration of time that water is stored within a system before being used may affect its quality. Storage for long periods of time can damage plumbing materials and compromise the safety of drinking water.
- Thermal Health
The term thermal health encompasses all of the impacts of thermal conditions on health, including mortality, that go beyond just “comfort”. Traditionally, the focus in the built environment has been on thermal comfort, which is defined as “the condition of mind that expresses satisfaction with the thermal environment and is assessed by subjective evaluation”. Thermal comfort is influenced by objective factors like air temperature, mean radiant temperature, air speed, and humidity, as well as personal factors like metabolic activity level and thermal insulation from clothing.
- Lighting and Views
Light serves a dual purpose; to aid our visual task performance and also to signal the body to increase or decrease melatonin levels, influencing our feeling of alertness. Thus, even when indoor lighting conditions are appropriate for visual tasks, this does not ensure the body’s circadian system is being adequately stimulated.
Entrance of water into damaged, poorly designed, and improperly maintained buildings has been identified as the main source of building-related illness from mold exposure. Common sources of moisture in buildings can include leaks from plumbing, roofs, and windows; flooding; condensation on cold surfaces (e.g poorly insulated walls and windows, non-insulated cold water pipes, toilets); poorly maintained drain pans; or wet foundations from landscaping or gutters that direct water into and around a building.
- Safety and Security
When our sense of security is threatened, it can trigger a cascade of biological “fight or flight” responses that alter our physical and psychological functioning. Perceived threats to safety flood our bodies with stress-induced hormones like adrenaline and cortisol that elevate heart rate and increase blood pressure. While individuals vary in their response, psychological stress can negatively affect immune function with the onset of immune changes occurring in as little as five minutes. Chronically elevated stress hormones suppress immunity which can exacerbate autoimmune diseases and other inflammatory conditions, while elevated blood pressure levels can eventually lead to damaged arteries and plaque formation, putting stressed individuals at greater risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Over time, these responses place wear and tear on the body that increases disease susceptibility.
A smart IoT solution can effectively transform a normal unhealthy building into a smart healthy building, by enabling businesses to manage and monitor all of the above factors.