Healthy Buildings: What You Need to Know in 2020

How can buildings be made healthier for building occupants? Buildings have a huge impact on people’s health, productivity, and wellbeing in the long and short-term.

Fortunately, proper commissioning and sustainable design can help keep buildings healthy, lower costs, and improve building ROI. And today, we look at the most important strategies for creating healthy buildings.

Ready to learn all about it? Read on.

The importance of healthy buildings

Buildings affect our health more than we might think. After all, people spend 85%-95% of their time indoors. Poor ventilation and indoor air quality, noise, the wrong materials, poor design, humidity levels, and more can cause health problems like headaches, nausea, fatigue, and make it easier for germs to spread. Long-term problems include asthma and other respiratory diseases, a higher likelihood for people to develop other serious health issues, and fire hazards.

We have seen several different virus outbreaks in recent years, including COVID-19, SARS, and Swine Flu, which have a massive impact on both people’s health and businesses’ bottom line. By optimizing building ventilation systems and designing buildings in the right way (for example, including enough sinks for people to wash their hands), the impact of these viruses can be minimized.

Buildings also affect people’s productivity levels and cognitive functioning. As a result, healthy buildings have an impact on occupant satisfaction levels. Ultimately, all types of buildings are affected by how healthy they are: Health care facilities, schools, office buildings, boutiques, hotels, and so forth.

In addition, there are costs related to dismissing the importance of healthy buildings. First, upgrading your systems later on might result in higher costs. And if your building can be linked to health issues, you might even need to account for litigations as a cost.

Healthy buildings, again, have multiple benefits, such as lower health care costs for occupants and employees, faster recovery times for patients, improved staff retention, and higher productivity levels. Acoustics, daylight, air quality and filtration, thermal control, proper HVAC systems, materials, humidity levels, and amenities all play a key role for healthier buildings. For example, studies show that high-performance ventilation strategies reduce respiratory illnesses by 9-20%. Productivity increases by 0.48-11%.

Health care facilities

We work with many of the biggest hospitals in the GCC area. Some of the benefits of healthy buildings include improved staff retention of doctors and nurses, decreased patient recovery times, reduced energy and water usage, improved new-born baby sleep schedules and advancement, and reduced operating costs. As an example, one hospital pressurization building limits can reduce the air conditioning system electricity bill by 20%.

Office buildings

Salaries tend to account for as much as 90% of an organization’s operating costs. Staff productivity, turnover, retention, and engagement are essential for a business’s bottom line. At the same time, workplaces affect the health and wellbeing of its occupants (like employees). That’s why creating healthy office buildings makes perfect sense.

Residential buildings

These days, building healthier residential buildings is a must, rather than a nice-to-have. Some figures show that healthy buildings can attract a rental premium of up to 20%. That’s why optimizing existing or currently constructed buildings is essential.

Schools and other educational facilities

Studies show that health, attendance, and academic performance improve when schools are maintained. It’s clear that schools and other educational facilities, and that way, society, benefit tremendously from healthy buildings.

How can buildings be made healthier?

Healthy buildings can be achieved with simple measures that are undertaken either before, during, or after a building has been constructed. These measures include commissioning, sustainable design, re-commissioning, building tuning, air filtering, and more.

Commissioning, retro-commissioning, and building tuning

Commissioning is a way to ensure that a major undertaking, like the construction of a new building, pays off and that your buildings are healthy for occupants.

For example, with this service, you ensure that your equipment and systems are optimized and built assets are free from harmful irritants such as grinding dust and volatile organic compounds.

A commissioning agent can make sure your building is built in accordance with global ASHRAE, CIBSE, BSRIA, and SMACNA or mandatory LEED, Estidama and GSAS system requirements. Commissioning will also ensure that your fire systems work properly.

If your building has already been commissioned, re-commissioning services can help you upgrade your building. With retro-commissioning services, your previously non-commissioned building can be commissioned and made healthier in the process. This is especially important because older buildings have often been built in accordance with less rigorous building standards than the ones we have today. Therefore, they tend to be built to health standards that aren’t up to par with today’s standards.

In terms of costs, studies show that the costs for commissioning and retro-commissioning pay themselves back within 1.1-4.2 years.

Sustainable design

Design services, such as Building Information Management or BIM, can help you create a healthier building from the start. Other design solutions include Computational Fluid Dynamics Modeling and Life Cycle Assessment, as well as other software and technological solutions. These help assess how different design solutions will impact buildings in the future.

At Alpin, we test and develop these innovative solutions as a part of Alpin Innovation Labs.

Elements of healthy buildings

These measures (commissioning, green certifications, sustainable design, and more) help create healthier buildings. But what are the specific elements that need to be optimized in buildings? Let’s take a look at the most important elements of healthy buildings.

Indoor air quality

The quality of the air we breathe has a major impact on our wellbeing. The thing is: Air pollution is a huge health hazard. But how can indoor air quality be improved?

To give an overview of what these measures can consist of, some of the requirements for achieving a WELL certification include changing ventilation and/or air filtration systems, ensuring that air flow is optimal, controlling humidity, making sure windows are optimal for air flow, enforcing a no smoking rule indoors, controlling outside air quality, managing construction pollution, and monitoring air quality.

Thermal control

Providing individual temperature control for each worker has been shown to reduce sick building syndrome symptoms and absenteeism and to increase productivity by 0.2-3%. That’s why healthy and sustainable thermal control is a key part of a healthy building.

Lighting

Proper lighting can reduce headaches and sick building syndrome by 10-25% and individual productivity can increase by 0.7-23%. Maximizing the use of daylight and selecting high-quality lighting fixtures are a few measures that can be undertaken to improve lighting in a building.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics include different aspects of a healthy workspace, such as ergonomic chairs, materials, and lighting for different workspaces (offices, hospitals, and more).

Natural environment

The natural environment is essential for our wellbeing. Access to the natural environment could reduce absenteeism, sick building syndrome, and recovery times and increase productivity by 0.4-18%.

Case studies: How to create healthy spaces

Curious to see what specific results health improvements can have for the built environment? Take a look at these case studies:

Al Ghayathi Hospital

Ghayathi Community Hospital serves as a major hub in the region’s expanding healthcare network. It features 50 patient beds, two operating rooms, an emergency department, dialysis unit and imaging center, as well as support services for all departments. We supported this project in achieving an Estidama 2-Pearl rating.

SKMC Hospital Dialysis Center

The SKMC Dialysis Center is part of the New Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Master Plan. An underground basement parking for 79 cars and surface parking for 76 cars is provided for patients and visitors to the facility. Alpin assisted the project in achieving an Estidama 2-Pearl rating and in making sure that all systems were operating properly and every piece of expensive equipment was properly optimized.

Burjeel Medical City

The project comprises of a 466-bed Hospital, Long-Term Care Facility, Long-Term Care Villas, an Administrative Building and a Mosque – all covering a ground floor area of 82,000m2. Burjeel Medical City achieved an Estidama 1-Pearl rating.

Alpin Headquarters

Our headquarters in Abu Dhabi achieved the first WELL certification in the Middle East. Thanks to the improvements we made to our office, it’s now healthier and a more productive environment for our employees. These improvements helped us get recognized as category winners of the Daman Corporate Health Awards as the Most Improved company.

Want to learn more?

That’s it. Now you know how to create healthy buildings. What it comes down to is investing in effective measures that create intentionally designed spaces that work for people’s health and wellbeing.

Want to learn more about healthy living? Here’s our healthy travel guide so that you can stay healthy and safe during your business travels.