Healthy Buildings

What is it?

A healthy building is designed to facilitate and measure the health and wellness of its occupants. Recent studies demonstrate the negative effects of health as a result of prolonged time spent indoors. Spending long amounts of time sitting in an office is now analogous to smoking cigarettes.

Updates to the LEED rating system and the release of wellness specific rating systems mark this trend. The WELL Building Standard launched in 2014 by Delos and more recently Fitwel from the Center for Active Design, provide an enhanced set of criteria for including health into building design and operations. The LEED rating system has also includes more stringent criteria for building materials, including more rigid building product and disclosures of material ingredients.

Health is particularly important in school buildings given the connection to establishing healthy behaviors at a young age and the impact on academic achievement. 

How big an Investment are healthy buildings?

Like many sustainable design features, implementing healthy features into building design has varying costs depending on the measure. More simplistic solutions, like promoting activity by exposing stairwells and making them more enticing for users, do not typically add costs to a project. Similarly, specifying materials that have lower toxicity or providing healthy food options are relatively low-cost. Several strategies such as water filtration, daylighting with access to views, and thermal control should be included as best practices in design. Strategies such as increasing ventilation come with a larger cost due to the increase in size of mechanical equipment required. Pursuing healthy building certifications have varying costs. Fitwel has a relatively low price with project registration and certification totaling a maximum of $7,000. Certification through the WELL Building standard starts at $22,500 for new and existing buildings that are 50,000 square feet or less and increases in price with building size. These costs include the certification only and do not include the cost of implementing the measures or consulting.

What are the sustainable benefits?

Several studies have demonstrated the benefits of healthy buildings on student performance. Most recently, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published a study called “Schools for Health: Foundations for Student Success” SchoolsforHealth. The research provides overwhelming evidence that student health, thinking, and function are improved by increased ventilation, moderate humidity levels, daylight and views to the outdoors, balanced acoustics, and reduced dusts, pests, mold, and moisture.  Past research also tied healthy buildings to employee retention and reduced absenteeism, as well as increased value. By including healthy design principles in a project, we can ensure that both students and faculty function peak performance. 

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