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Healthier buildings - healthier citizens?

According to news outlet Euractiv, the European Commission plans to tackle healthier indoor environments as part of the energy performance of buildings legislation.  Could this be a move towards taking a much broader approach to sustainable construction?  I, for one, certainly hope so. 

Much of the focus today is on making our homes and other buildings more energy efficient.  The objective of making sure that, by 2021, all new buildings consume virtually no energy (‘Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings’), is one which I support, and not just because it will reduce our impact on the environment - it should also lower our gas and electricity bills. But at the same time, we have an opportunity of tackling a second major concern: making our homes healthier.

Let’s take a quick peek at what citizens think.  According to the 2016 Healthy Homes Barometer (commissioned by Velux), 75% of Europeans surveyed wanted to reduce their energy costs and 73% wanted to improve their overall wellbeing.  This shows that health matters almost as much to people as energy efficiency……

But what constitutes a ‘healthy home’? According to the Healthy Homes Barometer, this can include a wide range of elements, which varies from person to person, but structurally speaking it encompasses stable indoor temperatures, the circulation of fresh air, sufficient daylight and low humidity (to avoid mold and damp).  Furthermore, energy costs, the state of renovation, size, relation to neighbours and quality of sleep also play a role in our home wellbeing. 

With many of us working in an office environment, it is also important to focus efforts in this sector.  According to research by Cythemadim, a more comfortable office space has the additional benefit of increasing our productivity.  They show when indoor temperatures are around 20-21°C, the drop in employee productivity  is less than 5%.  However, when indoor temperatures go above 30°C, we are a staggering 45% less productive! This means that for companies, getting thermal comfort right does not just mean savings in energy bills, but also in terms of employee output. Using the thermal mass of the building’s structure is one way to design for stable, comfortable temperatures.

Practically speaking, this means that we need to make the right choices from the outset.  To do this, when building a new home (or office) there needs to be dialogue between all actors, including construction product producers, designers, contractors, architects….. The structure of the building itself can already contribute greatly to maintaining a stable indoor temperature, preventing humidity and reducing the amount of noise filtering through from our neighbours.  At the same time, the way the building is designed and oriented can increase, for example, the amount of natural daylight - the possibilities are endless!

We need to start by recognizing that a good indoor environment can make us healthier and more productive.  And this recognition needs to be translated into policy.  From there on in, it is up to the actors in the construction sector to implement the right solutions.

Tags: thermal efficiency, energy efficiency, thermal comfort, thermal mass, health, daylight

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