The healthy building movement is not a new idea (it is decades old), but voices in support of a closer look at building health were amplified sharply by the COVID pandemic. Property owners who gave the healthy building concept little thought pre-pandemic are now taking a closer look — and for good reason: Building health is a primary factor in employee or occupant satisfaction and retention. Healthy buildings are in more demand now than ever before.
But what exactly is a “healthy building,” and why should you care? What determines whether or not a building makes the grade? If you’re already sold on the idea that building health is important to your property, how can you assess your own structures and bring them into alignment with healthy building fundamentals? These are the types of questions we’re concerned about here.
NOTE: This is the first in a series of FACS articles aimed at addressing the many questions we receive concerning the healthy building movement. We’ll begin with an overview of the concept and point out a fact that may surprise you: All healthy building certifications are based on similar actions and outcomes. The choice isn’t like deciding whether to have ice cream or steak. It’s about which flavor or cut you prefer.
The Current State of the Healthy Building Movement
COVID didn’t change the fundamentals of healthy building construction, but it did make us more aware of the need. Occupants are asking questions they seldom worried about pre-COVID. Topics like sufficient ventilation, proper cleaning procedures, and water supply safety are no longer discussed only by the maintenance team. They are on the public radar.
This signals a significant shift in the healthy building movement. Rather than only asking for help to address a pressing environmental quality complaint, property owners are getting more proactive concerning building health. They are finding ways to prevent the complaints from arising in the first place and discovering that healthy buildings provide benefits to owners, not only to occupants.
Some are still hoping that advances in technology will solve the problem, but the truth is that although many of the new tools are beneficial, they are woefully inadequate. We already know how to make buildings healthier. A wider application of the principles, not the development of new tools and technologies, is our current need. That’s why healthy building advocates are excited to see the rapid growth of public interest in the topic and in the demand for consultants and contractors versed in healthy building construction.
Why Should You Be Concerned About Healthy Building Programs?
First, there are science-related reasons to embrace healthy building design. A right understanding of the science behind building construction reveals areas where we’ve failed to make health a priority. That is a mistake we should never repeat, and regulations concerning issues like the use of hazardous materials in construction, the need for adequate ventilation, and the protection of water supplies are addressing it.
We want to take science-backed actions that promote health, and we want to stop taking actions that don’t. We can construct and refurbish buildings in ways that not only protect occupant health but are visually pleasing and make economic sense. Healthy building construction is not a fad that will soon go away. It is a realization that shines light on harmful mistakes we don’t want to ever repeat.
Next, there are people-related reasons for adopting a healthy building strategy. Occupants are more concerned than ever about the indoor environments they spend much of their lives in. Healthy buildings promote occupant satisfaction by providing living and working environments that are healthier for both mind and body. Side benefits include fewer days lost to illness and increased employee engagement. Healthy buildings address both social and environmental problems. They help protect people, and they promote productivity — a true win/win situation.
Types of Healthy Building Certifications Available
There are many options for healthy building certification. It’s important to know that all are similar, but they focus on different concerns and weigh them differently. One place to compare a selection of popular programs is GSA’s Sustainable Facilities Tool.
There are other long standing healthy building resources available to draw upon, such as the EPA “Tools for Schools” program. You’ll find abundant guidance there. Again, there are many ways to package healthy building certification, but all are fundamentally the same. COVID increased awareness of the need for healthy building principles, but did not change them.
One more consideration: It is not mandatory to enroll in a healthy building certification program at all. Owners can draw from the principles of healthy building construction to develop their property in their own customized way. FACS experts can help you develop that plan, document the process, and confirm the results.
What Should You Address in Your Healthy Building Program?
To choose a path for your healthy building program, consider the needs of your property and the people who live or work there. Pick the one that serves them best. It’s a “pick your own menu” procedure. Get creative. Weigh your options.
Fundamental concerns include topics such as HVAC systems, water systems, mold and moisture, hazardous building materials, and the like. Your property and people have specific needs. There is no standard cookie-cutter solution when it comes to healthy building design and healthy building maintenance. You can get as creative as you wish.
How Should You Address Issues With Your Healthy Building Program?
Once you’ve identified a problem or potential problem you wish to address, the next step is to determine the control measures you will implement (who, what, where, when, and how). The final element is to create a strategy for confirming that the actions you have taken are complete, effective, and well documented.
Whether you’re working on ventilation, monitoring water supplies, or mitigating hazardous building material exposure, those three building blocks — what you are addressing, what you will do to manage it, and how you can confirm and document the process and results — are employed for each issue.
How To Get Started With Your Healthy Building Program
It’s likely that much of the maintenance and construction work you’re already doing fits within the framework of healthy building fundamentals. Roll your existing systems into an integrated healthy building management system, then create a performance dashboard for strategically managing the process. It’s not easy or simple to do on your own, but it’s certainly possible. FACS can help you get started.
Once the integration is in place, begin listing the problems you want to address and determine ways you can boost the living and working conditions at your property. If you wish, you can start small and then layer the work sequentially over time. Seek steady and constant improvement. You can select a certification program when and if you’re ready, but don’t let that part of the process stop you from working on healthy building issues now. By documenting the process properly, you’ll be closer to certification with each project, no matter which healthy building certification plan you later choose.
To get better results quicker, enlist FACS indoor environmental quality experts to assist. They can serve as advisors only, or they can hop in the trenches with you to develop the healthy building program that best suits you and your property.
Whichever route you choose, remember that it is critical to validate and document the steps you take along the way. Validation maps the journey you’ve taken and provides information you’ll need further down the road towards building health and occupant satisfaction. Without proper validation, you’ll forfeit much of your return on the investment you’ve made in building health.
Contact FACS via our online contact form, or by phone at (888) 711-9998