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How Do Buildings Affect Our Health?

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By EnviroVent Nov 13, 2019

As the weather turns and Winter draws in, it’s long been known that this can take a toll on our minds and our bodies.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern. SAD is sometimes known as "winter depression" because the symptoms are usually more apparent and more severe during the Winter months as our body clock changes and we see less natural light throughout the day. However, something that you may not be aware of is that the actual buildings that we live in, work in, socialise in, can also have an affect on our health, and this can be all-year round.

A building can impact our health in many ways, it could be a trip hazard, lack of natural light and even a room being too warm or cold. In our own home it could be switching on a bright light which can be overbearing if the rest of the house is dimly lit, which could cause a migraine.

The following aspects have all been shown to impact the health and wellbeing of a buildings occupants and are therefore important to building; design, construction and operational considerations: 

  • Indoor air quality and ventilation
  • Thermal comfort, temperature and humidity
  • Visual comfort, daylighting and artificial lighting
  • Noise and acoustics
  • Safety and security
  • Interior layout, active and inclusive design, and look and feel
  • Connections to nature (biophilia)
  • Location and access to amenities and outdoor spaces

All of these factors can have damaging effects on our health; headaches, dizziness, mood, stress, sleep deprivation and even respiratory issues. Infamously, artificial lighting in the workplace is a subject of controversy and has long been known as a bone of contention for many. But poor ventilation can also have a damaging effect both in the workplace and at home.

Before he became a public health researcher at Harvard, Joseph Allen investigated hundreds of “sick buildings” as a consultant for owners who complained about illness in workers or residents from mould, dampness, and other unhealthy conditions. Starting in 2015, Allen and colleagues began a series of double-blind studies on the impacts of ventilation on office workers.

Researchers recruited workers in Syracuse, New York, to move temporarily to a controlled building. While the recruits carried out their regular daily jobs, Allen asked building managers to subtly change ventilation levels, without telling those operations folks (or the recruited workers) what the tests were for. At the end of each day, Allen’s team gave the workers standardized tests for cognitive behaviour.

The researchers found that doubling the ventilation capacity also doubled cognitive function test scores. Extending the value of that increased productivity through a full year led to an average of $6,500 (£5000) for each worker, the team estimated. That figure doesn’t include the value of fewer sick days, which increases the savings.

Similarly, at home, we spend around 76% of our weekly time at home, so having a good indoor environment is paramount to our health. There’s a reason why we like to open the windows and let the fresh air in. Poor ventilation can lead to condensation which leads to damp and mould which as it’s appearance tells us – it’s not good stuff to be inhaling every day, every week, every month, etc.

Asthma, a complex disease influenced by both environmental and genetic factors, is common and the prevalence is increasing worldwide. Childhood asthma is the most common chronic disease in children. The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) estimates the asthma prevalence by country as ranging from 2% to 40%. Indoor environmental factors thought to modify asthma severity include pollutants such as PM, nitrogen oxides, second-hand smoke, and allergens from pests, pets, dust mites and moulds.

Ventilation plays a massive role in keeping indoor elements at bay and even helping to reduce asthma and allergies. By drawing in fresh, filtered and clean air from outside, our ventilation systems dilute, displace and replace moisture-laden air to control humidity levels so that condensation, mould and other indoor contaminants are significantly reduced. Of course, every home is different and requires different ventilation needs, so we provide a free home survey to assess your homes needs and advice on which would be the best unit to go with.

During a free home survey your local expert will assess any condensation, damp and mould problems that you may be facing in your property and take readings of the relative humidity levels throughout the property. All our ventilation specialists are highly trained in carrying out detailed home surveys to identify any underlying problems and make recommendations to ensure the correct solution is provided, all complying with current Building Regulations.