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5 Interior Aspects to Consider When Designing Healthy Buildings

Posted on Jan 25, 2017, by Mike Brown

The concept of healthy buildings has been a growing priority since awareness of sick building syndrome (SBS) emerged in the 1970s. Designers and architects are increasingly shaping interior environments to improve the health and wellness of building users. Building certification standards, such as the WELL Building Standard, have responded to define pillars and measurements to certify the performance of building facets that impact health and wellness.

Today we're looking at five features to consider when designing healthy buildings, which can positively impact those who will use the space daily.

Featured image: Equitable Banks, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Design firm: Kirsh Design.

1) Air Quality

Poor ventilation is believed to be a significant contributor to SBS. As well as ensuring the building has a modern, well-maintained ventilation system, designers can select renovation materials to directly improve indoor air quality.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are detrimental to air quality, and are released by a variety of products such as interior paints, sealants and flooring adhesives.

By selecting low- or no-emission paint, you can reduce the level of VOCs released during a building renovation. Similarly, you can specify floor coverings with a non-reactive backing, such as carpet tiles with open cell cushion backing. A non-reactive backing eliminates the need to prime and seal the subfloor, removing another source of VOCs.

2) Light

Sunlight has a meaningful impact on health and wellness: People who work in offices with windows receive 173% more beneficial white light during work hours and sleep an average of 46 minutes more every night.

Various design decisions will maximize the levels of natural light in a building. An open-concept layout will ensure that natural light extends as far into the space as possible. You may also want to consider installing a daylighting system, and replacing light-blocking opaque dividers with transparent or translucent glass dividers.

3) Acoustic Conditions

High background noise is linked to increased stress levels at work. To achieve the WELL Building Standard, commercial interiors must meet specific benchmarks for decibel levels and reverberation time:

  • Noise levels from outside must not exceed 50dB
  • Reverberation time must not exceed 0.5 seconds in open offices, and 0.6 seconds in conference rooms

One of the best ways to reduce reverberation is to have fewer hard surfaces in a space, using soft furnishings and specifying carpet rather than hard flooring. To make the biggest acoustic improvement, modular carpet with open cell cushion backing absorbs more than five times more noise than hard flooring, and 50% more noise than hard-backed products.

4) Promoting Increased Activity Levels

On an extensive renovation project, you can redesign the interior layout to improve the health and wellness of the building's users. Rather than locating communal areas such as kitchens and bathrooms directly next to work spaces, move them further away from the main space to design activity into the work day.

On a smaller scale, designers can specify adjustable-height workstations to facilitate sit-to-stand working. This increasingly popular workplace trend promotes increased activity levels: A 2015 study by the University of Iowa found that employees with sit-to-stand desks burned up to 87 more calories a day than their seated colleagues, which adds up to 435 calories over a working week.

5) Maintaining a Clean Environment

One of the most effective ways to keep a building clean is to install a tiered entryway system. The WELL Building Standard specifies that entryway systems should encompass the width of the entrance and extend at least three meters, or ten feet, into the building in the primary direction of travel.

To maximize the efficacy of entryway systems, consider a three-zone approach, which pairs heavy-duty barrier flooring outside your building with absorbent textiles directly inside. This combination will remove the majority of particulates from visitors' shoes, preventing up to 80% of dust, dirt, debris and moisture from being walked inside buildings.

The A-Z of Health & Wellness in Interior Design

Mike Brown

Written by Mike Brown