Healthy buildings empower wellbeing and nourish the environment

Healthy buildings empower wellbeing and nourish the environment

Shifting to more energy-efficient buildings is now regarded as central to carbon reduction strategies. So what technology is available to make our buildings more sustainable and altogether healthier?

By Ian Richardson, Building Solutions Technical Specialist within ABB Australia's Electrification business.

Some of the time I used to spend commuting, I now spend indoors, that means I’m somehow indoors even more than before. Even before COVID-19 restrictions, numerous research studies reported that the average person spends about 90 per cent of their time inside buildings. That’s partly due to urbanisation. When you live in a city, you tend to spend more time indoors. According to a 2018 report by the United Nations, 55 per cent of the world population resides in urban areas. By 2050, that could climb to 68 per cent.i

As a building professional, that gets my attention. Healthy buildings provide safe, secure environments for people. An unhealthy or “sick” building can expose the people inside to environments that make them ill. Did you know, the World Health Organisation even has a term for that? Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). That is a medical condition, in which people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or feel unwell for no apparent reason. The symptoms tend to increase in severity with the time people spend in the building and improve over time or even disappear when people are away from the building.

The Green Building Council of Australia, who partnered with the International WELL Building Institute in 2016, is one of several industry groups shining a spotlight on health and well-being in the design, construction, and operation of buildings in Australia. I am really pleased to see initiatives like this aimed at creating building environments that can stimulate ‘wellness’ for people.

In another study, a multidisciplinary team of experts from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health identified the nine foundations of a healthy building as: ventilation, air quality, water quality, thermal health, dust and pests, lighting and views, noise, moisture and safety and security. Building automation systems can optimise several of these to make buildings healthier environments.

Ventilation, thermal health, and air quality – When oxygen and comfort levels in offices, schools, and homes fall outside normal ranges, it can make us feel ill. Automatic monitoring of carbon dioxide levels, and automatic optimisation of ventilation, temperature, humidity and air pressure systems to optimise temperature, humidity and air pressure can keep the indoor air quality to acceptable levels.

Safety and Security – We need to feel safe and secure, to feel truly healthy. A smart door entry system linked to the BMS is an important part of a building. It provides a safe and protected environment for those inside, granting access only to those who are permitted to enter the building.

It will not only allow you to come and go as you please, but it will also monitor who is in front of a building whether you’re expecting a guest, a delivery, or an unexpected visitor arrives – when linked to the BMS, the door entry system ensures building occupants are always in control of the access points, from anywhere in the building, reinforcing safety and control of their environment.

Lighting and Views – Appropriate light levels not only help our eyes and productivity, they also play an important part in our general well-being and health. Our natural circadian rhythms are adjusted to the local environment by external cues, including light cycles. Incorrect light levels have been linked to various medical conditions from eye strain and headaches to depression. Automation can provide the right combination of natural and artificial lighting, which has been shown to improve concentration, alertness, and cognitive function. Building automation systems ensure optimal lighting levels and day/night stimulation. Blind and shutter controls also reduce unwanted glare while supporting thermal comfort levels.

Redefining how an office building performs, the beautiful Viettel building in Hanoi is setting a benchmark for how buildings can help cities become smarter and more sustainable. Innovative and totally integrated solutions provide a healthy building with the ultimate in comfort, security and safety, delivering up to 20 per cent energy savings.

Digital technology through home and building automation systems support a healthy building concept by not only delivering a comfortable and safe environment for the well-being of its occupants, but also contributing to a greener future through smart energy efficiency and management.

Digital building automation is changing the way we perceive buildings, enabling a new era of comfort, health, and sustainability. With more consideration given into how we feel within them, these buildings will become a place we want to be, where we feel productive, safe, and energised. All this is complemented with a reassurance in knowing that the power behind it is distributed in most sustainable way possible.

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