January 20, 2021

Healthy Buildings: Where Data, Infrastructure and People Converge

by Carrie Scheetz

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CES 2021 panelists weigh in on creating a healthy future

The Consumer Electronics Show kicked off this week and, like most things over the past year, it looks a lot different. But the one thing that remains the same is the focus on bringing thought leaders together to discuss advances in technology that will shape the future.
 
With a wide array of digital presentations available, the one titled “Healthy Buildings, Healthy Lives” caught my eye. Healthy buildings is a topic we’ve covered several times in In Focus and in our media blogs over the past couple of years as it relates to technology, advances in window designs and ventilation. At its core, the concept of healthy buildings means balancing building design and efficiencies with the human element, including occupant comfort, health and well-being overall.
 
A report cited during the presentation – The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building – by Harvard professor Joseph Allen defines what makes a healthy building. This report was born from conversations the author had with colleagues about turning research into actionable information and the need to produce ROI for building owners and managers.
 
Those foundations are:

  • Ventilation.
  • Air quality.
  • Thermal health.
  • Moisture.
  • Dust and pests.
  • Safety and Security.
  • Water quality.
  • Noise.
  • Lighting and Views.
 
Collecting and Applying Data
The ideas of actionable insights, ROI and occupant health were recurring themes throughout the panelists’ discussion. They spent a lot of time discussing the importance of digitizing buildings and homes to collect, analyze and act on that data as the first step toward a healthier building environment. As the panelists pointed out, if you don’t understand the challenges, such as underventilation or carbon dioxide levels, it’s hard to manage and improve the structure.
 
But what we’re lacking right now, in many cases, is the digital infrastructure to collect that data, let alone put it into meaningful dashboards. So as the trend toward healthier buildings continues, we can expect to see a greater emphasis on data collection and putting the digital systems in place to track and monitor the foundational elements to help us understand challenges and make improvements to buildings that will improve occupant health and comfort.
 
And as costs come down for the sensors needed to collect the data and more awareness is brought to the digital divide, we’ll likely see more and more of this in building designs.
 
Balancing Building Performance and Occupant Experience
In all the talk about data and infrastructure, the panelists kept coming back to what they called the most important aspect of a healthy building – putting humans first. In the past, many put building performance first, which often came at the expense of the comfort of the people using the space. They recommended to use data to help bridge the gap between performance and people.
 
For many building owners, or what they called “investors,” ROI of implementing smart tech is still a concern. As one of the panelists said, healthy buildings cost money. If you are bringing in fresh air, you are sacrificing energy. As another example, using advanced filtration to purify air is more expensive.
 
They agreed that upgrades that enable healthy buildings should be viewed more as an investment vs. costs because of the upfront costs. Numerous studies have shown that a focus on occupant comfort leads to better business outcomes for the owner such as improved productivity, fewer sick days, higher rent premiums and increased lease renewal rates – among many other benefits.
 
What the Future Holds
Research has shown that the average American spends upward of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings – and that number is likely higher in the age of COVID. There will continue to be a greater emphasis on creating buildings that enhance the lives and well-being of people. Technology in terms of both the building components and digital infrastructure must become affordable for wider scale adoption.
 
For those of us in the fenestration industry, we need to continue to educate ourselves on these trends and how our products and services can make an impact.
 
Comments or questions? Email me directly at Carrie.Scheetz@Quanex.com.
 

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Posted: January 20, 2021 by Carrie Scheetz Filed under: CES, green, housing