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Behind closed doors

Sara Kassam, Head of Sustainability Development at CIBSE, explores the contribution of maintenance and engineering to creating healthy internal environments

Too hot, too cold, too stuffy, too bright, too dim…we’ve all experienced spaces that just don’t feel right. The amount of time we spend in indoor spaces is significant, and so the quality and comfort of internal environments is becoming more important.

Over the last decade there have been many advances in knowledge and technical solutions in this area. These include an increased understanding of the non-visual effects of light on our metabolism, growing evidence of overheating risks, and widespread deployment of LEDs, wireless technologies and consumer devices, allowing building occupants to monitor their environment and activities. To fulfil the need for further guidance, this summer CIBSE will be releasing a revision of Technical Memorandum 40, focusing on health and wellbeing in building services.

The scope of ‘health and wellbeing’ is extremely broad, ranging from acute health impacts and comfort and performance to fulfilment, joy and happiness. Health and wellbeing is influenced by indoor environmental factors, including thermal conditions, humidity, air quality, light and lighting, acoustic comfort, water quality and availability, and electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields. An integrated approach is required to respond to users’ needs and balance various constraints to deliver buildings that are energy efficient, and provide a healthy, comfortable environment with a level of adaptability and resilience.

Precautionary principle. The health effect of design solutions will sometimes only become apparent in the long term. The precautionary principle should be applied to limit the risk of unintended consequences. This does not mean that innovation in products and systems should be limited, rather that solutions should be demonstrated to be safe rather than waiting for potential evidence that they are not.

Source control. This is the prevention, control and treatment of pollutants at source before they enter the environment and become a potential hazard. This should be the first step of a health and wellbeing strategy as the most effective way to reduce risk and avoid reliance on costly, complex or maintenance-intensive solutions. For example, reducing noise exposure through management at source or relocation, or reducing emissions of air pollutants by selecting low emission materials.

Focus on building users. Strategies should be inclusive and provide users with a level of choice and control over their environment. This can greatly improve a person’s experience of a space and increase the likelihood that a larger proportion of building users will find conditions comfortable. We all know it’s not usually possible for a single set of conditions to meet everyone’s needs and preferences.

Manage, monitor and maintain. ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ is a well-known saying, and entirely relevant when it comes to health and wellbeing. As access to data improves, check the quality of environment provided and manage user expectations.

Recommended performance criteria – for example, daylight levels or pollutant levels in water – may be used as targets in new designs, or to reference the performance of existing buildings. As a minimum, these should meet regulatory requirements, but also internationally recognised health-based guidelines, particularly those from the World Health Organization (WHO).

This approach to performance criteria is broadly consistent with other emerging guidance, such as BS ISO 17772-1: Energy performance of buildings – indoor environmental quality and the draft revised BB101 guidance on ventilation, thermal comfort and indoor air quality in schools. It is important to note – in the case of air quality, for example – that the desired outcome is expressed in terms of maximum recommended pollutant levels rather than ventilation rates, as is commonly done. Rates will not necessarily guarantee a suitable outcome, especially if outdoor air is polluted.

About Sarah OBeirne

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