Here’s to Our Buildings, Our Health! SWA’s Top 10 Tips for a Healthier Indoor Environment – Part 1

How many of you out there would say you are happy at your place of work? Are you having a hard time concentrating? Now, take a pulse on your surroundings. Are the lights too bright? Are you too cold? Too hot? Do you hear constant humming from the HVAC equipment in the background? How much sleep are you getting at night? How many plants are in your view? Do you even have a view?

I’m sure many of you have heard the statistics that we spend nearly 90% of our days indoors. BUT, did you know that:

  • 75% of deaths are caused by chronic disease, up from 13% in 1800;
  • Today’s children are the first generation expected to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents;
  • 85% of the 82,000 chemicals in use are lacking in available health data.

When we hear the term “high performance building,” many of us think about energy efficiency first. But, what factors contribute to human health in buildings? How do we design for and maintain efficient building performance without compromising occupant health and well-being? What benefits are associated with healthy homes and work spaces? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves.

Stok report breaking down the cost savings associated with healthy work spaces

Lots of research has been done. Pulling from the LEED, EGC, and WELL concepts, and supported by case studies (specifically Harvard’s School of Public Health’s 9 Foundations and Stok’s report on how workspaces that promote health and wellness), here are SWA’s Top 5 (of 10) tips to effectively address Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) in buildings:

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How to Implement an Efficient Lighting Strategy in a Multifamily Passive House

Walking the aisle of your favorite home improvement store, you’ll notice the wide array of options for very efficient light fixtures. Don’t be fooled – truly efficient lighting design is achieved through thoughtful layout and proper controls.

Hallway lightingA high performance building warrants an efficient lighting strategy. With so many efficient LED fixtures available on the market, individual fixture efficiency is rarely an issue. However, these fixtures are often placed in high concentrations or at a higher wattage than necessary to adequately illuminate a space. The result is high lighting power density (LPD), which is measured by dividing the total light fixture wattage in a room by the square footage of that room. Even with controls such as occupancy or vacancy sensors, high LPDs are especially energy intensive in frequently occupied common areas, e.g., corridors and lobbies of multifamily buildings, impacting the bottom line efficiency of all buildings.

Projects pursuing Passive House certification are impacted by an optimized lighting scheme more so than a code-built building. As the heating and cooling energy used in a Passive House building decreases due to an excellent thermal envelope, the ratio of lighting energy used increases. Reducing lighting energy use can drastically improve the building’s overall primary energy demand. Read more

Low-Carbon Concrete: Reducing the Embodied Energy of a Notorious Emitter

It is safe to say we are in a climate crisis. Of the last 17 years, 16 have been the hottest on record.[1] Sea level is expected to rise by as much as eight feet by the end of the century.[2] And by 2050, as many as 140 million people will have been displaced by climate change.[3] The time to act is now, and a major area of impact is buildings, which account for 40% of carbon emissions in the United States. Better envelopes, lighting, and mechanical systems are helping buildings become more efficient, which means an increasing proportion of carbon—up to 68% of a building’s lifetime emissions—is locked up in materials.[4] This “embodied” carbon gets released during a material’s extraction, manufacture, transport, maintenance, and, eventually, disposal.

If our industry is to meet the 2030 Challenge of carbon neutrality by the close of the decade, we will need to reevaluate building materials and select low-carbon alternatives.

Embodied carbon life-cycle

Figure 1: Courtesy of Faithful+Gould

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Delos Headquarters Raises the Bar for Healthy Buildings

A team of SWA consultants recently had the opportunity to tour the newly constructed Delos Office Headquarters, located in the Meatpacking District of New York City. The office, which occupies the fourth and fifth floors of a ten-story building adjacent to the High Line, has obtained WELL Platinum certification through the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), Petal Certification through the Living Building Challenge, and is currently pursuing LEED v4 Platinum certification through the US Green Building Council (USGBC). From the inception of the tour, it was clear that the space had exceeded the expectations of these certifications, and more.

Overview

Delos entrance with monitor and greenwall

Beside the entrance, a monitor displays live building stats and company announcements

Stepping off the elevator, occupants walk over a large metal grate designed to remove debris from shoes, preventing dirt and other particles from contaminating the floor. Then, upon entering the office, visitors are immediately greeted with an abundance of natural light and sense of biophilia. The office is enclosed by large glass curtain walls and filled with an array of plant life. Next to the entrance, a large monitor displays office conditions, such as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide, and other levels affecting tenant comfort.

The main office area is largely free address, which means employees can freely move to where they feel most comfortable. Each desk is adjustable and includes a monitor, a temperature adjustable task light, and many other utilities that foster productivity. There are greenwalls placed throughout the office (22 to be exact), which are used to purify the air. Clean air is also distributed through floor diffusers and dirty air is removed through the ceiling. Additionally, it is noticeably quiet in the office; the mechanical systems are well insulated and there is a low level white noise sound masking system that lessens harsh noises.  Read more

The Results Are in from the NYC Ice Box Challenge!

On April 21, 2018, two blocks of ice weighing exactly one ton each were placed into what appeared to be identical sheds in Times Square. The purpose? To measure how much each block would melt over a 30-day period, ultimately demonstrating the efficacy of Passive House construction methods.

The first shed, or Ice Box, was built to meet current NYC Building Code standards, which lack stringent requirements for building envelope performance. The second was constructed using building principles adopted from the Passive House Standard, including the utilization of high performance building materials, a superior airtight building envelope with advanced insulation, and triple-pane windows.

Graphic of Iceboxes

After 30 days of exposure, the Ice Boxes were publicly unveiled, and the results were exactly what building professionals had anticipated. The block of ice contained in the Ice Box constructed to NYC Building Code resulted in a final weight of 126 pounds, while the block of ice within the Passive House Ice Box weighed an astonishing 756 pounds, retaining 42% of its mass!

So, What Did We Learn… Read more