Updated: Jun 23
It has only been within the last five years that builders and architects have considered including construction ideas that improve people's health. In 2015, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) TM, published WELL certification standard that included design strategies for buildings committed to improve people health.
A WELL building certification must follow specific requirements within each of the seven separate areas called Concepts. Each Concept in the WELL Building Standard has many features that focus on health and how it impacts the human body. The first Concept mentioned is Air Quality. Pure air is so important for the heath of every person since it carries oxygen. People need to inhale oxygen to provide energy to body muscles, tissues, and organs.
Air pollution in the United States contributes to 50,000 annual premature deaths and about 7 million annual premature deaths worldwide. This is specifically important for the indoor air quality since the average person spends more than 90% of their time indoors. Indoor air quality can get worse from a variety of sources including: release of chemicals from materials, decrease outdoor air ventilation, indoor combustion sources, and surfaces that can collect airborne germs. These conditions can contribute to some negative human health effects such as asthma, upper respiratory illnesses, allergies, headaches, and decreased work productivity. #airpollution
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes indoor pollutant concentrations and recommends limits to harmful chemical exposures. Some chemicals and their limits include: carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and sulfur dioxide (SO2).
For the WELL Building Standard, Air Quality requirements limit exposure levels for Formaldehyde (less than 27 ppb) and Radon (less than 4pCi/L) have been included. Formaldehyde, a carcinogenic, can increase into the interior spaces with new materials using adhesives, such as furniture or carpet. Radon seeps through soil from the ground and should always be tested within every basement. A Radon kit can be purchased from a building supply store for testing and then mailed in to obtain free tested results.
What to do:
There are three easy ways to remove indoor air pollutants. One is to increase outdoor ventilation by opening windows and / or doors as well as turning on exhaust fans. This will allow the escape of indoor air and increase outdoor air into the house. A second way is to purchase furnace High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that have different diameters of fibers so as to catch smaller airborne pollutants. Thirdly, avoid materials and products that might contain chemicals above concentration limits mentioned by EPA recommendations. These can be found here: https://foobot.io/guides/iaq-standards-and-guidelines.php
Though not included in the WELL Building Standard, certain plants can absorb chemicals. The Gerbera Daisy and Chrysanthemums are most effective at removing formaldehyde. Spider plants are best for removing carbon monoxide.
It is good to learn more about the WELL Building Standard and the research that went into recognizing some building design and construction methods that create healthy interior spaces for all people.
Morna Hallsaxton, LEED AP BD+C, ID+C, WELL AP, education includes a BSN and an Interior Design degree from Kendall College, and her MFA from Michigan State University in Environmental Design. Her work experience has allowed her to review over 250 LEED 2009 projects, audit furniture manufacturers for BIFMA e3 Furniture Sustainability Standard compliance, and participate in Volatile Organic Chemical (VOC) emission certification program.