As the world’s climate changes and extreme weather patterns become more common, buildings designed to operate under historic climatic conditions may not perform as expected in future weather conditions. Methods and materials used to improve building comfort, safety, and energy efficiency may also cause new indoor health issues or worsen existing air quality.
For example, a building that was made airtight to increase energy efficiency might protect occupants from one set of problems but would increase their exposure to another. Such buildings tend to have decreased ventilation and more occupants reporting health problems, in large part due to the high concentration of many hazardous substances emitted from indoor sources.
Such emissions of indoor contaminants can come from building materials, furniture, and cleaning products, and indoor environmental conditions like humidity can alter the levels of microorganisms, insects, and allergens. Our drive to improve building performance should not obscure our need to deliver healthy, comfortable indoor environments.
Innovative materials and building techniques have not kept pace with safety testing, bringing us into contact with new—untested—chemicals in our buildings, with relatively little consideration for how they might affect human health.
While government agencies and other organizations are developing methods to evaluate emissions from the materials we use, more needs to be done to prioritize the prevention of health problems. An upfront investment to evaluate and use low-emission materials would yield benefits in health and in averted costs of medical care, remediation, and lost productivity.
Photo by Flickr | michaelcasey | CC-BY-2.0