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“9 foundations of a healthy building” is a great start

Originally posted on TreeHugger. By Lloyd Alter

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health keeps it simple and short.

For the last few years we have been going on about The Healthy Home, as we become more aware of the dangers from the stuff we build with or bring into our homes. We have made our own recommendations for Ten things to do to have a healthy home, but now the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health has published The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building that are concise and easy to use, responding to complaints like “Your research is very interesting, but I can’t take a scientific paper into my meeting on Monday and convince a building owner or manager to do things differently. I need a short summary.” (Funny how almost all real estate types have short attention spans)

foundations of healthy buildings

The nine foundations are intact designed to be “a clear and actionable distillation of the core elements of healthy indoor environments.” It’s a wonderful document that is layers deep; you start with the image where you can click on each foundation, then you get a paragraph summary, then you get detail with references.

The 9 Foundations curated summaries are designed to be a clear and actionable distillation of the core elements of healthy indoor environments. For each, we created a 2-page summary of the underlying science, fully cited back to the primary literature. These summaries are included in the following pages, along with a short guide for how to achieve each foundation. The 9 Foundations apply universally to all building types, including homes, but the supporting text focuses mainly on commercial office environments.

air quality

It isn’t as detailed as, say, the Well Standard, but it gets pretty sophisticated in its discussion of lighting and “thermal health” The little one-paragraph summaries are perhaps too short with too little information and sometimes can be misleading; under air quality they say “Limit vapor intrusion by using a vapor barrier.” That’s just wrong, and is not explained or discussed in the longer Air Quality section.

In the Thermal Health section, they do a sophisticated explanation of what thermal health and comfort is, but don’t actually suggest anything but installing air conditioning to prevent buildings from overheating. One sentence seems to mix up air quality and thermal health in a way that makes it almost meaningless: “A study on workplace thermal conditions and health impacts observed that workers experienced itchy, watery eyes, headaches, and throat irritation when thermal factors such as ventilation, humidity, and heat were unfavorable.”

The document is a work in progress; Professor Joseph Allen writes that “We began with these 9 Foundations and plan to add to this collection.” For instance, they have a box underneath discussing Active Design, which along with Universal Design should probably be rolled in as a Foundation.

It’s not perfect, but for real estate types with short attention spans, it is a great start. Download it from 9 foundations for health.

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