by Meadow Cernunnos
We were really excited when we found statistical data that supports the link between cognition and living/working indoors, and hence, increases productivity when certain measures are taken regarding the buildings we spend so much time in. Therefore, this article is a synopsis of highlights from the Healthy Buildings for Health / COBE website, which covers the amazing research on indoor air quality and how some major changes and trends toward green building has made an impact on cognition.
This means that buildings are now directly linked with improving brain function of the people who live and work inside them.
Healthy Buildings for Health / COBE lists the ‘9 Foundations of a Healthy Building’ as thus:
- Air quality
- Thermal health
- Dust and pests
- Safety and security
- Water quality
- Lighting and views
How does this affect how we design and build our homes? This is especially important with an increasing amount of people who are working from home since Covid pandemic hit in 2020+.
The real problem is that 90% of people’s time is spent indoors, whether that be in our homes, at work, in our vehicles or airplanes, stores and malls, restaurants, and the gym, etc. Yet, with all of this, why do most people think of “air quality” based only on outside air (pollutants from industrial emissions and utilities, burning waste and wildfires, microbial decay, transporation, agriculture, and so on)? Does that polluted air not also reach inside our homes?
This does not count all of the indoor air pollution, which may include smoke and particulates from products or cooking, fuel-burning appliances (combustion), building materials (formadehyde from newer carpets, pressed wood products), glues, solvents and scented cleaning agents, personal care products, excess moisture and mould spores, pesticides, radon, etc.
There is a hypothesis called “Biophilia”, which states that human beings have an innate connection and desire to interact with nature, which may directly influence their health as well as productivity.
Even so, modern and western societies tend to live and work, and even play indoors the majority of the time, which disconnects people from nature and the life-giving energy that is needed for health and wellbeing. Biophillic design incorporates elements from nature into the design of the indoor space. But what does this mean?
It means fresh air with ventilation, low VOC (volatile organic compounds), balanced moisture, healthier lighting (both natural daylighting and other means that promote health, as well as cognition. People think clearer and faster when they are living and working in a healthier environment. For example, passive solar homes bring in natural daylighting for health (full-spectrum lightbulbs can also aid in healthy living), while MVHR (mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) improves energy efficiency as well as creating a more comfortable environment.
New construction of homes and other buildings are not just better because they are “new” rather than “old”, but it is superior because the 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building (mentioned above) factors are addressed, which together make a huge impact on health.
According to Healthy Buildings for Health / COBE, research has been done to show how cognition improves due to these changes in buildings, so here are a few examples (external links below):
Going Biophilic, Living and Working in Biophilic Buildings View Research
Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity View Research
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards deal with green building and serves as an excellent construction rating system around the globe. According to COBE, $7.58 billion dollars worth of energy expenses were saved because buildings were LEED-certified (compared to standard construction), which also reduced these pollutants:
- 33 million tons of carbon dioxide
- 51 kilotons of sulfur dioxide
- 38 kilotons nitrous oxide
- 10 kilotons of PM2.5 (particulate matter, 2.5
micrometers in diameter or smaller)
Co-benefits of both health and climate, according to the source, equalled $5.8 billion dollars (between 2000-2016); this amount is almost equal to how much green buildings have saved within the United States alone, but in developing nations the benefits were as much as 10x higher. (source: https://cobe.forhealth.org )
The world is changing, and we are changing, and so our buildings are changing as well. No longer do we need to expect to be forced to sit in a dusty old office (that smells like a musty basement) with flickering fluorescent lights. Images from the old movie with Joe Banks (played by Tom Hanks) in Joe Versus the Volcano come to mind…
Buildings are not just safer, but they are healthier now. Imagine the smoke and particulates from ancient peoples who lived in huts or caves, using fires as their only source of heat and cooking fuel… it is no wonder that their life expectancy was often very limited, sometimes people dying of “old age” in their 40’s or 50’s. Today, we have medical advances and technological advances that help us live longer in safer, healthier homes, which also improve how well our brains function.
Today, Healthy Buildings for Health states that society is changing in these 10 ways:
- Changing populations
- Changing cities
- Changing resources
- Changing climate
- Changing the role of the private sector
- Changing the definition of health
- Changing buildings
- Changing work
- Changing technologies
- Changing values
According to COBE (Health Co-Benefits of the Built Environment), Harvard T.H. Chan, School of Public Health:
“Buildings consumer 40% of the world’s energy”
… their answer to this issue:
“Increasing the energy efficiency of buildings can lower demand on the energy grid.”
(source: https://cobe.forhealth.org/ )
Healthy Buildings for Health also cover these “36 Expert Tips to Make Your Home a Healthier Home”:
Interestingly, these are not the only ways to improve health in your home.
Grow Indoor Plants
You can add potted living plants to improve air quality in your home, as well as ambiance. Plants typically make a home feel good and look better.
Passive Solar Home Design
Passive solar home design provides proper daylighting and healthy sunlight, especially during winter when people are stuck inside for longer durations. People tend to get more sunlight and do outdoor activities during summer, so south-facing windows for solar gain is essential for helping to overcome the wintertime blues. Light therapy is also used to help people sleep sounder and deal with insomnia, improving mental health, and general wellbeing. As humans, we need the sun’s light for our health, supporting the concept of biophilia.
Super-Insulating the Envelope
Most people understand that insulating the envelope (outer walls, attic, and foundation) of a building is much like putting on an overcoat while standing out in the snow. It is essential to keep the building warm. However, while LEED standard is superior to most standard building codes, super-insulating the envelope according to Passive House standards (the highest in the world), or at least over-insulating the home, while adding the design features of solar gain and thermal mass (passive solar design), will also vastly improve the home’s comfort levels, thermally speaking. This can also improve noise levels between the inside and the outside of the building.
Air Tightness and Air Ventilation
One of the keys to an energy efficient home is air tightness, not just super-insulating the envelope. However, with that, indoor air quality can suffer if proper air ventilation is not equally addressed in the home or building. MVHR improves both energy re-use and indoor air quality. This also deals with removal of excess moisture and dust/particulates or gases that can otherwise cause mould or other problems.
Lastly, just a few more questions to ask yourself…
How many more things can you think of to improve your cognition, indoor air, home, and quality of life?
Would it be worth it to live in a newly constructed home that is built with these higher standards in mind?
Would it be beneficial to live in a place filled with like-minded people that also stay in passive solar homes, which together make a community?
Would it be an improvement to grow permaculture forest gardens and live in ways that help support a healthy lifestyle?
This is what Forest Meadow Villages is about!