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Market Drivers and Challenges Toward Healthier Buildings

By Katie Gloede and Charlotte O’Malley, Hanley Wood Media

Building green is just one piece to the full sustainability puzzle. Building design has far-reaching impacts on the health and well-being of occupants, and can be implemented in various ways. Active design that fosters physical activity, and maintenance practices that reduce exposure to mold and mildew, are only two examples of ways top health risk factors effecting both adults and children in commercial and residential spaces can be mitigated. But despite the obvious benefit of healthy design, the health impact of buildings on occupants are not at the forefront during design and construction planning.

A new SmartMarket Report produced by McGraw Hill Construction with American Institute of Architects reveals that the biggest barrier to considering the health impact of buildings is a lack of education on the connection between healthy work and living environments, and building occupants.

Based on increased national attention afforded to green rating systems like LEED, and growing health problems such as obesity, survey respondents (architects, contractors, and building owners) see future growth in considerations for public health in sustainable construction. Currently, building practices generally focus more heavily on energy efficiency than occupant health. According to the report's findings, architects consider health impacts to be an important factor in design and construction decisions, and they expect an emphasis on building health to grow from 63 to 79 percent by 2016. Conversely, owners and contractors do not consider health impacts to be as important, although the percentage of owners and contractors considering building impact on health in decision-making processes is also expected to grow by 2016.

A New Direction

The report emphasizes key barriers that prevent companies from adopting design and construction strategies that take health impact into consideration. Top challenges to implementing these building practices include the large number of factors builders must consider, lack of information and data on health impact, and the lack of willingness to invest in improvements related to occupant health.

This article was originally published in EcoBuilding Pulse magazine August 2014.

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