The buildings helping to ward off coronavirus

The buildings helping to ward off coronavirus

We spend 90% of our time indoors on average. From the quality of the air we breathe to the materials used inside, the buildings where we work, live and relax have a deep impact on our health and wellbeing. 

Our living conditions play a critical role in preventing the spread of disease. Medical experts even say that green buildings can help us in our fight against coronavirus. 

These types of buildings preserve natural resources, prioritise good ventilation and are highly energy efficient. They reduce both waste and air pollution and are built using non-toxic, sustainable materials. 

Fresh air

Ventilation is critical to prevent the transmission of coronavirus pathogens, medical experts say. Studies suggest that viral pathogens can linger in indoor air for at least eight minutes

Many modern buildings use mixed ventilation systems to evenly disperse airborne contaminants in a room, increase energy efficiency and keep temperatures consistent. A study by the University of Cambridge warned that this type of ventilation may increase the risk of exposure to coronavirus. 

“During coronavirus, nobody wants recirculated air in offices, gyms and schools,” says Catriona Brady, head of Better Places for People at the World Green Building Council. 

The best way to improve indoor air quality is to ensure a constant stream of fresh air from outside. But in many places this is not possible because the air is too polluted or cold, according to Brady. 

Healthy air is a key criteria for green buildings. “If a building doesn’t improve the health of occupants, then it is not a sustainable building,” says Brady. 

The main green building certifications, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and WELL, set stringent standards for air quality and place emphasis on bringing outdoor air into the building

“The more outdoor air, the better,” says Joe Snider, founder of Integrative Sustainability Solutions, a green building consultancy in the US. Good ventilation not only removes pathogens, it also prevents the build up of harmful toxins and mould, says Snider. 

“A green building is like a giant face mask,” says Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Green Building Council. He explains that many commercial buildings in Singapore use smart sensors to track the number of people present and adjust the amount of fresh air entering the building accordingly. By 2030, Singapore aims for 80% of its buildings to be green

Balancing the demand for fresh air ventilation during the pandemic with the need to conserve energy is a difficult task. 

“We’re doing the best we can right now to improve our indoor air quality and keep our air moving about, but the risk is insanely high uses of energy. In the current climate it is much more challenging to meet our criteria for healthy levels of ventilation [while] working towards net zero carbon energy use,” says Brady.

Disinfecting lights 

Studies show that coronavirus can live on hard surfaces for up to three days. This makes it difficult for offices and schools to guarantee a safe and clean environment.

The world’s biggest lighting maker Signify has come up with an innovative solution to this problem. 

The company has developed lights that act as a disinfectant against coronavirus. The ultraviolet UV-C lights destroy the outer protein coating of the coronavirus, leaving it inactive. A study by Boston University found that Signify lights left 99% of coronavirus pathogens inactive after six seconds. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Signify’s production capacity has increased eight-fold to cope with the overwhelming demand for disinfecting lights, says Barbara Kreissler, the company’s director of professional lighting. “There is a huge opportunity to use these lights in offices, schools, sports facilities and public transport,” she says. 

The UV-C lights are equipped with sensors to ensure that they only operate when people aren’t nearby. This is important as the radiation can cause serious burns. In China, many companies are using these lights to disinfect entire offices at night, Kreissler says. 

The lights are connected to a smart system which highlights the areas that have been disinfected. “The company saves money because the cleaners don’t have to go into [that] meeting room,” Kreissler adds. 

Non-toxic materials

“Buildings should be improving our health, but a lot of us occupy buildings that potentially make us more ill,” says Brady.

Many everyday construction materials contain dangerous toxins. Paint is one of the biggest culprits. Many types of paint contain the colourless gas formaldehyde, one of the most common volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Formaldehyde is also found in many types of glue, adhesives and sealants as well as certain types of foam insulation. The gas poses a serious risk to human health; it is carcinogenic and can cause both respiratory problems and skin irritation. 

Green building certifications, such as LEED and WELL, place strict limits on toxic formaldehyde emissions. The sealant for a concrete floor typically contains around 600 grams of VOCs per litre, says Snider. “Sustainability guidelines say we want that at 100 grams per litre.” 

Brady hopes that the pandemic will change the way we build and place greater emphasis on health and wellbeing in the construction industry. In future buildings will be installed with sensors to monitor indoor air quality and CO2 levels as well as hands-free lifts to improve hygiene, she says. 

“For all new buildings, everything you can do to maximise health and wellbeing is going to be fundamental.”

 

Building a Better Future A series of films and articles produced by BBC StoryWorks, exploring what the construction sector is doing to become more sustainable. Read More

The buildings helping to ward off coronavirus

We spend 90% of our time indoors on average. From the quality of the air we breathe to the materials used inside, the buildings where we work, live and relax have a deep impact on our health and wellbeing. 

Our living conditions play a critical role in preventing the spread of disease. Medical experts even say that green buildings can help us in our fight against coronavirus. 

These types of buildings preserve natural resources, prioritise good ventilation and are highly energy efficient. They reduce both waste and air pollution and are built using non-toxic, sustainable materials. 

Fresh air

Ventilation is critical to prevent the transmission of coronavirus pathogens, medical experts say. Studies suggest that viral pathogens can linger in indoor air for at least eight minutes

Many modern buildings use mixed ventilation systems to evenly disperse airborne contaminants in a room, increase energy efficiency and keep temperatures consistent. A study by the University of Cambridge warned that this type of ventilation may increase the risk of exposure to coronavirus. 

“During coronavirus, nobody wants recirculated air in offices, gyms and schools,” says Catriona Brady, head of Better Places for People at the World Green Building Council. 

The best way to improve indoor air quality is to ensure a constant stream of fresh air from outside. But in many places this is not possible because the air is too polluted or cold, according to Brady. 

Healthy air is a key criteria for green buildings. “If a building doesn’t improve the health of occupants, then it is not a sustainable building,” says Brady. 

The main green building certifications, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and WELL, set stringent standards for air quality and place emphasis on bringing outdoor air into the building

“The more outdoor air, the better,” says Joe Snider, founder of Integrative Sustainability Solutions, a green building consultancy in the US. Good ventilation not only removes pathogens, it also prevents the build up of harmful toxins and mould, says Snider. 

“A green building is like a giant face mask,” says Dr Ho Nyok Yong, president of the Singapore Green Building Council. He explains that many commercial buildings in Singapore use smart sensors to track the number of people present and adjust the amount of fresh air entering the building accordingly. By 2030, Singapore aims for 80% of its buildings to be green

Balancing the demand for fresh air ventilation during the pandemic with the need to conserve energy is a difficult task. 

“We’re doing the best we can right now to improve our indoor air quality and keep our air moving about, but the risk is insanely high uses of energy. In the current climate it is much more challenging to meet our criteria for healthy levels of ventilation [while] working towards net zero carbon energy use,” says Brady.

Disinfecting lights 

Studies show that coronavirus can live on hard surfaces for up to three days. This makes it difficult for offices and schools to guarantee a safe and clean environment.

The world’s biggest lighting maker Signify has come up with an innovative solution to this problem. 

The company has developed lights that act as a disinfectant against coronavirus. The ultraviolet UV-C lights destroy the outer protein coating of the coronavirus, leaving it inactive. A study by Boston University found that Signify lights left 99% of coronavirus pathogens inactive after six seconds. 

Since the start of the pandemic, Signify’s production capacity has increased eight-fold to cope with the overwhelming demand for disinfecting lights, says Barbara Kreissler, the company’s director of professional lighting. “There is a huge opportunity to use these lights in offices, schools, sports facilities and public transport,” she says. 

The UV-C lights are equipped with sensors to ensure that they only operate when people aren’t nearby. This is important as the radiation can cause serious burns. In China, many companies are using these lights to disinfect entire offices at night, Kreissler says. 

The lights are connected to a smart system which highlights the areas that have been disinfected. “The company saves money because the cleaners don’t have to go into [that] meeting room,” Kreissler adds. 

Non-toxic materials

“Buildings should be improving our health, but a lot of us occupy buildings that potentially make us more ill,” says Brady.

Many everyday construction materials contain dangerous toxins. Paint is one of the biggest culprits. Many types of paint contain the colourless gas formaldehyde, one of the most common volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Formaldehyde is also found in many types of glue, adhesives and sealants as well as certain types of foam insulation. The gas poses a serious risk to human health; it is carcinogenic and can cause both respiratory problems and skin irritation. 

Green building certifications, such as LEED and WELL, place strict limits on toxic formaldehyde emissions. The sealant for a concrete floor typically contains around 600 grams of VOCs per litre, says Snider. “Sustainability guidelines say we want that at 100 grams per litre.” 

Brady hopes that the pandemic will change the way we build and place greater emphasis on health and wellbeing in the construction industry. In future buildings will be installed with sensors to monitor indoor air quality and CO2 levels as well as hands-free lifts to improve hygiene, she says. 

“For all new buildings, everything you can do to maximise health and wellbeing is going to be fundamental.”

 

Building a Better Future A series of films and articles produced by BBC StoryWorks, exploring what the construction sector is doing to become more sustainable. Read More