The indoor environment has a significant impact on human health. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend an average of 90% of their time indoors. In order to ensure that building design, construction, and maintenance team members provide a high-quality environment for the occupants of a building, several sustainable building programs and tools are available. The most recognized building certification program is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The LEED programs are designed to fit in several building types and conditions, including K-12 schools, hospitals, new construction, major renovations, and existing buildings operations and maintenance, to name a few.
All of the LEED programs have five main credit categories. Each category has a number of requirements and credits. Credits have a point value associated with them, and a team must provide documentation and be awarded credits in order for the building to be certified. There are levels of certification, depending on how many credits are awarded. The levels are certified, silver, gold and platinum. A building team chooses which credits to pursue for their building in order to reach the level of certification that they set as their goal.
The indoor environmental quality category is focused on human health and wellness. For this credit category, there are requirements that must be met, such as providing the ASHRAE building standard calculated amount of outside ‘fresh’ air that the mechanical system provides to the spaces, and either no smoking in or within 25 feet of the building entrance or air intakes, or a properly ventilated and sealed smoking room within the building.
The credits for the indoor environmental quality category include high-quality air filtration, increasing the outside air provided, reducing volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) found in building products as well as other harmful chemicals, and providing daylight and views to the outside. In K-12 schools, requirements include providing low noise levels along with high acoustical quality in classrooms, so that children can hear their teachers.
Additional credits are available for using low VOC cleaning products, using low impact landscape materials, such as using mulch for weeds instead of spraying with chemicals, and implementing an integrated pest management system for insect control. Green procurement is another method of assuring that an organization purchases products that align with sustainability goals, including low VOC products.
The USGBC’s goal is to provide a program that gives building teams tools to develop high-performance, healthy living spaces. Southface utilizes this tool to provide technical assistance and sustainability consulting services for many clients interested in providing healthy environments in their homes, school, offices, and clinics. All of these efforts are most effective when building teams work with occupants to develop a holistic approach to health and wellness that is incorporated into building design, construction, maintenance and procurement.
– This article was written for the Georgia Environmental Health Association Journal.