Call Center Furniture: McGraw-Hill Study Shows Health Implications of Building Conditions
By Amanda Ciccatelli, TMCnet Web Editor
Today, roughly a quarter of our nation’s population spends the majority of their days in school buildings, while the majority of adults spend their time in office buildings. School and office buildings alike are in need of repair or replacement to ensure healthy conditions.
According to a McGraw-Hill study, with state and local budgets growing increasingly limited, funding allocation for construction and renovation needs to be carefully weighed. It is important to ensure that investments are going toward efforts that can best foster healthier buildings and environments. There is evidence that buildings impact health and the ability to learn and focus. The study shows that there is evidence that certain aspects of school buildings have an impact on student health and learning, such as:
- When deprived of natural light, studies have shown that melatonin cycles are disrupted, thus likely having an impact on their alertness.
- Teachers report higher levels of comfort in their classrooms when they have access to thermal controls like thermostats or operable windows
- According to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, when ventilation rates are at or below minimum standards, an associated decrease of 10 percent occurs in certain aspects of student performance tests.
- In recent studies, when ventilation rates were lowered from 17 cfm/person to 10 cfm/person, researchers saw a 15 percent increase in symptom prevalence for Sick Building Syndrome (ibid).
As buildings have deteriorated, it is only responsible to step back and ask whether these failing buildings may have an impact on the learning and working that takes place inside.
Air quality and ventilation is one impact that buildings can have on teachers, students, and workers. Building systems and materials can either have a positive impact on overall air quality in a building (when heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems filter out pollutants in ambient air), or they can contribute to a deterioration of air quality through increased particulate other toxic materials. Many building professionals are becoming aware of how many materials in our indoor environments are unhealthy for us, especially building materials.
The study shows that a group of well-known toxins in the building industry is VOCs, carbon-based chemicals that easily evaporate at room temperature. VOCs can have a variety of health impacts including respiratory issues, visual disorders, memory impairment and more. Mold also receives much attention, primarily for contributing to respiratory illness and asthma. There are other toxins whose impacts have begun to be understood such as formaldehyde (present in many building products, such as furniture and casework) as well as Phthalates and Bisphenol A (BPA), both of which are present in many plastics used in construction. These chemicals are not only problematic in terms of breathing and respiration, but also more generally can have health impacts due to skin exposure.
In addition, knowledge grows every day about the potential hazards of prolonged exposures to loud noise or fluorescent lighting. Research on lighting and classrooms has been conducted for over a century, but attention in recent years has focused on the importance of natural light.
It makes sense that daylight would enhance the learning environment, but, because school districts are asked to justify decisions using quantifiable means, researchers have shown more conclusively that daylight is positive for learning and working environments. This research includes finding information about daylight design strategies (like skylights, clerestories, frosted glass, etc.) to show whether certain strategies are most beneficial to overall health. The visual qualities of learning and working environment are some of the most crucial building aspects to design properly. In the early days of lighting research in schools, the focus was on quantity in how much light to provide for given tasks, instead of how light quality impacts student health.
Research on building conditions can mobilize advocates to get feedback to practitioners, as well as school and business leaders who need it to increase funding for the improvement of school and office buildings.
Edited by Tammy Wolf