Linking facilities and human health


The pandemic has shown how facilities can influence human health.

dan hounsell

The general public has never been more interested in the operation of institutional and commercial facilities than during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, people are asking difficult questions about how buildings affect human health. And the more closely we examine this link, the clearer it becomes that inefficient construction operations can have fatal consequences.

For proof, look no further than the role of HVAC systems in the airborne spread of the coronavirus over the past 20 months. Recognizing this link, the US Department of Education recently released guidance on how schools, colleges, and universities can use federal funding to optimize ventilation systems to protect students and teachers.

The potentially fatal impact of facility operations does not end with the pandemic. New research from Yale University has quantified the impact of building emissions on human health – and death. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings could reduce emissions from heating and cooling, preventing thousands of premature deaths each year, according to Yale’s SEARCH Center and the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Their research presents two scenarios for improving building efficiency and estimates how many premature deaths in the United States would be avoided in each case. Burning fossil fuels releases large amounts of harmful airborne particles, which can cause heart and lung disease and worsen conditions such as asthma.

The optimistic scenario sees a 50% increase in the efficiency of everything from refrigerators to boilers and a 60-90% increase in the efficiency of building exterior envelopes by 2050. They estimate that up to 5,100 premature deaths would be avoided every year if these conditions were met.

Buildings don’t kill people, obviously. But if there is anything managers can learn from the events of the past 20 months, it’s that the impact of facility operations on human health is far greater than most people realize.

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