Buildings That Create a Sense of Wellbeing For All

The wellbeing of staff and building occupants is the latest issue to hit the headlines for all employers and building owners to deal with. There are many factors that affect the wellbeing of people whilst they are in our buildings, and this is particularly important where we spend long periods of time in them, such as offices or homes for example.

Providing natural light, fresh air and comfort all add to one’s sense of wellbeing when in an indoor space. There are other ‘soft’ factors, such as cleanliness, break times and welfare which affect wellbeing but it is the ‘hard’ factors such as natural light and fresh air that building services design engineers can influence. Improvements in these areas can make a workplace a lot more productive and residential buildings more highly priced.

Natural Light

The amount of natural light entering a building is largely down to the architect but building services engineers can emphasise the importance of this element early in the design process. Natural light is free and reduces the energy demand of the building but it should be remembered that at night minimum lighting levels must be met. Where possible the natural light and the electric lighting should complement each other. An energy saving method is to add light sensors to the room that switch off the lights when natural light is providing the required levels.

The orientation of the building and windows has a major effect on the amount of natural light entering a room and this can easily be modelled in engineering software to show the client or architect where the light will fall at any time of day within the calendar year.

Other factors to consider when allowing lots of natural light into a space is the affect it will have on display screens, TV’s or other equipment in the room. Also on the very hottest days of the year direct sunlight will cause discomfort to those sat in it for long periods. To counter this blinds, moveable louvres or tinted glass can be used and the building services engineer can provide advice for the best solution for each space.

Fresh Air

Different buildings have different amounts of natural ventilation and this is down to things such as the gaps around doors, door seals, window vents, occupancy and the stack effect within the building. The stack effect is created by the difference in temperature or pressure within different parts of the building that enables air to move by natural forces, this can be designed in to the building deliberately or sometimes it is the unintentional result of having equipment or windows added to a building retrospectively.

The key to good use of fresh air is to provide the right temperature and humidity air to the right place at the right time. This can be done naturally (possibly by use of the stack effect) or mechanically using fans or air handling units.

The simplest method of providing fresh air is openable windows or vents that are controlled by the occupier, however this can be inefficient when lots of heat escapes or when the outside air quality is poor.

By ducting the air though filters the quality of the air can be controlled and by adding sensors the timing of the fresh air introduction can be controlled. For example, a meeting room requires lots of fresh air when occupied to capacity but when not in use the level of fresh air being introduced can be lowered thus reducing the fan energy used.

Other simple ways of improving air quality is to have plants around the house or office area that produce oxygen to replace the carbon dioxide that builds up through our occupancy.

A key source of office place pollutants are printers and photocopiers and the latest guidance states that these should be put in their own room with extract ventilation. This not only reduces the pollutants in the office but also reduces noise which can be a constant distraction.

In some cases, a simple monitoring system can be installed that will enable vents to open or fans to operate when the pollutant levels are high. Monitors are cheap and co-ordinating these into a simple control system can be completed by a building services engineer.

The minimum levels of ventilation given in some guidance documents do not always provide a comfortable environment so additional fresh air may be required and this can normally be checked through some simple calculations.

Summary

By making a few changes to a buildings ventilation and lighting the wellbeing of the occupants can be hugely increased and where the occupants are working staff then their productivity will certainly improve. There are now several methods of assessing the productivity in a workplace, some of which provide a financial cost to the client showing exactly how much money the company is losing. Other assessments highlight the pollutants, materials and air quality that are creating poor or un-healthy working conditions.

For example, the ‘Well Building Standards’ measures how a buildings features impact the health and wellbeing of its occupants. The categories assessed include air and light and when the required standards are met silver, gold or platinum certification is awarded.

So, the questions you should be asking yourself are:

  • Can I generate better productivity from my staff by looking after their wellbeing?
  • Can I charge higher rent for a building that focuses on the wellbeing of its occupants?

And I would suggest the answer to these questions will be best answered by a Building Services Design Engineer.

If you would like to find out how we can help you create a sense of wellbeing in your building design, then contact us by calling 0115 7788227 or email info@bem-services.co.uk