Health benefits of green building

August 31, 2008

I was wondering what some of the specific health concerns there are for buildings that are not created in the “green construction” fashion. What are some health benefits of green constructed buildings. – Liz Liz, This is a pretty basic question, but it’s one that is often overlooked by advocates, who simply assume that green buildings must be better, so it’s good that you ask. Benefits to the actual inhabitants of green buildings generally come from improved indoor air quality, and enhanced lighting. Many buildings use materials with toxic components that slowly evaporate into rooms and interior spaces. Lead paint and asbestos are old-fashioned examples that are not used today, but are still present in many homes and businesses. Vinyl composite tile (VCT) flooring, or paints with volatile organic compounds are more contemporary examples. In poorly ventilated buildings, these substances can accumulate to concentrations that cause health problems over time such as asthma or cancer (a building won’t give you cancer right away, or perhaps even by itself, but many of the substances used in building materials are carcinogenic – i.e. cancer-causing). This also applies to cleaning products with toxic chemicals used inside living spaces. Poorly ventilated spaces can also cause the accumulation of moisture and the growth of mold, which contributes to asthma and other respiratory ailments. Good ventilation and climate control can also help reduce illness by eliminating drafts and areas within the home with drastic temperature changes. Good indoor air quality, combined with better lighting involving more natural sunlight, has been attributed to increased productivity and fewer sick days in office and industrial buildings. Those are some benefits. The opposite, or “health concerns” as you referred to them are not always present in buildings that have not been intentionally built green. However, because much of green building is also about building well (e.g. properly designed and installed ventilation, good envelope sealing, etc), they will be concerns in poorly built structures. Additionally, in cities like New York there is a very strong link between energy consumption and health b/c of the concentration of people around energy production facilities and the presence of older coal-fired plants. The more energy we use, the more pollution is emitted, the more “bad-air” days we have where people need to go inside, etc. So the more energy efficient our buildings are, less energy is used, and the less pollution is emitted, the less bad-air days we have, which reduces health problems such as asthma. Buildings built on brownfield sites also help improve the health of communities by cleaning up a source of toxic substances in the neighborhood.