By Jason Hudspeth, Senior Architectural Designer, Certified Passive House Consultant
It is estimated that Americans spend 90% of our time indoors. The source of this oft-cited data comes from an August 1989 Report to Congress on Indoor Air Quality, which was generated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Fast-forward 30+ years to 2020, and what the researchers failed to account for was the scenario in which we currently find ourselves; where we are spending something closer to 99.9% of our time indoors due to a global pandemic and public health guidelines emphasizing the importance of staying at home as much as possible to limit both virus spread and potential exposure.
In cities like New York, where the SKOLNICK office is based, the density of the built environment exacerbated this condition in a pre-pandemic world. And for those weathering the crisis in both this city and beyond, indoor confinement has become the new normal. This intersection of health crisis and “indoorness” has led us to reflect on our role as designers in creating indoor spaces – and the direct relationship between our choices and the healthy or unhealthy interior living environments that result.
The Influencers of Building Health
Three categories of building “stuff” that contribute to the healthiness or unhealthiness of an interior space are:
XX1. Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (often simplified to HVAC)
XX2. Building Materials
XX3. Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment (commonly referred to as FF&E)
You and your electronic devices, tchotchkes, books, pets, plants, food, clothing, shoes, dead skin cells, hair, and whatever you dragged in on your feet also have a big impact on the interior environment, but we are putting the blame for these contaminants squarely on you and your behavior after construction ends. Like that time you used spray paint to “install a mural” over your natural stone backsplash. We won’t name names, but you know who you are.
As designers, we recognize that we cannot control all contaminants, however, we can influence the three primary categories mentioned above: HVAC, Building Materials, and FF&E. At SKOLNICK, we are serious about delivering projects that will yield healthy, high-performance spaces, and in this series on Designing for Healthy Interiors, we will take a closer look at how we incorporate the design of air management systems into high performance projects and will outline strategies for improving indoor air quality through design. Stay tuned!