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Linking Facilities and Human Health
The general public has never been more interested in the way institutional and commercial facilities operate than during the COVID-19 pandemic. More specifically, people are asking tough questions about the way buildings affect human health. And the closer we look at this link, the clearer it becomes that inefficient building 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 last 20 months. Acknowledging this link, the U.S. Department of Education recently issued guidelines for the way schools, colleges, and universities can use federal funding to optimize ventilation systems to protect students and teachers.
The potentially fatal impact of facilities operations doesn’t stop 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 the emissions generated from heating and cooling them, preventing thousands of premature deaths every year, according to Yale’s SEARCH Center and the Yale School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Their research lays out two building efficiency improvement scenarios and estimates how many premature U.S. deaths would be prevented in each case. Burning fossil fuels releases large amounts of harmful airborne particulate matter, which can cause heart and lung disease and aggravate conditions such as asthma.
The optimistic scenario envisions a 50 percent increase in the efficiency of everything from refrigerators to boilers and a 60-90 percent increase in the efficiency of buildings’ outer shells by 2050. They estimate that up to 5,100 premature deaths would be prevented yearly if those conditions were met.
Buildings don’t kill people, obviously. But if managers can take anything from the events of the last 20 months, it’s that the impact of facilities operations on human health is much greater than most people realize.