Productivity is a significant consideration for businesses, as staff costs typically can make up anywhere between 50 and 85 percent of a business’s budget. Employees can be the most expensive factor, according to Billy Grayson of Liberty Property Trust, and increasing their productivity even a small percentage can make a more significant impact on the bottom line even than improving energy or efficiency. However, the data correlating occupant wellness, sustainable construction and productivity has been limited – until now.
According to researchers at Harvard and Syracuse University, people who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have significant higher cognitive functioning scores — in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy — than those who work in offices with typical levels. In other words: improving building sustainability also can elevate employee performance.
Here are 3 principles designers should employ to improve employee productivity through more sustainable design:
A fundamental design method to improve long-term indoor air quality can reduce potential for rot and mildew. Berkeley Lab estimated health problems and building damage due to moisture racks up to approximately $3.5 billion annual asthma-related medical costs attributable to exposures to dampness and mold in the U.S.
Water vapor always will persist in the air, which means wherever air flows, moisture will follow. Employing moisture-resistant continuous insulation accompanied with air sealing is one of the most effective ways to minimize moisture intrusion. Continuous insulation simply is insulation that is continuous across all structural members without thermal bridges other than fasteners and service openings – it is installed on the interior, exterior, or is integral to any opaque surface of the building envelope. Not sure where to start? Check out Dow’s easy 3-step process to identify the right insulation for your project.
Better R-values are correlated with improved occupant comfort, which can accelerate employee productivity. Meanwhile, changes to building codes throughout Canada are upping the ante for builders to increase R-values – or the capacity of a building’s insulation to resist heat flow – and improve air sealing control measures. With these new requirements come many options, which sometimes lead to confusion over how to meet code and which products to use. In some regions, such as Ontario, one of the biggest changes to complying with the code is the requirement of continuous insulation.
Overall, the blanket of continuous insulation wrapping the building should meet the minimum requirement for the respective climate zone. This not only improves the energy efficiency for heating and cooling, but is used to manage heat flow to keep the surface temperature of materials inside the enclosure above the expected dew point to prevent condensation on the interior surfaces of exterior walls and ceilings. The insulation layer must be continuous to prevent condensation in low R-value components of the enclosure such as steel studs.
Building efficiency and occupant productivity are not mutually exclusive – in fact, they can be complementary. As more and more people work in office environments using computers and other smart devices dependent on digital connectivity, they don’t want physical discomfort to disrupt the things they need to get done. When it’s too hot or too cold, for example, employees will be distracted from their day-to-day tasks that harms overall productivity in the long run. The best way to ensure this is to achieve a high efficiency building envelope. However, the biggest challenges are fine tuning what gives the best occupant comfort – balancing the building envelop needs such as air leakage with integrating it with mechanical equipment for smooth operation.
By designing with people in mind, efficient buildings with improved air quality and other comforts can greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers. This is good for people, planet, and profit.