We spend 90% of our time indoors, so the spaces we inhabit have an enormous effect on our lives. Our goal is to elevate human well-being to the forefront of building practices and reinvent buildings that are not only better for the planet, but for people as well. There are seven main categories to consider in designing for human well-being: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind. Below are some alterations that can be made to existing interior spaces that address air quality. This list does not include recommended procedures for new construction. Keep in mind that ongoing procedural changes should also be implemented such as proper cleaning, a ban on smoking both indoors and outdoors, the elimination of outdoor pesticides and herbicides for the exterior landscaping, regular monitoring of indoor air quality, and pest control.

1. Add windows, doors, or louvers that can open for natural ventilation and a connection to the outdoor environment, monitor outdoor air quality, and have a system to indicate to occupants whether operable windows can be opened.

2. Add an entryway walk-off system comprised of grilles, grates, or slots which allow for easy cleaning underneath and an entryway vestibule or revolving doors (at the main building entrance, not the interior suite entrance). Occupants track harmful contaminants indoors including bacteria, heavy metals, lawn and agricultural pesticides, and other toxins. Polluted outside air can also enter the building as people open the entry doors.

3. Replace any wall-to-wall carpeting with smooth, hard flooring, and removable rugs, replace high-touch surfaces with non-porous surfaces that are smooth with smooth joints and no crevices or hard-to-reach places, and replace countertops and fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens, and all handles, doorknobs, light switches and elevator buttons with ones that are coated with or comprised of a material that is abrasion-resistant, non-leaching and meets EPA testing requirements for antimicrobial activity. Surfaces exposed to frequent human touch can harbor microbes, pathogens, and toxins for extended periods of time. Using materials that facilitate easy cleaning reduces the need for cleaning products that contain potentially toxic chemicals.

4. Enclose janitorial/chemical storage closets, bathrooms, and all rooms that contain printers and copiers (except those meeting low-emission criteria) with self-closing doors separating those rooms from adjacent spaces, and exhaust the air from those rooms rather than allowing the air to be recirculated. Chemical storage closets can be a source of harmful vapors that are linked to cancer, and organ and central nervous system damage. Copy rooms can contribute to the production of ozone which is linked to asthma and other respiratory diseases. Bathrooms can also be a source of mold and mildew that release spores and toxins which can trigger asthma and allergies.

5. Add air filtration and purification systems, ensure adequate ventilation, provide proper maintenance of HVAC cooling coils and drain pans, and add one plant for every 100 square feet of space. Indoor pollutants can lead to a variety of symptoms and health problems. Volatile organic compounds or “VOC’s” (that off-gas from paints, finishes, insulation, furnishings), combustion byproducts and airborne particulate matter, bacteria, and mold spores are known to cause or promote lung cancer, leukemia, cardiovascular disease, nausea, headaches, asthma, respiratory system disorders, allergies, and more.

6. In areas where outdoor air quality is especially poor, add a carbon filtration and/or air sanitization system. Proximity to high-traffic roads, manufacturing plants, and agricultural areas have higher incidents of ozone and VOC content. Similarly, climates with high humidity without adequate indoor ventilation can foster the development of mold and spores.

7. Limit the potential for water infiltration and condensation and promote drying potential. Moisture can enter buildings in numerous ways such as through windows and plumbing/electrical/mechanical penetrations, porous building materials, and poor site drainage, and water from interior sources such as plumbing leaks and appliances, high interior humidity levels in bathrooms, laundry rooms and below-grade spaces cause bacteria and mold growth which can cause numerous health problems.

8. Remove toxic materials where feasible and replace with non-toxic materials. Various chemicals are used in the fabrication of materials such as flooring, ceiling tiles, wall coverings, piping, conduits, adhesives, resins, insulation, window and waterproofing membranes, door and window frames and siding, textiles, fabrics, window blinds, interior finishes, and furnishings, and their off-gassing is associated with respiratory, neurobehavioral, carcinogenic and immune symptoms. Some of these chemicals can bioaccumulate in our body’s fat and result in food chain contamination. Furnishings and finishes should meet one or more of the following requirements: a. Have a Declare: Living Building Challenge Red List Free, Declare: Living Building Challenge Compliant, or Living Product Challenge label. b. Are Cradle to Cradle Certified products with a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum level in the Material Health category or products with a Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum level Material Health Certificate from the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. c. Have no GreenScreen Benchmark 1, List Translator 1, or List Translator Possible 1 substances over 1,000 ppm, as verified by a qualified Ph.D. toxicologist or Certified Industrial Hygienist.

9. Reduce or eliminate occupant exposure to lead, asbestos, mercury, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s) which may still be present in older buildings. This requires testing. These toxic materials are known to cause lung cancer, mesothelioma, plus memory, IQ, learning, and behavioral challenges.

10. Remove or separate wood and gas fireplaces, stoves, space-heaters, ranges, and ovens from regularly occupied spaces. These items can contribute harmful combustion byproducts such as carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Carbon monoxide has 210 times the binding affinity for hemoglobin compared to oxygen, and prevents oxygen from being delivered to the body, leading to hypoxia – lack of oxygen delivery to the body tissues that can cause nausea, loss of consciousness, and death. Carbon monoxide leads to about 170 non-automotive fatal poisonings in the U.S. every year.