Your Building Might Be Making You Sick

Jul 20, 2021 at 01:52 pm by pj


 “Buildings can act as a tool to fight infectious disease, or work against us!”… Joseph Allen



Healthcare professionals are in the daily battle of fighting sickness and disease for people, but could the environment you and others live and work in be making people worse? 

The Covid-19 pandemic brought to the forefront a look at building environments as a place for healing, particularly with respect to air and surfaces. Joseph Allen, director at the Harvard T. Chan School of Public Health, recently published a book ‘Healthy Buildings’ with nine foundational concepts for creating places for health and productivity.   


Well Buildings 

Recent developments integrating Building and Health sciences are currently being utilized to create healthier places for people. The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) has put forth new standards for healthy environments and supported the idea from Allen by offering a Well Building Certification. The CDC and GSA also initiated a certification process in 2016 to implement the Fitwel Certification. This program was a result of over 3000 academic research studies and has over 600 projects registered to date to create healthier buildings and communities. 

IWBI is working to educate the public on the need for getting buildings “Certified” by WELL AP professionals according to the seven concepts of Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Sound, Comfort and Mind. In these standards, they address the interaction and impact on human body systems: Cardiovascular, Digestive, Endocrine, Immune, Integumentary, Muscular, Nervous, Reproductive and Respiratory, Skeletal, and Urinary. 


“I’ve said many times that the person who designs and operates your building has a greater impact on your health than your doctor.” Joseph Allen 

The big question for us is, do you know what is in your building, and is it working for or against your practice?


Air/Surface Quality 

Air and surface quality are primary factors that doctors, scientists, engineers and architects are digging deeper into understanding how to engage buildings in the health fight today. We’ve seen through Covid that transmission of disease via air and particles can impact people’s health significantly. The world changed to using PPE and other means to minimize transmission of the pathogens. 

The good news is there are new and effective engineering tools that can be used in the fight to improve air quality including UVC lights, bipolar ionization, and hydroxyl peroxides. UV lights have been used in the medical environment to destroy pathogens in ductwork and unoccupied spaces. Possibly more effective in air quality is the introduction of ions in the space to attach to pathogens and destroy viruses, bacteria, mold spores and odors inside the building spaces. This technology has been implemented in over 250,000 public and private facilities ranging from hospitals and clinics to educational and public venues like airports, sports arenas and the East Wing of The White House.  

Environmental air quality can be quantified using digital instruments to measure PM2.5/10 dust particles, VOC’s and other harmful elements that impact nearly every body system. Peter Drucker, the 20th century business guru stated, “if you can measure it, you can manage it”. This is certainly applicable in nearly every area of our lives and realized everyday in medical practices.  

Surface quality was at first believed to be a primary fomite transmission of the Covid virus prompted CDC and others to put forth sanitization and disinfectant policies to reduce transmission of the Virus. Further studies indicated the Virus didn’t remain on surfaces for extended lengths of time and factors such as air quality impacted its duration.  

Medical staff was busily cleaning surfaces with alcohol based cleaners that would kill pathogens like the Covid virus, but the bad news is most surfaces were cleaned with chemicals that would “off-gas” harmful chemicals. Dispersed in the air it caused additional exposure of damaging chemicals affecting staff lungs, throats and noses. Is your office causing more damage than good with over cleaning using these potentially toxic chemicals? 


Healthy Results 

We can enlist buildings as tools to bring health and life to people. By measuring, assessing and implementing good engineering principles including ventilation, filtration and purification in HVAC systems there are excellent results that can be achieved. The medical profession expertise along with professional analysis of building environment can help win the battle to create healthier and happier lives in our community. Perhaps a checkup of your building could help you understand and reduce the risks of an unhealthy environment. 

Future investigation of other health concepts would include Nutrition, Water, Sound, Light, Comfort and Mind/Body connections impacting all body systems and medical practices. 


Keith W. Thomas AIA, LEED AP, CEE , Fitwel Amb. is the CEO of inpura, a healthy building consulting firm specializing in measuring and purifying indoor air quality in the Southeast U.S. His 35+ years of architectural practice and healthy living initiatives offer his clients a global perspective to solving environmental design and health issues in commercial and residential buildings. 

Reach out to him at