Buildings Fit for Humans

Today’s guest blog was contributed by Mark Silverberg, president of Technoform North America.

Today’s guest blog was contributed by Mark Silverberg, president of Technoform North America.

I just returned from the BEC conference in Las Vegas and was pleasantly surprised at the energy, attendance, and great information. The conference highlights, some of which may surprise you, dovetailed nicely with presentations made during GANA’s Energy Day in February.

The BEC was standing-room only with more than 350 people, 65 percent of whom were glazing contractors (the target audience), and to my great surprise no one had their laptops on. DSO (double shout out) to the GANA members and staff who organized the conference.

Scott Thomsen, Guardian’s new Flat Glass Group president, threw down the gauntlet as he led off the program. Our industry is under a new wave of attack on window to wall ratio. ASHRAE 189.1 is now proposing to reduce glazing area in the prescriptive path from 40 percent to 30 percent in all buildings under 25,000 f2. That’s three-quarters of all buildings in the U.S. and one-third of all floor space. So it’s serious for our industry and Scott was right to raise the flag.

A couple of years ago we beat back the attempt to reduce WWR in prescriptive glazing in ASHRAE 90.1 by 25 percent. How did we do this? We did it with good science.

Turns out energy usage isn’t the only criteria of an energy-efficient, healthy, enjoyable building. People live, work and learn in these structures, and most folks dislike living in caves. We need light to live, and blue sunlight triggers the non-optic ganglion receptors in our brains, which triggers hormone production and strengthens our immune systems.

These hormones and resulting higher immune system functioning, help protect us from a range of health problems. And what’s the biggest health risk that is the leading cause for people missing work? Depression. Yup, depression. It beats it’s nearest competitor for causes of lost work time by over 4 times! Now, just adding light doesn’t solve all underlying health issues, but having more light in a building space equates to well-being, the importance of which is being studied to be better understood.

Well-being protects us from environmental stressors which play a key role in the tipping point of our immune functioning. People experience well-being when in day lit space where glare is controlled and they can see nature. They’re satisfied and motivated. In the past, the effects of properly day lit environments were measured by productivity and learning. The newer, more comprehensive, measurement is called “Presenteeism”, a measure of how well people can concentrate on the task at hand. Documented studies show that presenteeism costs U.S. employers $150 billion/year. That’s a big number, folks, one that could pay for a lot of day lighting and energy efficient fenestration.

Which leads to, as my Dad (a glazier) used to say, the $64,000 question: Should modern, energy-efficient building design include only energy usage calculations, or should design start from a holistic, human centric perspective that includes energy efficiency? Since people spend 95 percent of their time indoors in the U.S., the holistic approach to sustainable buildings makes the most sense.

A better approach for codes and standards would be to optimize daylight and views first, and then energy efficiency. Many people in our industry think the prescriptive path is an obstacle to understand and improve whole building energy performance, and that it should be abolished. Others believe we need to quantify visual comfort or it will not attain its proper importance in design and planning.

The bottom line? The building industry needs to quantify the holistic performance contribution of windows and curtain wall, and then we can argue our case on a firm, scientific basis. Only then will we be able to push back against vested interests who represent their respective industries well, but who would have the buildings of the future go back to the caves of the past.

So, it’s important for us all to get educated, get involved, and advocate for policies that promote the well-being of all stakeholders – our industry, consumers of our products, building owners, and for the planet. In the end, that’s sustainable.

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