The importance of designing and building sustainable and healthy buildings

Facing environmental and health crisis

Today we are facing an environmental and health crisis, natural disasters are becoming more frequent and intense and people get sick more often, both from chronic degenerative diseases such as flu, asthma, allergies and even cancer.

All this has to do, in large part, with the lifestyle we have, where we want everything immediately and at low prices without questioning what this implies. As professionals in the construction industry, we play a very important role in all this, because our way of designing and building generates an impact, which in most cases is negative, due to the type of materials we use, the way of building, the characteristics that we want the buildings to have, among other things, because all this implies a very high consumption of energy, water and resources that leads to generate greater amounts of greenhouse gases that pollute the atmosphere and ultimately affect our health.

Designing and building sustainable buildings must be a constant, that is, it must be implicit in our projects, the challenge now is to design and build buildings that are also healthy because 90% of our time is within them and the majority, in Mexico , suffer from Sick Building Syndrome which is, according to WHO, a “set of diseases caused or stimulated by air pollution in enclosed spaces.” This set of diseases and discomforts is usually generated by poor air quality, where instead of renewing the air, they recirculate it thus contaminating all areas of the building, in addition there are high concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) and cleaning products, pesticides and materials that emit VOC (volatile organic compounds) are used, making the air we breathe contain toxins that harm our health, producing migraines, nausea, dizziness, irritation of the airways Torias, skin and eyes, causing low productivity (1.5-6%), and work absenteeism.

This means that we have a great responsibility to make buildings that are highly efficient and healthy, for that, we must take into account a series of considerations:
  • Have an integrative process, that is, that all parties involved in the project work together to make much more comprehensive decisions.

  • Be located in a densely urban place to have access to public transport, bike lanes, basic services (schools, banks, shops, places of worship, gymnasiums, hardware stores, laundries, dry cleaners, libraries, nurseries, etc.)

  • Consider the physical characteristics of the land, as well as the social and cultural characteristics of the environment to make a passive design that promotes resource efficiency.

  • Consider green area that is permeable and allows the water table to be recharged, with native or adaptable plants (theoretically these types of plants do not require maintenance, since the natural weather conditions are sufficient)

  • To discourage the use of the car, either by making the parking lot smaller or by benefiting users who have electric cars, hybrids or car-sharing and promote the use of bicycle and non-motorized means of transport

  • Efficiently use resources: recovering rainwater, treating and reusing gray and / or black water, reducing water consumption for irrigation, furniture and sanitary fixtures and cooling towers., Taking advantage of natural lighting, automating lighting and ventilation, reusing materials, or using local materials, and having the least possible ecological footprint

  • Achieve an efficient building in energy terms through an energy modeling that allows us to propose the appropriate materials and elements to achieve it.

  • Have an HVAC project that meets international standards for indoor air quality (ASHRAE 62.1-2013) and thermal comfort (ASHRAE 55-2013)

  • Promote that regularly occupied spaces have views to the outside, preferably to nature, and natural lighting, without falling into fishbowl buildings

  • Use materials that are low in volatile organic compounds, avoid the use of mercury lamps (they release small amounts when in use, and we breathe it damaging our health)

  • Hire a commissioning agent to verify that everything is installed and works according to the design

  • Design projects that encourage the use of stairs to promote physical activity

  • Make projects that are accessible to all types of people

  • Carry out best construction practices to prevent the spread of dust, the use of toxic materials and the generation of garbage to protect the health of workers and the end user, and avoid environmental pollution

Projects that have LEED and / or WELL certification, have these criteria and are endorsed by third parties, which allows us to be more certain that these and other considerations were actually carried out.

Really, including these strategies in our designs implies some creativity, because it makes us think about how to make healthier spaces since the conception of the project and not just for fulfilling a program, this is not necessarily a monetary issue, but rather of doing projects that have a sense of being, projects where we would like to be, projects that are not for a few, if not that contribute to all, projects that can make a change.