Buildings can be both well-ventilated and energy efficient, says expert

January 11, 2023 – It’s possible to design buildings that have better ventilation and that also use less energy, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Joseph Allen. Doing both can help stave off the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19 as well as help mitigate climate change, he said.

“Are healthy buildings and green buildings in conflict?” wrote Allen in a January 9 article in Harvard Business Review. “The short answer is they don’t have to be. There is a path forward.”

Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of Harvard Chan School’s Healthy Buildings program, offered a number of solutions that can benefit both health and climate:

Give buildings a tune-up, to improve indoor air quality and save energy and money.

Maximize outdoor air, to help reduce disease transmission and boost employees’ cognitive function. Allen suggested adding ventilation systems that recapture the energy and heat in air before it is released from a building.

Upgrade filters to at least MERV-13, which capture 80% to 90% of airborne particles. These filters also don’t overly tax HVAC systems.

Deploy a real-time indoor air quality monitoring network. Smart building sensor platforms can do things like adjust airflow in a building based on occupancy.

Work to electrify everything in buildings. Systems like heat pumps allow buildings to capitalize on renewable energy sources.

Use energy-efficient systems in buildings. Take steps such as installing energy storage systems or solar panels.

“Just as it isn’t acceptable to have a green building where people get sick inside, it doesn’t make sense to have a building with good indoor air quality that nevertheless damages our health by contributing to outdoor air pollution,” Allen wrote. “We can and must have both.”

Read the Harvard Business Review article: Designing Buildings that Are Both Well-Ventilated and Green