People spend about 85-90% of their time inside buildings. It is therefore obvious that buildings should support our health and definitely not make us sick. However, we must ask ourselves whether buildings actually meet this requirement.
In the 1970s, right after the energy crisis, we used to seal gaps and joints in order to save energy. As a consequence the humidity inside dwellings increased, stimulating the growth of microorganisms, including fungus. Over subsequent years, the number of patients suffering from allergies and asthma increased at an alarming rate. Currently, indoor climates in, for example, school buildings are the subject of discussion. We measure carbon concentrations as indicators of indoor air quality, but the air also comprises volatile parts, mostly from polymers such as furniture or carpets, and also radon and fungus. This is to illustrate that a healthy indoor climate can certainly not be taken for granted. The Health Council of the Netherlands recently focused attention on the inadequacy of Dutch building stock in terms of indoor climate (Gezondheidsraad 2013*).
Health and Comfort are, however, about much more than indoor climate. Humans carry sensors for sound, light, images, temperature, odours, touch, vibrations, etc. All this input defines our well-being and comfort.
Do we hear our next-door neighbours? Do we have difficulty hearing each other because of strong indoor reverberations? We are often bothered by structure-borne sounds and vibrations and, sometimes without even being aware of it, sleep less well due to traffic noise. All of this can lead to reduced productivity, a decline in learning achievements, and sickness absence.
Is daylight sufficient for allowing us to be alert and productive? Is there enough artificial light? How can glare be prevented? How do we create pleasant spaces? And do we have enough space for storage, outdoor areas, and so on? How can we ensure thermal comfort for everyone and how is this affected by humidity and air movements (draughts)?
* Gezondheidsraad. Een gezond binnenmilieu in de toekomst. Den Haag: Gezondheidsraad, 2013; publicatienummer 2013/17