Join the Healthy Building Movement: Finding a place for ECs with smart lighting and other solutions

Published On
Apr 15, 2021

By the age of 60, you’ve spent 54 years of your life inside buildings.

Some of your fondest memories may be of great times outdoors. Nonetheless, researchers tell us that you’ve spent 90% of your life between four walls.

Worse yet, in that ominous 90% of your life, you will have been submerged in a succession of unhealthy environments with bad air, questionable water quality and a multitude of other potentially harmful substances. That’s what Harvard University experts Joseph G. Allen and John D. Macomber tell us in their 2020 book, “Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity.”

The authors quickly point out that their book is not about COVID-19. The insidious health hazards that their book identifies have been around for decades, long before the present pandemic.

Their graphic above, “The Nine Foundations of a Healthy Building,” neatly summarizes the aspects of a healthy building to address the potential environmental villains lurking inside old and new buildings.

At first glance, it appears that lighting and views is the only category on the chart that an EC might be able to address. However, we think the concept of “healthy buildings” suggests a wider range of opportunities for service-oriented electrical contractors that enlist in the healthy building movement. We envision three steps in the process:

1. Start with your own building

Whether you put your trust in Allen and Macomber’s book or another guide, take stock of the healthfulness of your company’s office space and other buildings. After all, your employees deserve a healthy space to work in just as much as the people in your customers’ organizations. Starting with your own building seems the ideal way to source, test and practice healthy building concepts before marketing them to customers. Taking stock of your own building would be an evaluative and invaluable learning experience for your team. It calls to mind the old expression about the shoemaker’s kids going barefoot.

2. Settle on a source of smart lighting products

Look into who’s leading the industry in research and development for lighting systems that are in step with the healthy building movement. We have reached a point in the industry’s progress arc where it makes less sense for an electrical contractor to be “agnostic” about brands than to go all-in with a product line. That sort of commitment will boost the likelihood of success in the pursuit of the healthy building market.

3. Team up with a mechanical contractor committed to the healthy building movement

Many of the stopping points on the “Nine Foundations” circular chart relate to the services of a capable mechanical contractor. However, the ultimate solution to having healthy buildings will arise from total electrification. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30% of buildings today are heated by fossil fuels. Eventually, they must convert their heating and cooling to totally electric systems.

Inside the proverbial DNA of most electrical contractors is an “estimator gene” that drives them to find a return on investment (ROI) in any new proposition. The ROI for healthy buildings is best explained by revisiting the 3–30–300 rule for commercial buildings, originated and trademarked by Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. (JLL), a leading real estate management firm in Chicago. According to JLL, every $3 per square foot in energy costs corresponds to $30 per square foot in rental expenses and $300 per square foot in salary expenses.

Every traditional lighting retrofit has been justified by the projected savings that can be squeezed from the cost of electricity in that $3-per-square-foot cost allotted to the utilities.

The healthy building movement focuses on the $300-per-square-foot “people cost.” Its dollars-and-cents argument is that even a small improvement in the performance and productivity of the people inside any building as a result of healthier indoor conditions will far outweigh the respective costs of utilities and rent.

In the post-pandemic years ahead, health-related issues will remain at the top of everyone’s consciousness, including new concerns about fixing those indoor places where they spend 90% of their time. With nearly 6 million commercial buildings in the United States, imagine the possibilities.

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com. MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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