We spend 90% of the time inside the buildings. The health centres are, in particular, spaces in which the quality of the interior environment must be prioritized.
Throughout their life cycle, materials used to build health centres can release toxic substances that pose a threat to users and professionals who spend hours in these buildings.
In the daily operation of a hospital, a large number of chemicals that can be harmful to our health, such as cleaning or disinfecting products, are handled.
Because of the exposure to all these components, today there are diseases such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), Functional Somatic Syndrome (FSS) or terms related to architecture such as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS).
Some of the symptoms caused by the absence of a healthy indoor environment in hospitals and nursing homes are irritation, difficulty of concentration, headaches, dizziness, muscle aches, hypersensitivity or even a decrease of the professionals work results.
In addition, the lack of ventilation and air conditioning systems (air conditioning and heating) usually lead to a dry environment with a humidity below the recommended, which is around 50%.
Therefore, in the same way that the World Health Organization (WHO) exposes the need to guarantee the comfort and interior well-being in the buildings, in CASA Solo we pay special attention to the design of a healthy interior environment in health centres.
Let’s see the design criteria to take into account to achieve a healthy indoor environment in hospitals and nursing homes.
Design criteria for a healthy indoor environment in hospitals and nursing homes
Use of healthy materials
In the first place we will talk about the materials, both those used for the construction of the hospital and for the interior claddings and decoration, such as furniture or accessories.
All of them can emit chemicals, usually organic volatile compounds, that affect the health of users of the health centre. Therefore, we must be aware of the importance of a good selection of materials when designing a building, especially a hospital where health plays an essential role.
Some of the materials and products we must avoid are those that emit harmful compounds in the air and that we find in plastic paints, adhesives and sealants, varnishes or floor coverings. We also find harmful compounds in acoustic, thermal or fire insulation, many of which are agglomerated with toxic compounds such as formaldehyde.
Connection with nature
The second of the design criteria to achieve a healthy indoor environment in hospitals and residences is the connection with nature through the control of visuals and the design of outdoor spaces in health centres.
By posing a greater relationship with nature, patients reduce their stay in the hospital and need a smaller amount of analgesics for their improvement. In addition, the medical staff has a space of rest and calm that allows them to decrease the level of stress.
An example of how it can positively affect the connection to nature is the case study of the Pennsylvania Hospital in the United States. On this occasion, patients who had tree-view rooms had a shorter hospitalization stay, received fewer negative medical evaluations and took less medication.
It is possible to expand information on the design of natural spaces and landscaping in hospitals in our previous research article.
Control of pollution sources
Control of sources of contamination is also necessary to achieve a healthy environment in hospital settings. For this we can opt for several alternatives.
The elimination would be the first of them, the ideal method to control the quality of the indoor environment in a health centre. It will be possible to apply this option when the source of contamination is detected.
If the harmful element is necessary for the operation of the building we can replace it with a healthy one, or isolate or seal it, reducing the exposure of users to the source of pollution to minimize its impact.
Some examples would be the sealing of the resin-treated walls to reduce formaldehyde emission from them or treating basement walls with epoxy paint to prevent contamination from seeping.
Indoor air quality
The optimal indoor air quality is a key aspect for a healthy hospital. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to control at all times the natural and mechanical ventilation of the building, analyzing in depth the contaminants that may exist in the environment.
Some of the compounds that we can find and which are important to detect and eliminate are gases and vapours, for example volatile organic compounds or aldehydes, inorganic vapours such as ammonia or metals, respirable particles such as tobacco smoke or various combustion and radioactive or biological contaminants.
In the latter case, biological contaminants, we refer to spores, bacteria or viruses that can negatively influence the health of patients in the health centre. An example is the legionella bacteria, one of the most common in health centres.
In order to ensure a good indoor air quality we can choose, for example, simple ventilation systems, which means, systems that allow the replacement of indoor air by the outside air without any treatment. In general, direct ventilation through windows to the exterior is always important.
There are also air conditioning systems or special purification systems. In these cases the inert materials and aerosols are separated with filters to eliminate, by chemical methods, the contaminants.
Beside these mechanical ventilation systems it is essential to provide buildings with natural cross ventilation, designing openings on opposite walls for air to circulate and cool the rooms.
Selection of air conditioning systems
HVAC systems also play an important role in the healthy indoor environment in hospitals and residences, especially in the most delicate units such as surgical blocks and their adjoining premises.
These spaces, where the most vulnerable users are located, must ensure conditions such as 20 renewals / hour of air, a minimum temperature of 18-19ºC and maximum of 24-26ºC and a relative air humidity between 50 and 60%.
If these conditions are not maintained the patients could suffer hypothermia, sweating with risk of infection or microorganisms could be filtered to the surgical area.
Another requirement of a healthy health centre is that it has a good lightning, so that professionals can perform their work properly and patients should not force their eyes unnecessarily.
Depending on the area of the hospital where we are, we will need one level of lighting or another. More complete and developed information on this aspect can be found in our research article on lightning in hospitals according to areas of attention.
Cleaning and hygiene
Finally, we consider it necessary to emphasize the cleanliness and hygiene in every health centre, whether in the cleaning of the furniture or in the own maintenance of the building and its equipment.
All hygiene and cleaning products can emit compounds that affect indoor environmental quality, such as those derived from chlorine, such as bleach, or those containing ammonia.
At CASA Solo we work in the design of a healthy interior environment in hospitals and nursing homes with the purpose of guaranteeing a pleasant and safe stay to all its occupants.