May, 10 2023 Published by Toronto and Area Chapter - By Val Khomenk, Joy Mathews

Healthy Buildings - 9 Foundations For Wellness

From the Spring 2023 issue of CCI Toronto Condovoice Magazine.

The Solution For The Next Generation In Wellness In Condominium Buildings May Be Found In A Multidisciplinary Approach

The news is inundated with the physical and psychological stress of living in condominiums.

Who has the solution? Maybe the answer is within the physical buildings!

More specifically, the solution may be found in a multidisciplinary approach to healthy buildings that was created by Harvard’s School of Public Health called the ‘The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building’ (the “Healthy Buildings Report”). This approach applies to all building types, including condominiums. The Healthy Buildings Report has been thoroughly researched and supported with peer-reviewed scientific studies. According to the Healthy Buildings Report, the way buildings are maintained may be a better approach to taking care of wellness issues of those who reside within them.

Healthy Buildings and Wellness
The simple and straightforward nine (9) foundations of the Healthy Buildings Report were designed to convince a property manager or building owner to “do things differently”. Accordingly, keeping things simple was the key goal for the Healthy Buildings Report and the full study can be found here:

In summary, the nine (9) foundations to a healthy building are as follows:
1 Ventilation
2 Air Quality:
3 Water Quality
4 Thermal Health
5 Dust and Pests
6 Lighting and Views
7 Noise
8 Moisture
9 Safety and Security

There are two (2) additional health related concerns which did not make the list but were noted: smoking (which is controllable) and an active structural design that encourages activity within the building (which is not controllable).

Condominium Issues & Healthy Buildings
For the purpose of this article, we will only focus on four (4) key issues that affect most condominium corporations and their respective owners: safety & security, noise, moisture, and ventilation.

Issue #1 – Safety & Security:
The role of safety and security in our condominium communities has always been important and taken a more prominent role in light of traumatic events. Police, mental health professionals, family and friends, all play an important role in providing a safe environment on our common elements. However, the Healthy Buildings Report found that feeling “unsafe” in your building impacts health by triggering the body’s sympathetic nervous system, more commonly known as the “fight or flight” response. Perceived safety issues create a series of physical and psychological responses including: increased heart rate, blood pressure, and decreased immune function. These immune changing factors take effect within five (5) minutes of an incident and, over time, can wear and tear the body to increase susceptibility to disease.

Although seemingly physiological, there are indeed building related solutions which are practical. According to the Healthy Buildings Report, the research supporting the installation of security cameras, or the presence of uniformed security guards, found that they positively influence feelings of safety.

On a broad level of health measures, the Healthy Buildings Report demonstrated that health indicators are improved in communities that demonstrate evidence of well-designed security measures which may include fences, locks, or secure entry systems.

Issue #2 – Noise Disturbances:
A common complaint that condominium property managers receive is “too much noise!”

Noise disputes are now the jurisdiction of the Condominium Authority Tribunal (“CAT”). Both the CAT and case law has determined that noise disputes in condominium corporations are when the actions of one owner “is causing an unreasonable nuisance, annoyance, or disruption”, which is significant enough to disturb normal active daily living such as work, sleeping, and conversation.

The Healthy Buildings Report noted that there are numerous negative physical affects emanating from noise exposure, including higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure, changes in heart rate, and hypertension. Of particular importance is that these effects are exacerbated in children, especially those under fifteen (15) years old, who are adversely affected by noise exposure including fatigue, irritability, emotional symptoms, higher blood pressure, increased stress hormones, and general poor well-being. With more families living in condominiums, these new-found insights are problematic to say the least.

Issue #3 – Moisture Build-Up:
Water Leaks? Yes, Welcome to Condo World!

Although a regular occurrence in most condominiums, the ugly side of water damage is that it has the potential to create mold and mildew which has positively related to asthma and other respiratory conditions. The Healthy Buildings Report reviewed over 120,000 indoor air quality documents published between 1994 and 2001 and concluded that water into damaged, poorly designed, or improperly maintained buildings create the main source of building-related illness from mold exposure.

As most property managers are well aware, the most common sources of moisture in buildings include leaks from plumbing, roofs, and windows, flooding, poorly insulated walls and windows, poorly maintained drain pans – in short, maintenance, maintenance, maintenance!

Again, it is important to note that the most vulnerable to mold-related health effects are infants, children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems, with the most common health condition being mold-related asthma.

Issue #4 – Ventilation:
Ventilation is not often discussed in condominiums, which is quite unfortunate as it is literally the air that we all breathe. The term is used to describe a range of air related issues such as temperature, humidity, and air pressure. According to the Harvard Study, the current industry standards requires 20 cubic feet per minute per building occupant (cfm/person). Buildings that provide substandard ventilation are those where HVAC systems are either neglected or inadequately maintained.

The negative consequences for wellness of poorly maintained ventilated spaces are compromised health by creating headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, sinus congestion, cough, sneezing, amongst other irritations – the combination of these issues has been called the sick building syndrome (SBS). SBS is real and affects all of us. In fact, the World Health Organization in 1984 refers to SBS as “non-specific set of health effects associated with time spent in a particular building”.

Based on the above, the Healthy Buildings Report makes it clear that the above issues form part of the physiological and psychological stress that affects those who reside in buildings generally and condominiums in particular. These clear and preventable issues of core elements for healthy indoor environments should be considered essential by all condominium property managers and condominium boards.


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