Today I'm looking at a certification program for buildings, to ensure they have a nice vibe on the inside. It's called the WELL Certification.
And this isn't just about indoor air quality, but the quality of the overall environment in an indoor space. That includes lots of things, such as light levels, quality of light, daylight access, acoustics like whether sounds are sharp and bounce around or if they are dampened and absorbed by the space, and much more. What I found extra in this is the attention to odors in the environment
This WELL Certification regimen, which looks to ensure an overall healthy work environment, which I will assume to mean psychological health in addition to physical health, lists Olfactory Comfort as one of its standards.
According to their program, this can be achieved by reducing the transmission of strong smells and odors within the building - "source separation" they call it. Keep the bathroom air or the cafeteria air separate from the rest of the air, that's what it means. You could install self-closing doors.
All restrooms, janitorial closets, kitchens, cafeterias and pantries should be designed in a way to prevent strong odors from migrating to workspaces. These are the techniques they list for separating spaces.
Achieving Olfactory Comfort:
- Negative pressurization
- Use interstitial rooms and vestibules
- Self-closing doors
Word of the day - this is called pneumatic isolation, where the air in the rooms are isolated from each other. (pneumatic = Greek - "wind" or "breathing")
Indoor air quality in its essence is about keeping an adequate amount of fresh air inside (and keeping out, of course, toxic things like carbon monoxide or mold). One way to measure for fresh air is to look for carbon dioxide - we breathe carbon dioxide, and there is a lot if it in a room, that means the room hasn't been given enough fresh air to offset all the breathing humans in it.
And that means the indoor air quality will go down, as well as the overall indoor environmental quality. And one of the main reasons why we judge this as having less quality is just as much aesthetic as it is chemistry.
Carbon monoxide in the wrong amount can kill you, for sure, and we don't want any of that. Even low levels of mold and slightly elevated dust levels can be bothersome to people with weak respiratory systems.
But what sneaks under the radar are the little things that over time eat away at your productivity as a worker, and those can be simply aesthetic - bad lighting, bad acoustics, and the baddest of these, metabolic gases emitted by humans.*
Yup. We convert food to energy all day; we metabolize. And some of the by-products of that metabolism are not solids or liquids, but gases. And they smell, and there's something unsettling about smelling the intimate insides of a person who is not a part of your familial social circle. Something about that is bothersome, and it takes away tiny bits of our productivity over the days and years.
WELL is setting a precedent for the future of indoor environmental quality by adding olfaction to their roster of techniques. Hopefully, as we all spend more and more time indoors, they aren't the only ones looking at this.
*Granted, some lighting can be so bad that it hurts your eyes, and some acoustics too, and some things that smell can be a sign that it's bad for you, but smells do not in themselves hurt you (and many gases that can hurt you do not smell at all).