COVID-19 brought many societal issues to the forefront, and, in many cases, cities and governments were left wishing they’d been more prepared for a global pandemic before it occurred. Technology is playing an important role in creating COVID “exit strategies” that will help in the case of another future pandemic. For instance, the ability to monitor various health-related parameters indoors has become an even more important focus for many building owners and operators as society carefully navigates its way out of the COVID-19 crisis and focuses on bringing people back to work and back to in-person interactions.

The smart building market, which includes all types of IoT (Internet of Things)-enabled building-management solutions not only for occupant health and comfort but also for optimizing building performance and energy efficiency, is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years. MarketsandMarkets estimates the space will catapult from $66.3 billion in 2020 to $108.9 billion by 2025. A similar study from Fortune Business Insights suggests similar results, predicting the smart building market will reach $109.48 billion globally by 2026. Folded into this market growth will be the adoption of technologies and solutions that promote healthy buildings by addressing areas such as ventilation, air quality, thermal health, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, water quality, noise, and lighting and views.

The U.S. government has its eye on promoting healthy buildings on a national level, because studies show unhealthy building environments can lead to more illness and sick time used, less productivity, and overall poorer health for occupants. The NIBS (National Institute of Building Sciences) Consultative Council recently released its 2020 Moving Forward Report, which investigates key challenges facing the building industry and makes recommendations to policymakers about how buildings can protect and promote public health. By leveraging technologies and building design to create healthier buildings, society is moving toward a more health-forward model that emphasizes preventative measures that can ultimately reduce healthcare costs on a national level.

Specific recommendations in the report include increasing investment for research on the impacts of IEQ (indoor environmental quality) on health and productivity and how buildings can be retrofitted to improve IEQ, as well as creating policies and incentive programs that encourage building owners and operators to invest in ways to improve their buildings’ IEQ. The report also calls on federal agencies to lead by example by adopting best practices for healthy federal buildings. The NIBS also encourages the U.S. government to develop a national educational campaign that aims to increase awareness about the importance of IEQ for public health and the national healthcare system.

While COVID has changed how public places approach sanitization, occupancy levels, and air circulation and ventilation (in many cases, it seems, permanently), healthy buildings require more than sanitized surfaces. In fact, a healthy building starts at the design stage. From there, built-in technologies that can help building managers gather key data, make adjustments in realtime, and then evaluate trends over time can make a huge impact on both the current and future health of occupants. If all buildings were healthy buildings, the impact on the national healthcare system would be considerable. Efforts to retrofit the existing stock of buildings in the U.S. with technologies to promote healthy indoor environments will be key to achieving the NIBS’s goals.

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