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Best Practices for Healthy and Sustainable Building Maintenance

Image of Clint Bradford
Clint Bradford

A small city on the border with Germany in southeast Netherlands decided in 2016 to construct a new municipal office that would promote the idea of healthy and sustainable buildings. It involved the installation of a 2,000 square meter green wall covered with vegetation to filter outdoor pollutants such as carbon dioxide, along with acting as insulation against cold, heat, and sound.

While BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method) and LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification were initially considered, the city decided the money would be better spent on a premium climate maintenance system. This included an advanced ventilation system that brought air oxygenated by plants through the top of the building, then circulated this purified air naturally throughout the building without using a mechanical ventilation system. 

Only about 70% of the city’s municipal workers moved to this new building. This created a unique situation in which researchers could evaluate how this sustainably designed built environment affected the relocated workers while those not relocated served as a control group. The study found significant improvement regarding perceptions of indoor environmental factors and in the relocated workers’ health. Perceptions of air quality improved for those in the new building, while “sick building syndrome” (SBS) symptoms decreased by 42%. The study also noted that older individuals seemed to benefit most, in both health status and their perceptions. Further, job satisfaction increased while sick leave dropped by 2%. 

These remarkable findings speak to the powerful impact buildings can have on those inside them and the value of protecting occupants. Today, smart technology makes implementing best practices for maintenance in healthy and sustainable buildings possible in virtually any space.

Air Quality & Circulation

Until recently, indoor air quality and ventilation were often overlooked when it came to maintaining healthy and sustainable buildings. Though the idea of SBS already existed, building occupants largely assumed indoor air quality would not cause illness. However, inadequately maintained heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can cause significant problems for those with respiratory conditions like asthma or allergies to airborne substances. But even people without pre-existing health conditions can be at risk, and COVID has quickly changed the way we think about air quality. To protect both individual and public health, the priority is now bringing in fresh air from outside rather than just recycling air in a closed system. 

The technology to track and improve indoor air quality has existed for some time. In recent years, however, that technology has become more accessible thanks to the decreasing cost of smart sensors that can measure airborne threats to human health. These include:

  • Carbon dioxide in concentrated indoor areas can cause health issues, including headaches, sleepiness, and an inability to concentrate. 
  • Temperature and humidity not only affect occupants’ comfort, they can result in poor air quality, as higher humidity and temperatures create an environment in which harmful materials like mold or mildew grow, while viruses thrive in drier environments. 
  • High VOC concentrations result naturally from crowded workspaces or due to products used indoors, which can then move through the building’s ventilation systems. During winter, VOC levels indoors can reach levels four times higher than summertime, due to poor exchange rates between indoor and outdoor air in many buildings.

Monitoring these environmental aspects with smart sensors integrated into an intelligent building management system (BMS) can help maintain healthy and sustainable buildings.

Ultraviolet Light Filtering

One newer technology that can help control the spread of viruses like that which causes COVID includes ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI), which also improves indoor air quality. UVGI lights can be installed within HVAC systems to reduce harmful particles, while smart systems can monitor for particulates or contaminants. 

Waste Reduction

There are many ways to reduce waste in built environments. Ideally, facilities managers and occupants should develop waste reduction strategies in partnership, as ad hoc solutions will not be as effective. Adopting greener practices not only safeguards people and the planet, it can also help you minimize expenditures. 

To reduce waste, these materials should be recycled or reused:

  • Products like glass, paper, and aluminum can be recycled.
  • Building materials from renovations, including ceiling tiles, drywall, or carpeting,  can be donated for reuse. 
  • Organic materials such as uneaten food and plant matter can also be composted on-site.
  • Previously used water, also known as gray water, can be used to water plants. 

While these largely rely on human action, energy is perhaps the most significant type of waste in most commercial buildings—and this is an area in which sensor-based building management systems shine. Along with installing energy-saving lights and other minor infrastructure changes, modern BMSs combined with analytics software and smart sensing equipment can allow for sophisticated automation strategies that conserve energy in meaningful ways. 

Occupant Comfort

Facilities managers should provide a safe and comfortable environment for occupants—but this doesn’t mean compromising building sustainability. Simple things like minimizing sunlight shining through windows in summer and maximizing it during winter not only increases comfort, it also reduces energy use and cuts costs. A smart BMS can take it a step further by automatically adjusting HVAC and lighting functions according to variables like time of day, season, natural sunlight, and occupancy. This ensures occupants have what they need and energy isn’t being used unnecessarily.


One area often neglected when creating strategies for healthy and sustainable buildings is cleaning. But cleaning supplies and methods can have a big impact. 

Consider the following ideas: 

  • When possible, use water-based products labeled as non-toxic and avoid products that contain petroleum products, phosphates, dyes, or perfumes. 
  • Introduce mechanical dispensers for mixing cleaning solutions to reduce human exposure. 
  • Build environmentally friendly practices into cleaning service agreements. 

Of course, creating healthy buildings is more than choosing the right products—it requires regular, reliable, and verifiable cleaning. Using a janitorial tracking platform, like BuiltSpace, can give you real-time visibility into cleaning and sanitation and help occupants feel safe.

Preventative Maintenance

Healthy and sustainable buildings can only stay healthy and sustainable when everything is working as it should. That means that maintenance must not only be prioritized, it must be preventative. Advanced analytics platforms excel at identifying maintenance issues before they become actual problems. By continuously monitoring system data, these platforms can detect anomalies as soon as they happen and send prioritized alerts to maintenance staff when corrective action is needed. Often, however, they can trigger automatic adjustments to restore optimal performance without the need for human intervention. Not only does this allow equipment to work as it should, it also extends its useful life.

The Future of Healthy and Sustainable Buildings

From attracting eco-conscious tenants to meeting reopening requirements during COVID to complying with increasingly strict regulations, the need for healthy and sustainable buildings is rapidly growing. Integrating smart technologies and analytics in your building management system will help you protect those inside your buildings today and ensure you’re prepared for tomorrow.

Buildings IOT offers the services and technologies you need to implement best practices for healthy and sustainable building maintenance. Contact our expert team to learn more.



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