by Katrina Miaoulis
While sustainable measures can be integrated into design, construction, and operations of a building, these efforts need to be tailored to the building occupants. What may work for one project type may not work for another, and the introduction of sustainable features requires consideration of who will be using them.
At an assisted living building, there should be an emphasis on occupant health and well-being, with controllability of spaces minimized. Ideally, residents will feel comfortable and healthy with a minimal need to adjust their surroundings. There are various ways to achieve this environment from a building design and maintenance perspective.
While green building rating systems, such as LEED, have a strong focus on the environmental impact of a new or existing building, there are also elements that are concerned with the building occupants feeling comfortable and supported. Along with LEED, rating systems like Living Building Challenge, SITES, WELL, and FitWel integrate occupant well-being further. For the purpose of assisted living spaces, the environmental impact of the building will have less of a draw to occupants and their families than the general atmosphere. There are sustainable measures that can be taken that are both environmentally cognizant and enhance indoor environmental quality.
One example of this is material selection for the space. Selecting low-emitting materials will reduce the release of hazardous substances such as volatile organic compounds (VOCs), urea formaldehyde, and asbestos, which are harmful to occupants as well as the environment. Additionally, a green cleaning and sustainable purchasing policy can be implemented, requiring cleaning teams to use safe and ecologically friendly products that are low-emitting.
Another strategy that impacts both occupants and surrounding land is having access to the outdoor environment. Project teams may preserve and maintain outdoor spaces for the enjoyment and use of building occupants. Depending on the goals of the project team, there are many measures that can be pursued that integrate natural preservation as well as user comfort.
Many projects favor occupant control for features such as thermal comfort, operable window shades, and interior lighting. There are ways to promote occupant comfort without requiring their constant control of the environment. For example, circadian tracking can be implemented in the lighting system. Instead of occupants needing to control their lighting based on the time of day and task at hand, the lights will automatically dim and change color, syncing with the natural light emitted from the sun. This provides a comfortable environment throughout the day with no user control required. In congruence with this, automated shades can be installed in windows to track the sun and respond accordingly to maximize natural sunlight while controlling interior glare or overexposure to sunlight.
Additionally, a temperature gradient can be used within the space to have both the living quarters and common areas have a range of temperature options that users can select upon arrival. Though they will still be able to change the temperature within the space, residents can choose their room based on their general temperature preference. Reducing user control does not necessarily eliminate personalization of building settings, considering the residents that will be occupying these facilities. However, there are measures that can be taken to reduce the need for environmental control, while still allowing for personal preferences and comfort.
Senior and assisted living spaces have as much potential for sustainable measures as any other project type. There must be considerations taken with the selection of these features, but this forethought will ultimately result in a more comfortable and enjoyable space for residents. Environmentally cognizant choices can be made alongside interior and exterior comfort and access for residents that align with the goals of green buildings of every kind.