Rooftop view of a tall building looking down at greenery

A vital part of building design is making buildings that work for people, not the other way around. Rather than selecting a building that may function well but causes issue for the occupants, it's better to design a building that provides a better quality environment for the people within.Eco- and people-friendly architecture has been slowly changing the way buildings are designed. Now architects and other types of contractors must figure out ways to include features that help reduce energy consumption, reduce negative impacts on the environment, and improve the experience for building occupants.

Here are just 5 smart features that new buildings should include in an effort to provide a healthier atmosphere for those working within them.

Green Roofs for Easy Outdoor Access

When you think of a rooftop deck space, what probably springs to mind are roofs-turned-decks on high-rise apartment buildings. Rooftop decks have a number of benefits, but are especially useful in urban areas where traditional outdoor, ground-level open spaces aren't possible.

Even better than a plain deck is a green roof. A green roof is essentially a planted or "living" roof, very much as if lawn and plants have been grown directly on the roof. Green roofs are highly beneficial for reducing energy costs, since they aid in insulation, and also are very people-friendly.

These are ideal for office and retail building roofs. Employees with access to a comfortable, natural outdoor space reduces absences and can increase productivity by upwards of 18%.

Insulating Concrete Block Walls for Environmental Quality

The indoor environmental quality of a building is directly related to maintenance costs and employee well-being. The building envelope (everything that makes up the exterior of the building, or its shell) is the first line of protection. This means that the choice of exterior wall is vital.

Insulated concrete exterior walls are one of the best materials you can use for essentially any type of building. Insulated concrete blocks have incredible thermal-efficiency, easily helping to maintain steadier temperatures than poured concrete or other traditional exterior wall systems.

Insulated concrete blocks wall also offer better air quality. This type of wall system combined with a proper ventilation system is an incredible way of reducing energy consumption as well as reducing employee illness.

Dynamic Thermal Control for Improving Productivity

A huge portion of monthly maintenance costs of buildings is in the form of HVAC systems. A major aspect of creating a comfortable atmosphere for people is comfortable temperature. Complaints over buildings being too cold or too hot are surprisingly common, even in buildings with advanced systems in place.

Smart thermostat systems can be set to reduce or raise temperatures based on room occupancy or even off of weather during that week. These are fairly hands-off systems that require little human intervention and therefore are free of many human errors.

Another extremely effective thermal control is individual thermal control. Controllable underfloor air to individual offices or rooms is an excellent way of allowing the occupant to control their cooling and heating. This helps with productivity and actually reduces HVAC costs.

Smarter Lighting Options for Reducing Energy Costs

By far the most expensive energy consumer is lighting, especially in office and retail buildings. Thankfully, lighting systems are often quite versatile, and there are plenty of options available. One major first step in smart lighting is replacing fixtures with LED lights when possible. These have an excellent ROI, despite the initial higher costs of bulbs.

Another great smart lighting option is the practice of daylighting, which means using natural daylight in place of artificial lights when possible. Special placement of windows and even skylights should be addressed during initial building or remodels for this reason.

Another excellent idea is separating ambient from task lighting. This means reducing the ambient lighting to allow for a comfortable amount of light, but restricting very bright or typical office lighting to task areas, such as directly at desks and workstations. 

Fire Retardant Curtains for Versatile Fire Safety

Sometimes smart construction can be far more serious than just lowering an electrical bill or making people happy. In the event of an emergency such as fire, smart designing can mean a huge difference in safety as well as improving chances of building survival. Fire retardant curtains are an ideal example of how smart fire safety is a must in any type of building.

Fire curtains, also referred to as smoke curtains, are essentially what the name suggests - extremely heavy curtains that are released when fire/smoke alarms are triggered. They may be used to block of certain rooms to contain fire and smoke, such as lobbies, staircases, and elevators. These are an effective means of controlling fire, heat, and smoke, while also working to keep occupants safe from inhalation and heat while they are evacuating.

The combination of improved business efficiency and productivity combined with reduced monthly maintenance costs is more than enough reason to pursue smart building methods. The 5 building features highlighted are some of the most effective and easier to implement, but in the years to come more and more technology will be available to design even healthier buildings.

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