Harvard Researchers Detail the 9 Factors That Make a Healthy Building

Last month Harvard University’s School of Public Health re-launched their Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, introducing new partnerships and a new director for the institutional home of Dr. Joseph Allen’s Healthy Buildings initiative. With the stated mission of “improving the lives of all people, in all buildings, everywhere, every day,” the Healthy Buildings Team is leading research on how today’s built environments impact the health, productivity, and well-being of the people who inhabit them; as well as how future buildings can help us live healthier lives.

In the interest of defining their terms and presenting their research in a way that audiences outside academia can understand and incorporate into their work, the Healthy Buildings team have released an exhaustive list that details the simple foundations of making a building healthy.

The 9 foundations for healthy buildings are as follows:

via Harvard C-CHANGE


Outdoor air ventilation rate guidelines should be met or exceeded. Recirculated and outdoor air should be filtered so that even nano-particles are removed efficiently. Outdoor air intakes should be placed away from street-level pollutant sources.

Air Quality

Materials and furnishings with low chemical emissions should be used. Vapor barriers are necessary for limiting vapor intrusion and humidity levels must be stabilized to control odors. 

Thermal Health

Thermal conditions should meet comfort standards and maintain consistent temperature and humidity levels throughout the day.


Regular inspections should be conducted to find and remedy any moisture sources and condensation spots within the building's envelope. 

© Wikimedia user Faolin42 licensed under CC-BY-3.0. Image: Harvard School of Public Health's F.X. Bagnoud Building by Payette (1996)

Dust & Pests

Surfaces should be cleaned and vacuumed regularly. Pest issues should be avoided by taking preventative measures such as sealing entry points, preventing moisture buildup, and removing trash promptly. 

Safety & Security

Sufficient lighting, video monitoring, incident reporting protocols, fire safety preparations, and maintaining an emergency action plan can ease safety concerns and reduce stress within a building. 

Water Quality

Water should be regularly tested and maintained to National Drinking Water Standards, with a water purification system to eliminate contamination. Steps should be taken to avoid water stagnation in pipes. 


Protection from outdoor noises and measures to control indoor noise should be controlled. Sources should keep background noise below 35db and maximum reverberation time under 0.7 seconds. 

Lighting & Views

All work and habitation spaces should have direct lines of sight to exterior windows. There should be sufficient task lighting, and as much natural daylight as possible without causing glare. 

© Adolf Bereuter

Having identified these factors, the team explains that they can be assessed using performance metrics to show how a building’s health functions can be improved or optimized.

In the full 36-page report, which is available for download on their website, the team breaks down the specific ways that each concept impacts human health, explains the underlying science behind them and provides links to the primary literature that their research is based upon. They also include a guide with specific advice for addressing each of their foundations in building designs.

While their basic assertions may seem obvious, the depth of explanation and thorough, comprehensive approach to this important topic makes this guide a helpful resource for anyone involved or interested in improving a space of any kind.

News via: The Harvard Gazette

About this author
Cite: Jack McManus. "Harvard Researchers Detail the 9 Factors That Make a Healthy Building" 28 Jun 2018. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/897147/harvard-researchers-detail-the-9-factors-that-make-a-healthy-building> ISSN 0719-8884

© Adolf Bereuter


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