Health and Productivity Gains from Better Indoor Environments and Their Implications for the U.S. Department of Energy
A substantial portion of the U.S. population suffers frequently from communicable respiratory illnesses, allergy and asthma symptoms, and sick building syndrome symptoms. We now have increasingly strong evidence that changes in building design, operation, and maintenance can significantly reduce these illnesses. Decreasing the prevalence or severity of these health effects would lead to lower health care costs, reduced sick leave, and shorter periods of illness-impaired work performance, resulting in annual economic benefits for the U.S. in the tens of billions of dollars. Increasing the awareness of these potential health and economic gains, combined with other factors, could help bring about a shift in the way we design, construct, operate, and occupy buildings. The current goal of providing marginally adequate indoor environments could be replaced by the goal of providing indoor environments that maximize the health, satisfaction, and performance of building occupants. Through research and technology transfer, DOE and its contractors are well positioned to help stimulate this shift in practice and, consequently, improve the health and economic well-being of the U.S. population. Additionally, DOE's energy-efficiency interests would be best served by a program that prepares for the potential shift, specifically by identifying and promoting the most energy-efficient methods of improving the indoor environment. The associated research and technology transfer topics of particular relevance to DOE are identified and discussed.