Ben Payne

by Ben Payne

Senior Project Architect

Helping Seniors Breathe Easier in the Built Environment during a COVID World

  • NOVEMBER 12, 2020
  • READ

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans, on average, spend around 90% of their time indoors.

The Senior population spends even more time indoors, with almost no exposure to outdoor environments.

Now, through evidence-based research and design by organizations, the built environment can be improved to keep individuals who spend the majority of their time inside, healthier, and more comfortable.

This might be important for families and caretakers looking after the elderly to find a community that prioritizes and promotes a healthy lifestyle.

Physical + Policy Changes to Control Disease Spread
The global pandemic has now increased the urgent need for quality care, cleanliness, and safety measures, especially for the senior population. With the control of disease spread a global priority, there is more a housing provider can effectuate an effort to keep those living inside their building healthier.

Rather than just enacting self-directed minor policy changes, organized physical and policy changes have been studied and programs developed for building developers and owners to utilize.

Air Quality Upgrade Consider Cost and Prioritizing Health
An easy, yet incredibly cost-effective, air quality upgrade is the use of a needlepoint bipolar ionization system (NPBI). In lay terms, this is an accessory added to mechanical systems that is able to clean the air flowing through the air ducts in buildings.

In-house Director of Technical Services, code, and HVAC Expert, Kurt Beres, has successfully worked with nationally recognized companies to install equipment into existing spaces, protecting patrons and securing safety within the built environment.

In a recent project consisting of an existing 20-year-old office building, NPBI was retrofitted resulting in an observed decrease of over 50% in the amount of particulate matter, or pollution, in the air. NPBI is able to remove in addition to particulates, mold, fungus, dust, pollen, volatile organic compounds and viruses and bacteria, resulting in a much healthier environment.

One of the reasons this is so exciting is that in a recent independent laboratory testing, needlepoint bipolar ionization killed up to 99.4% of COVID-19 on surfaces within thirty minutes. And, as an added bonus of integrating this system is that it can reduce the amount of energy needed by the mechanical system.

The building code will allow the system designer to reduce the required amount of outside air with conditioned air that has been cleaned, thus saving energy. In new construction, this not only means energy savings, but could also allow the designer to reduce the size of the HVAC equipment.

As a retrofit, depending on the manufacturer it is relatively easy to install and sell as modules that can be removed and installed in new equipment.

Selecting a Building Certification
Building Certifications are now available to ensure a healthy interior environment and serve as guiding principles to protect those within a space, particularly the most vulnerable - like the senior population. The two leading providers, WELL and Fitwel, clearly outline expectations and requirements to create a safe, and healthy space, and with industry experts guiding the process, the experience can be done efficiently and effectively.

The International WELL Building Institute™ is leading the global movement to transform our buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive. The cutting-edge WELL Building Standard is a global rating system and the first to be focused exclusively on the ways that buildings, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise our health and wellness.

Alternatively, or in conjunction, Fitwel, serves as the world’s leading certification system, designed to optimize buildings to support health. Created as a joint initiative led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention together with the General Services Administration, benefitting from on-going input and expertise of national and international health and design leaders.

My colleague, Johnna Keller, Director of Sustainability here at M+A Architects and a WELL AP and Fitwel Ambassador says that, in her opinion, the three most important things a senior living facility can do to promote wellness is:

- enhance indoor air quality
- optimize daylighting
- enhance the quality of electric lighting, with careful consideration of temperature and light levels specifically for seniors

Supporting healthy environments has been shown to improve occupant health and happiness. Moreover, pursuing a healthy building certification indicates that your organization prioritizes health by integrating an interconnected system approach that uses scientific evidence as a foundation to ensure the quality of life.

Finding What Fits for Your Company
Whether you’re pursuing a more holistic health and wellness certification like WELL or Fitwel, or making smaller but critical upgrades, attention to increasing health and wellness in senior living communities can aid in comforting the concerns of those looking to change the housing situation for their loved ones.

Consider the details that make the design, including additional information on lighting in senior living, from our Research + Innovation team’s white paper, Three Approaches to Lighting for Senior Living.

This physical piece of technology alone has the potential to keep individuals who spend 99% of their time indoors healthier and more safe - another consideration with a huge impact.

Keeping Seniors Safe
COVID has served as the catalyst for change, reminding us all of our priorities and what really matters - putting our health and safety at the top of the list. Vulnerable populations, like seniors, deserve the attention to detail mentioned above that will keep them healthy, and happy, helping their golden years shine.

Interior environments must be designed in a way to properly face day-to-day concerns, like COVID-19 and other diseases. This of course, starts with good policies set in place, but it also includes strategic planning during the building design. With technology like needlepoint bipolar ionization and healthy building certifications, senior communities can enhance the quality of life for those putting their trust in them.

If you’d like to learn more or continue the conversation, please feel free to reach out to We’re here to support you as we work together to enrich lives through innovative design.

Ben Payne

by Ben Payne

Senior Project Architect

Ben Payne is a Senior Project Manager in our Senior Living Studio. An advocate for seniors and positively impacting their lives through the built environment, Ben is meticulously in his work and attention to detail.