How upgrading buildings could dramatically boost the economy and health

It could reportedly 'save the UK billions a year' by preventing disease.
Chris Young
Eco-friendly building in the modern city.Fahroni/iStock

Ventilation is likely at the top of many people's minds due to a surge of global heatwaves. It turns out that, aside from keeping people cool, good ventilation could save countries billions of dollars by boosting public health.

A new report claims that mandated ventilation improvements and other forms of disease prevention in public buildings could save the United Kingdom billions of pounds every year due to the societal knock-on effect of ill health, a piece by The Guardian reveals.

The new study by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers is the first wide-scale evaluation of the impact of airborne infections on health that also takes into account the resulting social and economic costs.

It states that, even if Covid-19 had not existed, seasonal respiratory diseases cost the UK economy roughly £8bn ($9.6bn) a year due to sick days and other forms of disruption. However, it does also indicate that another severe pandemic could have a societal cost as high as £23bn (approx. $27.7bn) per year.

The report suggests that making improved ventilation a requirement could save the UK economy at least £3bn ($3.6bn) a year, and possibly more due to increased productivity due to improved air quality and health. It suggests focusing on public buildings where the most transmissions occur, including hospitals, schools, libraries, and care homes.

'We need better buildings' to help us with 'future diseases'

Ultimately, the report, which was commissioned by the UK's chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, in 2021, serves as a call to improve nationwide adherence to standards for safe and healthy public building spaces. It sets out eight recommendations to improve disease prevention in these spaces.

"Yes, it costs money, and yes, there are some complexities, but the benefits are there from an economic perspective," Cath Noakes, a professor of environmental engineering for buildings at the University of Leeds, who contributed to the report, told The Guardian. "The pandemic has warned us of the risks that are around the corner, and we need better buildings to help us live with Covid and future diseases. Now is the time for the major upgrade to our indoor environments."

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of strong ventilation in public spaces, with scientists and organizations quickly devising new methods, such as "invisible air shields", for efficiently ventilating crowded spaces. Public figures, including Bill Gates have warned that the world was lucky that Covid-19 wasn't more fatal, stating that we should be more prepared in the face of a potential future pandemic.

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