What is a Healthy Building Inspector?
(Update: This article has been updated in April 2020 during the novel coronavirus pandemic)
The concept of a Healthy Building Inspector is to utilize the skills and knowledge of a building inspector, who is also trained to evaluate and test for health related issues in a building.
While there have been some developments in this area of inspections with topics such as Lead, Asbestos and Mold as examples, these have been more specialized and less integrated with the common building inspection, and even less so in connection with Medical and Health professionals.
The purpose of a Healthy Building Inspector is to evaluate the many topics in the built environment related to health issues that can be evaluated, tested and reported to the Doctor and Medical professionals, as well as the occupants, using baseline standards and protocols to achieve such goals.
Many people do not realize that the common building inspector and building inspection is focused on the structural integrity of the building, and not on human or biological health. It’s time to take a more professional and serious approach to health in the built environment, and the processes of achieving this require more attention and integration with the Medical professions.
Overview of the Healthy Building Inspection
One of the telling features of the typical building inspection is that the list of building inspection types has little to no mention about human health that is being inspected (see below list from Wikipedia,):
Types of inspections (from Wikipedia):
- Home buyers inspection
- Home sellers inspection
- Foreclosure inspection
- Four point inspection
- Disaster inspection
- Section 8 inspection
- Pre-delivery inspection
- Illicit residue inspection
- Eleventh month inspection
- Structural inspection
- Plumbing inspection
- Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) inspection
- Thermal imaging Inspection
- Pool and spa inspection
- Tree health inspection
- Property inspection report for immigration
Do you see anything on this list that is inspecting the building for health issues for the occupants?
A good example of these inspections focused on structural integrity and building components alone is outlined in a very common inspection component of a building inspection in the US, which is the HVAC system:
“A Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) home inspection reviews the heating and cooling systems of a home from a performance perspective. The home inspection report may include a description of the system by its key components. Ideally, the inspection intends to reduce the risks for the buyer by reporting observed material defects. A defect may be a repair, maintenance or improvement consideration with or without a safety association.” 
The comment in the last sentence, “with or without a safety association” does not relate to human health directly, and is almost always referring to the safety of the systems functioning properly. Now, there is no doubt that the safety of these HVAC systems is critical, otherwise the building safety issues have to be dealt with. And to be completely fair to the building inspection community, this is not the defined job that they have been given in terms of the building inspection process.
Yet what about the safety and health of the occupants? What about particulates in the house being blown through the house via forced air HVAC systems? What about topics related to mold and possible humidity issues that can breed microbial health issues?
And what about the current scenario in the year 2020 with the novel coronavirus and the issues of bioaerosols that can support the spread of a virus or germs that can cause health issues such as COVID-19?
Why aren’t these examined?
What is the Focus of the Healthy Building Inspector?
A common answer is that this has never been part of the building inspection process. The building inspection has typically been to evaluate the structural integrity of the building, which of course is critical.
Yet to ignore or not have specific inspection processes and protocols focused on health in the building, can lead to issues related to the occupant’s health and wellness.
This leads to the question of what can be done to help bridge these gaps. In order to provide healthier built environments, the process of healthy building inspections can support this process.
The focus of the Healthy Building Inspector is to provide testing, analysis and reporting for the Medical professionals to better evaluate their patient’s health. This includes testing, lab analysis and reports to provide a building’s potential health issues.
The Healthy Building Inspector is a key component to providing a whole systems approach to evaluating and reporting on issues in the Built Environment related to health and health issues. The role of this professional is to provide testing and evaluation in the built environment, and to create reports for the Medical professionals to utilize these findings that may be related to acute or chronic health conditions of their patients.
As well, these Healthy Building Inspectors can also provide an important link between the Doctor and the Architect to provide support, as well as follow up inspections after work has been completed where issues are found.
The role of the Architectural Doctor can also support the integration between these professions and the general public.
With the integration of the Architecture and Building fields providing solutions to issues that are found, the Healthy Building Inspector can provide a follow up inspection to ensure that the work that is done to resolve issues is completed properly and will no longer be a health issue for the occupants.
Healthy Building Inspectors Expand on the Standard Building Inspection
While there are building inspection professionals that will evaluate topics such as Lead, Asbestos and Mold (as examples), the type of scope that a Healthy Building Inspector could provide has not yet been created with the type of integration between the Medical professionals and the Building professionals.
There are some groups and organizations around the world who focus on health in the built environment, and provide inspections and consulting related to health, yet there are still many steps required to provide standards and protocols in the modern age for an integrated solution – from testing and evaluations, to reports and follow up inspections.
The focus of the German based Bau Biologie/Building Biology Institute is an example of this type of approach. Their headquarters are in Germany, with other branches around the world. Founded by Dr. Anton Schneider and Wolfgang Maes, the current institute is run by Winfried Schneider. Another key pioneer in this work and development on Health in the Built Environment is the Switzerland architect and Bau Biologist Bosco Büeler.
The USA has an independent organization that offers some versions of Building Biology from the original German translations by the late Helmut Ziehe, and was founded in the 1980’s. While the original program from the Bau Biologie center in Germany was only offered in German, it now offers English versions of their training as well.
Paula Baker-Laporte is an architect in the USA whose book Prescriptions for a Healthy House focuses on Healthy Building, and resources such as this can help provide solutions. Yet without a proper evaluation and inspection process to help define the issues and re-inspect the location, the results can often be challenging to navigate for the occupant and general public.
These topics have become more emphasized during the spring of 2020 as the novel coronavirus – an airborne, respiratory based virus – has become a major health issue around the world. As more and more people are spending their lives inside during this #StayAtHome initiative, and striving to decrease the spread of this virus, the topics of indoor building health issues have become a major focus.
As the focus of Health in the Built Environment becomes more common, the process of the Doctor as clinician will strive to find the root cause of health issues. By providing reports for Doctor evaluations, the Healthy Building Inspector can provide valuable information for proper analysis.
In this same manner, these inspectors can also provide valuable information when Architects and Building professionals work to provide solutions when issues are found.
The process of creating standards, processes and protocols for these Healthy Building Inspections will be an important component to achieve these goals. And this combined with integrated systems for each of these professions will be key for a successful, cohesive process in achieving these goals for better patient health and healing.
By increasing the focus on Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) and focusing more on solutions to providing cleaner surfaces, as well as a focus on healthier HVAC systems to prevent the spread of a virus and other pollutants, the Healthy Building Inspection can help to support these steps to provide better health and wellness in the built environment.