Are institutional and commercial buildings trying to kill us? No, of course not. Not in the literal, gun-wielding sense, anyway.

But as facility managers and the general public have learned over the last 18 months in battling the coronavirus pandemic, buildings play a much greater role in human health than most people realized. The latest evidence of this connection comes from researchers at Yale University.

U.S. buildings are responsible for 40 percent of the country’s total energy use. By improving the energy efficiency of new and existing buildings, the emissions generated from heating and cooling them could be reduced, preventing thousands of premature deaths every year, according to a new paper by Yale researchers.

They lay out two scenarios for building efficiency improvement and estimates for the number of premature deaths in the United States each scenario would prevent. Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gasses and large amounts of harmful airborne particulate matter, which can cause heart and lung disease and aggravate conditions like asthma. The reduction in premature deaths is primarily due to the reduction in particulate matter.

Researchers say the optimistic scenario envisions a 50 percent increase in appliance efficiency — everything from refrigerators to boilers — and a 60-90 percent increase in the efficiency of buildings’ outer shells by 2050. The researchers estimate the increase would prevent up to 5,100 premature deaths yearly. The intermediate” scenario – still “a big step up” from what is being undertaken today – could save up to an estimated 2,900 lives each year.

Dan Hounsell is Senior Editor, Facility Market.

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