REGION — If you find yourself constantly with the sniffles and sneezes, it might not be the family pet — your home could be making you sick, advocates for environmentally friendly buildings said.
Officials with the San Diego Green Building Council gave the phenomena a nickname, “sick building syndrome,” and according to US Environmental Protection Agency Statistics, it contributes to everything from absenteeism at work to headaches, migraines and asthma attacks.
“It is a general term to describe the impacts that buildings have on us physiologically and biologically, and those impacts are 100 percent real,” said Ravi Bajaj, the education manager of the San Diego Green Building Council. “There are impacts from how we respond from a productivity standpoint to how we biologically respond to the lack of fresh air in a space, or the amount of toxins increase in a space, or with respect to ventilation, since we breathe out carbon dioxide, without proper ventilation those higher concentrations of CO2 can lead to exhaustion, and in higher concentrations, very extreme health impacts as well.”
Advocates of “green” building practices said that sick building syndrome will only be curtailed if builders change the way they build, including increasing access to natural light, using so-called healthy building materials and creating more energy efficient structures.
Many of these topics will be discussed Sept. 23 at the Council’s second annual Healthy Buildings and Communities Conference, at San Diego Gas & Electric’s Energy Innovation Center in Kearny Mesa.
The eight-hour event will feature two keynote speakers: Dr. Elizabeth Baca from Gov. Jerry Brown’s Office of Planning and Research will discuss the impacts of community and building design on health and well-being. Peter Rumsey from Point Energy Innovations will speak on the passive and “timeless” strategies that can be used to optimize building performance.
It will also include breakout sessions on topics such as zero waste, watershed management and green infrastructure, healthy building materials and energy efficiency for existing buildings.
Proponents of green building said events like this are crucial, as on average Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, much of it in traditional buildings that expose them to higher concentration of pollutants than found outdoors.
An infographic created by the Council, which cites statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other sources, says that green building leads to fewer absences and better performance at work and school, and fewer episodes of asthma, allergies and headaches.
San Diego is one of the leaders in the green building movement. Countywide, more than 400 projects — about 48 million square feet of building space — have received the U.S. Green Building Council’s “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” or LEED certification. The rating system is considered the stamp of approval for energy efficient and environmentally friendly standards in building construction.
San Diego is also home to the nation’s first “Energy Star” certified building, the Ridgehaven project, which is home to the city’s Environmental Services Department.
Still, the county lags behind many of the cities that have really taken hold of the green movement, such as San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and New York.
“We have roots in the beginning of the green building movement,” Bajaj said. “Where we have room for improvement is spreading from those few isolated projects to general sustainability across the board.”
Ergo, the theme of the conference emphasizes communities, Bajaj said, focusing on how builders can spread those green principles from one building to an entire cluster of buildings and ultimately, create communities that are green.
In addition to the environmental benefits, builders benefit financially because the green upgrades ultimately lower operating costs, Bajaj said.
“We don’t know with certainty when gas, fuel or water costs will rise, but we do know with certainty that they are rising,” Bajaj said. “Sustainability puts you in a place where you reducing those operating costs and saving money.”
The conference costs $40 to attend for council members, $50 for non-members and $60 at the door. Members can bring one free guest.
To register, visit the website at: usgbc-sd.org/event-868747