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Photo: Tim Street-Porter.
The view looking across the Los Angeles Music Center Plaza toward the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues to pass a new UL verification program for indoor air quality.

We have learned so much in the past year! Remember when we thought Covid-19 might be like Ebola, when we were advised to wipe down all the groceries with bleach? Gradually we learned that although it might be possible to get the coronavirus from surfaces, the air we were breathing in close quarters was the real danger. Even now, when more people are getting vaccinated every day, spending time in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation could extend the life of the scourge.

That is why people who manage buildings, once concerned that they be airtight to keep in heat and air conditioning, are now much more concerned about ventilation. How is the public to know which buildings will be safe to enter?

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles [recently announced] that it is the first performing arts organization in the country to receive a UL ‘healthy building’ verification, representing high standards for air quality at four venues — Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre.

“Don’t throw away your mask just yet, though.

“ ‘This isn’t necessarily a COVID program. It’s not about putting up a force field for keeping a building completely safe from COVID. You can’t do that,’ said Sean McCrady, director of assets and sustainability, real estate and properties at UL, the safety science company that issues the Verified Healthy Buildings for Indoor Air Verification Mark, which will be posted at the entrances of Music Center venues.

“McCrady reiterated the scientific consensus that air purification and good ventilation can reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces. In September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say the coronavirus spreads most commonly through the inhalation of droplets and tiny respiratory particles that can remain suspended in the air.

“The UL verification program emphasizes filtration, ventilation and the overall hygiene of air systems and of buildings in general. Buildings are required to use MERV 13 air filters, which remove particles between 1 and 5 microns. The coronavirus is smaller than that, but McCrady said the filter has an 85% efficacy rate and captures much of the particulate matter to which the virus hitches itself. Prior to COVID-19, the industry standard was the lower-performing MERV 8 filter.

“UL verified buildings must bring in fresh air and move it effectively around the space. The Music Center will be facilitating four to six air changes per hour, which is recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

That means the air volume of a building will be replaced an average of every 10 to 15 minutes. …

“The hygiene of the air filtration and ventilation systems also is crucial. If mold spores or fibers are present, the technology won’t work as it should. … UL also looks at the chemicals used in the cleaning of the space and makes sure that they don’t pollute the air. …

“The Music Center hopes the UL verification will help to maintain the trust of audiences. … If the science surrounding the virus and how to protect against it changes, or if the CDC or more local health officials issues new guidance, the Music Center intends to pivot too. …

“ ‘This is an ongoing process. We will not be stopping when we open our doors,’ ” Music Center COO Howard Sherman told the Times. More here.

Photo: Michelle Chiu
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles has Healthy Building Certification.

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Photos: Hive Earth
Joelle Eyeson is a co-founder of Hive Earth, which is working to address the housing challenges in Ghana. The company supports using the traditional ‘rammed earth’ technique as much more eco-friendly than cement.

Lately, I’ve seen a number of articles about how cement is bad for the planet. (For example, this story on the mining of sand used in cement.) But what else can we use? We can’t cut down all our remaining trees.

In Ghana, a company interested in sustainable home-building practices is experimenting with modernizing some traditional materials. DW interviewed Joelle Eyeson, co-founder of Hive Earth. Here is the DW interview.

“What are the housing challenges in Ghana right now?
“Joelle Eyeson: There is need for around 2 million new houses in Ghana per year, but most of the building is concentrated in the capital Accra, where land is very expensive. The other issue is that when you build in more rural areas it then becomes expensive to travel to the cities for work. We knew that the majority of people in Ghana have a relatively low wage. We thought it is strange you have workers building these big houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and they could never afford them.

“So our aim is to build houses that our workers and the majority of Ghanaians and West Africans can afford. The prototype that should be ready by the end of the year will cost roughly $5,000 for a one-room house.

“What exactly is the ‘rammed earth’ technique that you use?
The rammed earth technique is just a mixture of laterite, clay and then granite chippings. We use 5 percent cement to bind it but also do it using lime.

We wanted a way of building without using cement, because it is very toxic; especially in our climate it combines with the heat and humidity and creates a really bad indoor air quality.

“When we discovered the rammed earth technique, we thought it was great because it is basically like the traditional mud house, but updated. It’s a tried and tested technique that’s been around for centuries. Parts of the Great Wall of China were even built with rammed earth.

“In what other ways are the buildings eco-friendly?
“In Ghana it is so hot you usually need air conditioning systems in your home, but these are not always affordable, eco-friendly, or good for your health. We teamed up with some German engineers who gave us the idea of underground cooling systems. We dig around 8 feet or more until we get to the cool air underground. Then we use a solar pump which is constantly bringing the cool air into the home. Then it is only the cost of the solar pump (around $300) which people need to pay and there are no bills. …

“With our foundation we are also planning on doing more workshops with local communities, helping to teach them the skills of building with rammed earth. We are also planning on building eco toilets. … We want to enable people to come and learn about rammed earth, build something that is beautiful, eco-friendly and useful for their own communities.”

More at DW, here.

The rammed-earth building technique uses local materials in Ghana and almost no cement.

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