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When considering the impact of extreme weather events on the built environment, the focus is often on a facility’s exterior. But what about the effects of extreme weather and climate events on interior design?

That’s the question the American Society of Interior Designers and Chemical Insights Research Institute of UL Research Institutes set out to explore with a new study. Focusing on the intersection between science and interior design, “ASID Impact of Design Brief: Climate, Building Resiliency & Human Health” is the first of two free resources from ASID and CIRI.

extreme weather interior design
(Photo: Adobe Stock / Irina K.)

“With the increase of extreme weather events and climate change, the interior design profession must be well-equipped to better understand and incorporate resilient solutions into their practices.”

— Khoi Vo, CEO, ASID

The extreme weather brief examines the current state of the environment from a chemical landscape perspective and proposes how its three leading topics — climate, building resiliency and human health — can be better considered in an evolving design practice. The brief explores how weather events impact the built environment and interior design, the effects of extreme weather on human health and building resilience, and insight into designing for the future.

A second brief from the ASID-CIRI team, slated for release in the coming months, will focus on the effects of heat.

“Designers and collaborators in the built environment bear the responsibility to improve human health through their work, and to consider new strategies in support of building resiliency,” said Khoi Vo, chief executive officer, ASID. “With the increase of extreme weather events and climate change, the interior design profession must be well-equipped to better understand and incorporate resilient solutions into their practices. We are grateful to CIRI for lending their expertise to our community and contributing to this valuable project.”

The Impact Of Extreme Weather Events

Extreme weather events and climate impacts are increasingly affecting people’s everyday lives; ASID’s “2024 Trends Outlook Report” found that two-thirds of Americans have experienced extreme weather events. These types of events react with building materials and chemicals, creating new challenges in the built environment. With this uptick in mind, ASID’s research with Chemical Insights offers interior designers the opportunity to move from a reactive to proactive approach to help mitigate the risk of these climate-related impacts and foster a positive impact on occupant health.

“Our recent research demonstrates that weather changes, like prolonged elevated temperatures, are changing how materials behave in the indoor environment,” said Dr. Marilyn Black, vice president and executive director of CIRI. “CIRI is excited to share our research knowledge with ASID so interior designers and manufacturers can be leaders and stewards for advancing healthy and sustainable living and working spaces.”

Notable findings of ASID’s collaboration with CIRI include:

  • Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) puts nearly 40% of the U.S. population at risk for serious health problems. On average, people spend approximately 90% of their time indoors, breathing 15,000 liters of air a day. Weather and climate disasters impact the built environment and increase chemical and particle exposure to poor IAQ.
  • The levels of indoor chemical pollutants exceed those of the outdoor environment by at least two-fold. Occupants in the built environment face a complex mixture of chemicals. While new rating systems, product declaration statements, protocols and regulations have been introduced, the increase in extreme weather events has created novel challenges beyond carbon emissions that change the way materials behave in these new environments.

There are many internal stressors that can contribute to a building’s resilience, affecting the health of occupants. These may include temperature, chemicals, dust and fine particles, humidity and mold, allergens and endotoxins, viruses, bacteria and other biologicals.

  • Buildings are being designed to mitigate the impact of external environmental stressors, including high winds, storms, fire and severe heat; however, there are also many internal stressors that can contribute to a building’s resilience, affecting the health of occupants. These may include temperature, chemicals, dust and fine particles, humidity and mold, allergens and endotoxins, viruses, bacteria and other biologicals.
  • Beyond extreme weather events, designers must also consider smaller, more daily occurrences. For example, longer and warmer summers can increase temperatures and subsequently increase chemical emissions from synthetic materials, while greater amounts of heat and moisture with more frequent thunderstorms may create conditions conducive to mold.

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The report includes three suggestions to improve building resiliency and mitigate climate-related outcomes for occupants. These strategies are:

  1. Use an integrative design approach. Bring the owner, design team, and other experts and stakeholders together early in the design process to establish goals, set priorities, and identify occupant risks.
  2. Proactively evaluate potential impacts. Prioritize materials, finishes and furnishings that minimize risks to human health to reduce indoor pollution and achieve greater resiliency.
  3. Convey strategies and assess outcomes. Communicate to ensure alignment, engage stakeholders, and demonstrate results for greater transparency and trust. Furthermore, monitor outcomes by recording both qualitative and quantitative effects on users to reconsider occupant risk.
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