Microbiomes, Buildings, and Human Health

Sep 1, 2017

An informative report was published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report highlights how a building can influence changes in the microbiology inside the building which can impact human health.  In this blog post, I summarize some of the key points from the consensus study report.  It may be helpful to keep the definition of microbiome in mind when reading this post.  A microbiome is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment.” Popular press commonly describes the microbiome of the human body, but buildings also have a microbiome.

The report points out that damp, water-damaged buildings can provide the right environment for microorganisms to flourish.  These organisms can have adverse effects on the human respiratory system.  This problem is exasperated in poorly ventilated buildings.  Currently, many well-sealed homes do not introduce much outdoor air besides through the occasional open window.  Mechanical ventilation can help introduce outdoor air into a tight building.  The report argues that having controlled, mechanical ventilation to introduce outdoor air is preferred over infiltration through cracks, crevices, gaps in openings for pipes, or other unintentional pathways.

It makes sense that ventilation can impact indoor air quality which can then affect human health.  However, the report points out that even water temperature in plumbing systems can affect the viability of microbes which can then impact human health.  Clearly, there is more than one aspect of a building that can impact people but the report does highlight a few means to better monitor microbes in a building.  Sensors that measure temperature and humidity can help monitor the dampness of a building which can inhibit microorganism growth.  Sampling of different microbes in a building can also be done to get a better understanding of microbes that can adversely impact humans.  However,  few organisms can be cultured which can make it difficult to get accurate information about a building.    The sampling methods of the future are through genomics, proteomics and other advanced laboratory procedures that can provide more data about the microbes living inside buildings.

A link to the report can be found here: