Ventilation and Lighting in Funeral Homes and Mortuaries

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Ventilation and lighting are two design concerns for the health, safety, and wellbeing of building occupants in both funeral homes and mortuaries. These two issues must be considered by design consultants when dealing with either of these institutions. In this segment, both funeral homes and mortuaries are approached in the same way because of their similarities in functions, even though they offer different services for the public.

While approached the same way here, mortuaries and funeral homes are two separate institutions. The biggest differences between them are the services they provide and the experiences produced for the families of the deceased (Ellsworth 2015; Mountain View Funeral Home and Cemetery, n.d.). However, the similarities between funeral homes and mortuaries is in their functionality – they deal with the dead. Accordingly, they both typically have corpse preparation rooms, storage spaces, and waiting and viewing areas; albeit variable in size and number depending on the establishment. Consequently, the ventilation and lighting for these areas are of apprehension for the health, safety, and wellbeing of those within both institutions.


The biggest health, safety, and wellbeing burdens for mortuaries and funeral homes is related to inadequate ventilation. Building occupants are at risk of being exposed to numerous hazardous airborne particles that can stay suspended in the air for long periods of time (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11896). Infectious pathogens released from the cadavers can be transferred from host to host via aerosols and other airborne particles, and pose a serious health risk for staff and service attendants (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11893, 11896). Further, the inhalation of preservative chemicals used in embalming procedures and corpse preparation is another concern for personnel (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11896; Raja & Sultan 2012). Notably, the effects of formaldehyde inhalation result in minimal to severe health problems; including headache, nausea, and burning sensations to dermatitis, poisoning, cancer, and probably leukemia (Hiipakka, Dyrdahl, & Cardenas 2001; Raja & Sultan 2012; Tang et al. 2009). In addition to these crucial health and safety issues, attendant wellbeing can be affected by the strong odours produced by the funeral home and mortuary workspace environment (Bernaola 2015, p. 9; Patel et al. 2016, p. 11894; Singh et al. 2006, p. 10). Thus, being able to control the ventilation of these areas is a serious affair for the occupants of these institutions.

Figure 1. Typical structure of a mechanical ventilation system in a mortuary (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11895).

Natural and mechanical ventilation are two types of ventilation that should be considered to the design of the building to help maintain health, safety, and wellbeing of the personnel (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11894). Mechanical ventilation is the ‘forced’ or stimulated ventilation of air throughout a building, specifically via the use of air handling units (AHUs), and/or heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Conversely, natural ventilation is the ‘natural’ flow of air through a building without mechanical assistance, primarily created by opening windows and doors (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11894). Mechanical ventilation – specifically a HVAC system – is better suited for these institutions than natural ventilation, even though it is more expensive and requires greater maintenance. Not only does the HVAC system provide a safer work environment in the form of controlled airflow (number of litres per second), air pressure, and air cleanliness, but it also “…maintain[s] a comfortable and appropriate thermal environment…” and allows for odour management (Patel et al. 2016, p. 11894). This accurate control of ventilation with a HVAC system is extremely helpful in making the work environment of mortuaries and funeral homes more pleasant and safer. Therefore, having adequate ventilation in these institutions is incredibly advantageous to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the building occupants.


The other design trepidation for funeral homes and mortuaries is acceptable lighting. As with any other work environment, the building personnel of these establishments have numerous physical hazards to navigate (Litana & Kapambwe 2017, p. 90-91). Staff are required to: handle materials such as sharp instruments, and hazardous chemicals and liquids (Litana & Kapambwe 2017, p. 90-91); navigate room/s of tables, shelves, and tools; and handle all types of medical equipment. Having sufficient lighting not only reduces the chance of the attendants hurting themselves on physical hazards but also decreases eye strain (Litana & Kapambwe 2017, p. 90-91). Gonzalez (2015) recommend that good lighting in corpse dissection and preparation rooms is essential to reduce workplace risks (p. 14). He proposes the use of specialist lighting – and even additional portable lighting where necessary – for adequate lighting of the cadaver table (Gonzalez 2015, p. 14). Accordingly, having suitable lighting is paramount for the physical safety of the building occupants.

Figure 2. autopsy room, by rage0815, Shutterstock, Public Domain.

Figure 3. ModuleCo’s 4 bay autopsy facility with laminar flow tables, by unknown, ModuleCo, Public Domain.

Compare the lighting in both these photos of mortuary autopsy rooms. Notice that there is inadequate lighting in the first in comparison to the second. Did you also feel a sense of negativity with the first in comparison to the second photos? Not only does good lighting improve visibility for attendants, but also the overall psychology of the personnel.

In addition, having good lighting improves personnel wellbeing and improves efficiency. As the primary function of funeral homes and mortuaries is to deal with the dead, these places can be unpleasant and emotionally upsetting. In Litana and Kapambwe’s (2017) study, they saw 100% of participants (n=11) frequently experience psychological stress. While it might not seem related, having suitable lighting, specifically natural light, can improve attendant morale. In academia, it is well known that the lighting in a workspace induces positive or negative perception and can influence the overall psychology of a person (e.g., Arnold & Denmark 2012; Garg et al. 2016, p. 3361; Vischer 2008). It has been shown that there is a direct correlation between natural light and personnel comfort, morale, and productivity (e.g., Arnold & Denmark 2012; Gonzalez 2015, p. 14; Leather et. al. 1998; Vischer 2008, p. 103). Thus, the rooms within mortuaries and funeral homes should have access to large amounts of natural light via windows to improve the psychology of the staff. Consequently, having sufficient light within funeral homes and mortuaries is very beneficial for occupant health, safety, and wellbeing.


In conclusion, satisfactory ventilation and lighting are two important aspects to consider when designing funeral homes and mortuaries. While these two institutions are different in their services, their functions are the same and thus both need adequate ventilation and lighting. Ventilation via a HVAC system is most appropriate in these contexts as it not only removes infectious pathogens from the workspace but also assists in thermal control and odour management. Similarly, having suitable lighting is essential for the physical safety of personnel, and assists with staff productivity and psychology. Ultimately, both ventilation and lighting are essential elements of the workplace for attendant health, safety, and wellbeing of occupants in funeral homes and mortuaries.


If you have any questions, comments, or additional points of discussion I may have missed, or any requests for future instalment topics for Here’s The Thing!, contact me via the Contact Us page. In the message field, reference: K.I.M. Discussion – Ventilation and Lighting in Mortuaries.

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