Healthy by Design
By incorporating healthy design principles in the design from the outset a building or landscape can provide an uplifting and life enhancing environment.
Often people are unaware that their built environment can be detrimental to their health.
Building Biology is the holistic study of the man-made environment, human health and ecology; it is the science of creating healthy, life enhancing buildings that work with natural systems and resources. At the heart of Building Biology lies the notion that nature is the golden principle that we should be designing our buildings to so that for instance, air and water quality and electromagnetic radiation levels should match as close to nature as possible.
Building Biology is a living subject that brings together fields of study that are otherwise taught in isolation, it is an interconnecting science that bring together many facets relating to health and construction including: biology, medicine, building physics, chemistry and ecology.
Building Biology or Baubiologie was founded in Germany by a group of professionals from a variety of disciplines concerned about the inability of post-war housing to support health and ecology. The movement has grown since to other countries and now is the recognized authority on healthy building design.
The key elements that Building Biology considers are:
- Air – high indoor air quality
- Water – clean water supplies and treatment
- Materials – the use of non toxic and natural materials that are vapour permeable
- Energy – low energy passive design and thermal comfort and the use of appropriate renewable technologies
Building Biology investigates the indoor living environment for a variety of irritants including:
- volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air
- infestation from mould
- fungi and parasites
- daylight and acoustic levels
- Electro Magnetic Radiation (EMR) including: alternating electric fields, alternating magnetic fields, static electric fields, static magnetic fields, radio frequencies and radiation
- healthy occupation and maintenance of buildings
Where mould spores are present in large quantities, they can present a health hazard to humans, potentially causing allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Some VOCs from building materials can cause allergic reactions; some are carcinogenic. Some chemicals, for example formaldehyde and isocyanite, which are both still common components in a wide range of building products, are suspected to cause cancer.
The potential effects of electromagnetic fields on human health vary widely depending on the frequency, modulation and intensity of the fields. A range of scientific studies have found they have significant effects on sleep patterns, the human nervous system and can be mutagenic. Constant exposure to even low level of noise can cause stress. Good daylight has proven to have a positive psychological effect on the human being.
The benchmark for a healthy building is nature itself and as a design methodology Building Biology seeks to create healthy living environments that are as close to an undisturbed natural environment as possible. In Building Biology the building is seen and treated as the ‘Third Skin’, the first skin being our epidermis (or actual skin of our body that acts as the body’s major barrier to the environment and regulates the amount of water released from the body into the atmosphere through transepidermal water loss) and the second skin being our clothing.
Gale & Snowden believe that healthy design is at the core of good design for both buildings and landscapes. It is important to carefully consider both how buildings are designed and the choice of materials used. By incorporating Building Biology healthy design principles in the design from the outset a building or landscape can provide an uplifting and life enhancing environment. Simple healthy design strategies that Gale & Snowden have included in their work for over 20 years include:
- maximising natural daylight design
- optimizing acoustic performance
- providing thermal comfort by ensuring an efficient thermal building envelope and incorporating thermal mass and the incorporation of low temperature radiant heating where needed in the winter and night time cooling via cross ventilation if needed in the summer
- providing good quality ventilation incorporating natural ventilation combined with heat recovery in the winter
- the use of low embodied energy and non toxic natural materials obtained from local and ethical sources
- vapour permeable and hygroscopic construction to control indoor humidity levels (in the past often described as breath-able construction)
- reduction of man-made EMRs (Electro Magnetic Radiation) in buildings helps to reduce the interference and stress caused to our bodies from man-made EMRs. For example, Gale & Snowden often incorporate radial wiring in buildings to enable electrical charges to be shut down when not in use as well as the positioning of buildings away from man-made EMR sources. The reduced man-made EMRs, particularly in bedrooms, helps to reduce the constant interruption to our bodies caused by man-made EMRs and aids better and more rejuvenating sleep.
Healthy by materials selection
The choice of materials is key to creating a healthy building or landscape. The Practice's guiding principles in materials selection include:
- minimising the building’s environmental impact through the adoption of sustainable materials featuring low embodied energy, derived from locally available and ethical sources
- specification of easily cleanable floor surfaces throughout (e.g. tiles, marmoleum, timber)
- reducing interior fabrics to avoid dust mites habitats
- specifying organic and mineral paints, stains and waxes throughout
- specifying non-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) materials
- specifying non-toxic cleaning materials
- avoiding using PVC or materials containing formaldehyde by careful product selection
The feedback the Practice has received from occupants of our buildings over the years has proved that by adopting simple healthy design measures, a healthy environment can be achieved.