Building Biology

Often people are unaware that their built environment can be detrimental to their health

By incorporating healthy design principles from the outset, we create buildings and landscapes that are uplifting and life enhancing – environments that can optimise your 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 brings together many facets relating to health and construction including: biology, medicine, building physics, chemistry and ecology

Health Optimisiation

Gale & Snowden employs Building Biology principles to create internal environments that are attuned with people’s inherent biology, enhancing the conditions inside buildings to optimise health both physically and mentally

Optimisation includes:

  • air – high indoor air quality with health optimised indoor climate
  • water – high water quality
  • materials – minimising indoor toxins & pollutants and use of non-toxic and natural materials that are vapour permeable and moisture buffering
  • heating and ventilation – maximised for effectiveness, comfort and energy efficiency
  • energy – low energy passive design and high thermal comfort. Creating a well-balanced electromagnetic environment. Employing the use of appropriate renewable technologies
  • acoustic – design for airborne and impact sound insulation
  • light & lighting – high quality natural daylight with healthy artificial lighting
  • natural colours & finishes – harmonious with our physical and emotional wellbeing
  • guidance – healthy construction, occupation & maintenance guidance

The aim of our healthy design principles is to create indoor conditions that reflect an unpolluted natural environment

Health Evaluation

Gale & Snowden use the Building Biology Evaluation Guidelines (SBM 2015) as a healthy building evaluation tool. These Guidelines have been produced by the Building Biology Institute (IBN) and are based on the precautionary principle that any risk reduction is worth aiming for and acknowledges that nature is the ultimate standard

Building Biology investigates the indoor living environment for a variety of irritants including:

Chemical risks:

  • volatile & semi volatile organic compounds (VOCs/S-VOCs) including formaldehyde, other solvents, pesticides, fire retardants, plasticisers, PCB & PAH
  • heavy metals & other similar toxins
  • particles & fibres including particulate matter, nanoparticles, asbestos & mineral fibres
  • Indoor climate including temperature, RH, CO2, air ions, air electricity, air changes & odours

Physical risks:

  • 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

Biological risks:

  • Fungi including mould, yeasts & bacteria & their metabolites and other allergens
  • insects and parasites such as dust mites

Managing Risks

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 Third Skin

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 trans epidermal water loss) and the second skin being our clothing

Healthy Strategies

Simple healthy design strategies that Gale & Snowden has included in their work include:

  • maximising natural daylight design
  • optimising acoustic performance
  • providing thermal comfort by ensuring an efficient thermal building envelope, incorporating thermal mass, 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 moisture buffering materials and construction to aid modification of indoor humidity levels
  • 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, incorporating shielded cables, radial wiring, demand switches in bedrooms and cabled ethernet. The reduced man-made EMRs, particularly in bedrooms, helps to reduce electromagnetic stress
  • healthy artificial lighting compatible with the night/day cycle (circadian rhythm)


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

Gale & Snowden instigated the founding of the Building Biology Association UK a not-for-profit educational organisation that promotes healthy design, construction, and maintenance of buildings in partnership with the Building Biology Institute IBN

 For further information on Building Biology:

  • &
  • Building Biology evaluation guidelines for sleeping areas – SBM-2015
  • Leaflet entitles ‘The 25 Guiding Principles of Building Biology’
  • Book entitled Building Biology – ‘Criteria and Architectural Design’ by Nurgul Ece ISBN 978-3-0356-1183-0