Healthy Buildings II (Building Environment & Health)

Course CodeBSS300
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Building Environments Can Impact on Your Health

  • Learn how the physical characteristics of a building and it's surrounds can affect health
  • Learn to change things around a home or workplace, to make it more sympathetic to human wellbeing
  • 100 hour, self paced course; taking your understanding of health to another level

There are a number of ways in which the situation and site of a building can have a marked impact on firstly the overall comfort of a building and secondly, though perhaps even more importantly, the healthiness of that building. Weather is a fine example of an environmental factor but then so too is the presence of a potential fault line or sink hole. In the case of the latter two, the threat tends to be somewhat of an implied one. However, it is still pertinent.

These have been used as an example simply to reinforce the message that regardless of the cause, the human ability to sense or dislike an atmosphere is not one to be ignored. Thus if you feel uncomfortable with a certain situation you are likely to move away from it. If you feel slightly uncomfortable about a particular house or dwelling you will tend to keep away from it or not move in (if it was a potential new home). This is a perfectly normal healthy human response. It can be extrapolated from this that human health and a sense of ease and comfort with our surrounds are closely interconnected.

Some examples of undesirable building situations:

  • A site within easy smelling distance of a tannery or abattoir.
  • A site built in an aesthetically menacing situation, i.e. extremely ugly position.
  • A building that is prone to severe heat or cold depending on prevalent weather conditions.
  • A building that is situated on an atomic testing ground.
  • A site that is subject to constant loud noise.


Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR)

The presence of everyday radiation is well documented. We experience varying degrees of radiation from the atmosphere, our homes, the television, and from most things that we have contact with during the course of a day. Radiation is a physical phenomenon which is a by-product of atomic interaction. Atoms are the smallest building blocks of matter. All matter is composed of atoms.

Electromagnetic radiation is therefore all around us - it can and does affect our environment. Buildings too, it is quickly being realised, are subject to this radiation. This may affect those people who are using the building. The symptoms of an unhealthy building due to earth radiation might be lethargy amongst workers, an above average incidence of accidents for seemingly no apparent reason or it could even involve acute illnesses such as cancers or respiratory problems occurring in staff. For these reasons, electromagnetic radiation cannot be taken lightly.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Environmental Impacts On Buildings
    • Scope, nature and principles of building biology
    • Environmental impacts on buildings
    • Climate, building location, radon, air quality, allergies, temperature, humidity, light, EMR
    • Creation of electric fields
  2. Chemicals
    • Air pollutants
    • Cleaning chemicals
    • Chemical breakdowns
    • Leakages and spills
    • Pesticides -household, industrial, agricultural
    • Solid Waste pollutants
    • Persistent organic polutants (POP's)
    • Formaldehydes
    • Heavy Metals
    • Ammonia
    • Resins
    • Where different chemicals originate in a building
  3. Building Surrounds
    • Creating a buffer zone
    • Windbreaks, hedges, screens
    • Creating Shade
    • Designing a healthy home garden
    • Going natural in the garden
    • Avoiding problem materials
    • Disposing of waste
    • Making compost
    • Working with rather than against nature
    • Energy conservation
    • Solar House Design
    • Green principles for house design
  4. Furnishings
    • Gas appliances, heaters and fireplaces
    • Furniture
    • Materials characteristics
    • Floor Coverings
    • Cane
    • Metals
    • Fabrics
    • Flame retardation treatments
    • Mattresses
    • Dry cleaning and mothballing
    • Temperature and acoustic properties of fabrics
  5. Finishes
    • Chemical reactions
    • Lung disease, cancer, skin disease
    • Paint
    • Repainting
    • Timber finishes against decay
    • Varnishes and oils
  6. Pesticides & Alternatives
    • Types of insecticides -inorganic and biological (organophosphates, carbamates etc)
    • Rodenticides
    • Miticides, Bacteriacides, Algaecides, Termite treatments
    • Understanding pesticide characteristics -toxicity, persistence, volatility, etc
    • Common chemicals used in buildings, and natural alternatives
    • Common garden chemicals and natural pest/weed management
    • Understanding Insect Pest Management options
  7. Managing Interior Environments
    • Assessing air quality
    • Ventilation
    • Temperature control
    • Cleaning
    • Acoustics
    • Electricity
    • Domestic pets
    • Light
    • Colour
    • Indoor Plants
    • Othyer hazards
  8. Consulting
    • Services that can be offered to a client
    • Checklist of building hazards
    • Procedures and business practice for a consultant
    • Setting up costs
    • Operating a business
    • Developing a business plan
    • Determining fees to charge


  • Explain the impact of the macro-environment (location) on health.
  • Explain the impact of building surrounds, including a garden, on the interior environmental conditions.
  • Choose interior furnishings which are not likely to damage human health.
  • Explain the health implications of using different types of finishes, including sealers, paints, preservatives and stains.
  • Explain the health implications of using alternative methods of pest control inside buildings.
  • Plan health conscious management systems of interior environments.

Do You Feel Healthier Indoors or Outside?

Have you ever wondered why most people who work indoors cannot wait to get out of doors as often as possible into the sunlight or amongst the trees? In past centuries, people worked mostly outside. Life was simpler, and pollution was not the issue it is today.  Modern technology has brought many changes. Machines now do much of the hard work and new building materials have been developed. Many of us now have to work in offices. This can be a real health risk.  Just think about when you walk into an office, which is the most familiar scene:

  • People concerned about being late with red eyes, coughs, sniffs, or yawns.
  • A row of desks occupied by bronzed, muscular, relaxed, happy people.

It is a fact that people tend to get sick more often inside some buildings than they do inside others. British research by Professor Hedge and Andrew Wilkes in the 1980's provided evidence of common complaints peculiar to people in a ‘sick building’. Frequent symptoms included:

  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Headaches
  • Lethargy
  • Runny noses
  • Sore eyes
  • Dry/irritated throats and dry skin.

The environment inside an office can be affected by many things from the toxic qualities of building materials to the quality of air, temperature, and light.  Over time, radiation from electrical wiring and appliances can affect the body. Badly arranged furniture can have a psychological effect and may result in considerable bruising or other injuries, for the tired and clumsy.

It does not have to be this way though. There are lots of things about a building that can affect health and over the past couple of decades many different professionals including environmentalists, scientists, architects, and health practitioners have slowly been coming to grips with such issues.  An obvious example is the banning of asbestos as a building material because it is now known to cause cancer (mesothelioma).

Principles of Building Biology

Building biology, bio-house design, biological architecture, and ecological building all refer to the construction of a building along lines of more natural, renewable resources and health of the occupants.  In other words, buildings which are more people-friendly.  It aims to establish a balance between technology, culture, and biology.

To a human-being, the walls of a building can be regarded as a third skin (the first is our own skin, the second is our clothing). Most buildings do not breathe like our natural skin and unfortunately in the United States this has been shown to lead to a build-up in radioactive radon gas and reduce the benefits of passive solar energy in spring and autumn.  If a building is to be sealed (which most are) then it needs to be well ventilated to remove unhealthy pollutants.

Many buildings contain hazardous materials or substances without the owner's knowledge.  Freshly constructed cement homes have high levels of moisture, homes built in the 1960's contain asbestos cement which is known to be carcinogenic and old piping systems are frequently painted with lead paints. In addition, household disinfectant, fly sprays, paints, varnishes, and fumes released from a large range of furnishings and commodities are of no benefit to the occupant's health.

Environmental costs are considered from the very first stage of planning. If products need to be transported a long distance, then they are usually rejected due to pollution, energy and costs for transportation.  Even non-renewable resources are avoided.


Who Needs to Know about Environmental Health

This field of study is relevant to everyone in their private lives, and more professions than you might realize in the workplace.

  • Health professionals will become more holistic in their diagnosis of health problems
  • Builders, engineers and architects will develop buildings more sympathetic to human health and well being
  • Interior decorators and suppliers of household goods will understand the health implications of products they use
  • Employers will understand and better manage the work environment to improve employee well being and staff productivity

These are just a few of the many reasons why this course can make a real difference.



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