Healthy Buildings

A building should provide a pleasant, efficient and healthy environment for its occupants. Its primary purpose should be to protect from adverse conditions found outside; but in doing so, not loose the beneficial conditions found outside. If a building is properly planned and built well, these aims can be achieved. In most situations, buildings should satisfy the following:
  • Buffer the impact of adverse external conditions (e.g. extremes of temperature, wind, moisture).
  • Make use of natural light during the day (with windows, skylights, reflective interior surfaces, etc).
  • Provide appropriate artificial light (without glare, with appropriate intensity and wavelengths, etc).
  • Maintain good air quality inside (e.g. through ventilation, indoor plants).
  • Minimise pollutants/toxins (e.g. fumes, dust).
  • Control acoustics (stop unwanted noise; avoid interference/distortion of desirable noise, etc)
  • Provide unimpeded movement and access to all areas.
  • Provide rapid response to environmental controls (e.g. ability to raise or lower temperature quickly, ventilate rapidly if necessary).
Some construction materials have no known impact on a person’s health, but others can have a very serious impact.
One of the best examples of undesirable building material would be Asbestos. Though used widely in the mid 20th century, it is now widely recognised that asbestos can cause cancer. In 1979, James Hardie Industries made a conscious decision to cease the company’s heavy reliance on asbestos based products. The wide use of asbestos by other companies in the USA actually led to the downfall of those companies.
Research was undertaken around this time to develop asbestos free fibro cement, and new improved fibro cement was released onto the market by James Hardie in 1981. Despite the actions of Hardie such a long time ago, the legacy of asbestos has still plagued them with legal compensation challenges well into the 21st century.
Apart from this legal and commercial side to the asbestos story, there is also a tragic personal side. People exposed to asbestos decades ago continue to develop asbestos related illnesses, and all too often, not only the quality of life diminishes, but lives are lost.

Considerations with Chemicals in Building Materials

There are many different types of materials used in buildings. These can include wood, masonry, ceramic tiles, plaster, concrete, metal, plastics, fibreglass, glass, glues/adhesives, paints/sealants, etc. Each of these has distinctive characteristics, some of which may be detrimental to health.   Any material chosen for a building should be considered in terms of the following characteristics:
Rate of deterioration
  • Some materials will deteriorate fast, others virtually never deteriorate.
  • Deterioration can lead to the need to dispose of, and replace parts of a building. Waste is not only costly but can cause negative environmental impacts.
  • Deterioration may also lead to greater use of chemical treatments such as pesticides or preservatives.
Thermal qualities
  • Some materials will absorb heat, others do not.
  • By selection of materials for thermal qualities, you can reduce heating and cooling requirements for a building.
Chemical properties
  • Many building materials have some toxins in their make up.
Sometimes these toxins are fully stable and pose no threat. Other materials contain unstable toxins which may be released into the building environment slowly (i.e. some paints). These can find their way into the human body and have a cumulative affect over time.
Acoustic qualities
  • Insulating against unwanted noise (eg. neighbours or a road), may be desirable.      Avoiding echoes may be important.
  • Some materials are more suitable for absorbing, or insulating sound, than others.
  • Some materials (eg. impermeable hard surfaces such as tiles) will bounce sound around a room.
Dust collection or repellence
  • Some materials will collect dust, which can be a problem for allergy sufferers
Light reflection.
  • Some materials may absorb light energy, helping heat a building (providing a heat store)
  • Some materials (eg. glass) are translucent allowing light to penetrate indoors.
  • Some materials reflect light. This can create glare and heat where it is unwanted; or it may help improve lighting where it is wanted.
Waste Created during Construction

Particles created by cutting plaster, timber, metal etc. during construction is unlikely to find its way off your property. Even if floors are supposedly cleaned first, dust and other particles will often remain under carpets, inside walls and roofing, under cupboards or buried in the garden.