Creating a healthy environment for future generations

It’s time the construction industry prioritised health when designing and constructing our buildings. The UK’s current housing market will represent 80% of the entire nation’s supply of houses by 2050. This allows us 30 years to develop our approach to constructing new buildings and retrofitting existing buildings, to secure a healthy environment for generations to come. 

Adrian Judd, operations director, Steico UK, explains the myriad of benefits of healthy building and explores how the entire construction industry can work together to build a more sustainable world.

Globally, our buildings account for around 35% of the world’s resources, 40% of its energy and 40% of all carbon emissions. It’s possible to considerably reduce these numbers through the utilisation of healthy building materials, processes and techniques.

There are many different benefits to building healthy buildings, including:

  1. Improved indoor air quality

In healthy building, greater emphasis is placed on the indoor air quality.

Natural materials hold qualities such as breathability and vapour-permeability, which allow air-exchange between internal and external environments. This enables water to escape, mitigating the risk of the build-up of mould or condensation.

Natural materials also won’t off-gas toxic pollutants in the same way as many of their synthetic alternatives, further improving the indoor air quality of a building.

  1. Greater energy efficiency 

Natural materials, such as wool or woodfibre, possess a high thermal efficiency which creates ‘thermal mass’ within a building. This remains constant, even whilst absorbing and releasing moisture from internal environments. This contributes to a more comfortable internal environment and reduces the reliance on artificial heat when temperatures drop.

Healthy buildings are also designed to maximise natural light – proven to increase productivity, enhance focus and regulate sleep patterns. This also reduces the need for artificial lighting, further boosting energy efficiency.

  1. Carbon storage properties

Certain natural materials, such as woodfibre, also possess the capability for carbon sequestration.

Trees sequester carbon throughout their lifetime, removing CO2 from the atmosphere and holding it within their matter. This CO2 is held within the timber until the wood comes to the end of its life – through burning or decomposition – and then it is re-released into the atmosphere. This places importance on using reclaimed or recycled wood products where possible, to prolong the carbon sequestration.

  1. Increased sustainability

Natural materials are also sustainable, meaning they do not diminish natural resources. This means they can be utilised without negative impact on the environment, as they can be regrown and replenished.

The infrastructure of healthy buildings

Typically, people spend around 80% of their time inside so we must consider the effect that our buildings have on our health and wellbeing. Surprisingly, there is currently no legal standard listed in UK Building Regulations which outlines how a building should function to enrich the health of its occupants.

The WELL Building Standards details optional standards which can be used as the basis for constructing a healthy building. The WELL standard is a performance-based rating system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features that impact human health and the wellness of the built environment. The assessed categories are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Where should you start?

Here’s some things to consider when setting out to build a healthy building:

  • Sustainable materials – sustainable materials have minimal impact on the environment, so using them in construction will help to decrease our adverse impact on the environment
  • Recycled materials – recycled materials can be used frequently in construction. If using recycled materials isn’t possible, using materials which can be recycled is a good alternative. For wood materials, this will prolong the carbon sequestration process
  • Natural insulation – as well as enhancing energy efficiency and indoor air quality, the production of natural insulation also has little impact on the environment

Building for the future

The construction industry has been recognised as one of the main sectors in need of a transformation, in order to reach the 2020 targets of the EU. The responsibility falls as the feet of the entire industry.

A planet of healthy buildings can contribute to cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions and – fundamentally – healthy and happy people.

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