Creating a healthy environment for future generations

A healthy building supports the physical and mental wellbeing of its occupants whilst doing as little damage to the environment as possible. Through the use of natural materials, healthy buildings establish a sustainable and durable structure, establishing a higher energy efficiency, says Adrian Judd, Operations Director at Steico UK


The UK’s current housing stock will make up 80% of the entire nation’s supply of houses by 2050. This gives us 30 years to improve the way we construct new buildings and retrofit existing buildings, to secure a healthy environment for future generations.

The benefits of healthy building

At present, around 35% of our global resources and 40% of energy use are consumed by our buildings. They also contribute to around 40% of global carbon emissions. These numbers can be substantially decreased if we adopt healthy building as the ‘norm’ across the entire construction sector.

1. Improved indoor air quality

In the design and construction of a healthy home, careful thought is given to the resulting air quality of its internal environment.

Due to their vapour-permeability, natural materials facilitate the air-exchange between a home’s internal and external environments. This allows water to be released, mitigating the risk of mould or condensation. Also, natural materials won’t release the same toxic fumes into the environment as their synthetic alternatives, reducing the amount of pollutants within the internal environment of a building.

2. Improved energy efficiency

Natural materials also have the benefit of high thermal efficiency. Natural insulation – made from materials such as wool or woodfibre – absorbs and releases moisture from the building’s internal environment, keeping it much warmer and consequently reducing the need for artificial heat, even during winter months.

Healthy buildings are designed to maximise natural light – which has been proven to improve productivity and focus by helping regulate sleep cycles.

Aside from the psychological health benefit of this, increased natural light also reduces the need for artificial light. The decrease in reliance on artificial heat and light within our homes or workplaces reduces their overall carbon emissions.

3. Carbon storage properties

Natural wood materials have the capability of carbon capture and storage (CSS) as trees sequester CO2 during their lifetime, storing it in their branches, trunks and leaves. In timber buildings, this CO2 is stored within the structure of the building. The carbon will only be re-released into the atmosphere through burning or decomposition when the wood reaches the end of its lifecycle. As such, using reclaimed or recycled wood wherever possible can prolong the carbon sequestration.

4. Increased sustainability

Natural materials are also sustainable, so they don’t exhaust natural resources and can be used without risk of adverse impact on the environment.

The foundations for healthy building

On average, people spend around 80% of their time indoors, so it’s vital to consider the impact that our buildings have on our physical and mental health. However, there’s currently no legal standard in the UK Building Regulations which sets out how a building should perform to enhance the health of its occupants.

Optional standards, however, such as the WELL Building Standards, outline key things to consider to construct a healthy building. The WELL standard is a performance-based rating system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features that impact human health and wellness in the built environment. The rated categories are air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Where to start?

It may be difficult to know where to begin when setting ocut to construct a healthy building, so here are a few things to consider:

• Sustainable materials: Sustainable materials have little impact on the environment, so using them within a building will help to reduce our negative impact on the planet. Wood is a sustainable material and can be used in various areas of a building such as the structure, insulation, flooring and even furniture.

• Recycled materials: There are many recycled materials which can be used in a healthy building: reclaimed wood, recycled glass, recycled plastic and even repurposed tins can be used in some form within construction. If it’s impossible to use recycled materials, it’s important to consider using materials that can be recycled in the future.

• Natural insulation: Natural insulation is not only a great way of improving energy efficiency but also allows air exchange between internal and external environments and its production also has minimal impact on the environment. Natural materials such as wool and woodfibre also have carbon capture capabilities, as previously mentioned.

Building to secure a healthy future

The construction industry has been identified as one of the key sectors in need of an overhaul to achieve the 2020 global targets of the EU. The responsibility for this lies with the entire industry – from architects and builders, through to designers – to drive the need to minimise the impact that buildings have on our environment. Making healthy buildings the industry standard is fundamental in achieving this.

The impact of healthy building goes beyond protecting our environment and creating a healthy planet for future generations. A planet of healthy buildings will have cleaner air, reduced carbon emissions and – most importantly – healthy and happy people.

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