Due to its holistic approach, building biology deals with many areas of building, living, and also life itself. In this introductory course module, Prof. Dr. Anton Schneider, the author and founder of the Institute of Building Biology + Ecology, explains in practical terms—and sometimes also with a philosophical touch—what the term building biology means, why our society needs building biology, and what the learning objective of the Building Biology Course is.
Welcome to the Building Biology Course IBN!
Building biology must not stop at the gate. Apartments and houses usually do not exist by themselves but are part of villages, towns, and cities. This alone is not only a major intervention into nature but also has a major impact on human well-being. If the basic rules of ecosocial regional planning are applied, it is possible to create life-sustaining communities that live in harmony with healthy natural surroundings. However, if they are ignored, mental and physical health disorders may increase and the effects of environmental destruction may spin completely out of control in the long run. What should a culture-based and sustainable urban planning paradigm look like from a building biology perspective?
This course module is the first one to focus on a core subject of building biology, that is, how to create a comfortable and healthy indoor climate. Only the proper working together of the various indoor climate factors such as air, temperature, humidity, and electroclimate will have the desired effect. This course module is an introduction and also provides an overview of this complex issue. Many of the issues raised here will be discussed in more detail in subsequent course modules such as “Environmental Building Materials Assessment / Building Science,” “Heating and Ventilation,” “Energy-efficient Building Design,” “Electromagnetic Radiation,” “Air and Pollutants,” “Light and Lighting,” or “Natural Colors and Finishes.”
Which criteria shall natural building methods meet? Which natural building methods are recommended because they meet building biology criteria? This course provides a first insight into the properties of building materials and building methods. The chapter “Wood Wall or Masonry Wall” is of particular importance because building designers and building biology consultants often are confronted with this question.
Everybody talks about energy-efficient building and remodeling. The environmental performance of building materials and components, however, is often forgotten, that is, the environmental impact across the life cycle from resource extraction to manufacture, use, reuse, recycling, and finally disposal. In addition to basic knowledge, this course module also provides an overview of the “thicket” of available certification marks, green labels, building performance certificates, databases, software, and others.
We have choices as to how to preserve wood: knowledge combined with nontoxic or low-toxic treatments, or aggressive toxic chemical treatments. Especially building biology professionals require sound knowledge in this subject area to be able to prevail against the lobby interests of profit-hungry pest controllers or commonly held misconceptions and half-truths. This also applies to the identification and treatment of house pests such as insects and rodents.
Building materials form the “third skin” of humans. It largely depends on the selection of building materials as to whether a building provides a comfortable indoor climate and whether it is healthy, energy-efficient, and ecological. This course provides an overview of all the properties of building materials that are important from a building biology perspective.
A lack of knowledge in the area of building science can result in major building damage.
Therefore, this course module also introduces basic building science concepts that all students should understand so that later in the field they will know in which situations it is important to consult an expert.
There is no need to memorize equations. The course module can serve as a reference as needed.
In the context of heating and ventilation, economic and technical aspects are predominant. The (individual!) human needs of the occupants are often ignored. Yet the heating or maintaining of thermal comfort as well as ventilation of built spaces are key issues of a healthy indoor climate. Consequently, we turn the tables in this course module: first we consider human needs and then match technical requirements.
Good-quality drinking water as well as the water we use for our body care is very important to our health. From well to faucet, the water comes in contact with numerous materials, chemicals, and technologies. This is where planners, tradespeople, building owners, or occupants can make a difference. Further, this course module also covers the environmentally aware and health-conscious use of laundry detergents and cleaning agents as well as the merits and pitfalls of water-saving technologies including rainwater or gray water use.
It is good to see that energy-efficient building design and lifestyle choices have found their place in mainstream society. Unfortunately, many key demands of building biology, for example, regarding the avoidance of electromagnetic and air pollution are ignored. Our slogan at the IBN is: Yes to energy efficiency—but please the building biology way. This is what this course module is all about.
Life on Earth is maintained by the presence of various types of radiation. Light and heat from the sun travels in the form of radiation down to Earth. Throughout their evolution, living organisms have adapted to the natural background radiation; they are in natural balance with their environment. Today this balance is in serious danger, as in so many other areas, as well.
Among other factors, exposure to significant levels of artificial electric and magnetic fields as well as radioactive radiation can cause such imbalances. Humans, as well as animals and plants, respond very differently to these exposures. In building biology or building biology testing methods, respectively, nature is the ultimate guide. It is recommended that the exposure to artificial electromagnetic fields and changes in the natural background radiation are best avoided or at least reduced. There are also naturally occurring phenomena that can make people sick such as geological disturbances (e.g. underground watercourses, faults). It is important to also monitor those exposures and to avoid them.
This course module primarily completes course module 11 “Electromagnetic Radiation,” providing practical information on how to best avoid or reduce exposure to electromagnetic radiation. In this context, it is also important to know how the public power grid works and how electricity from renewable energy sources can be used.
Today we are exposed to a cocktail of toxic chemicals—not only at home. To build, renovate, and live in a healthy manner, sound knowledge is essential. And to avoid adverse health effects and environmental destruction from air pollutants, they must be identified, verified, and properly removed or at least reduced to a tolerable level. The Building Biology Testing Methods provide the necessary know-how.
Again and again some building biology professionals and articles in the literature seem to convey the impression that building biology would be exclusively about avoiding electromagnetic pollution as well as air pollutants harmful to health and the environment. As important as these subject areas are, healthy and sustainable building, renovating, and living clearly involves many more subject areas—see all other course modules as well as The 25 Principles of Building Biology.
A healthy living space is only worth living in when you can find quiet there. Therefore, one of the 25 Principles of Building Biology states: “Protective measures against noise and vibration pollution need to be based on human needs.” The psychological component of noise is frequently underestimated: How noise is perceived depends to a great extent on a person’s current disposition, but more so even on whether a person associates something positive or negative with the source of noise (e.g. beautiful or ugly music, nice or unsympathetic neighbors, ocean surf or car noise). In addition to sound audible to human ears, there is also inaudible infrasound, which frequently is perceived as vibration. Our knowledge about infrasound is rather slim, but affected people can frequently be driven to despair. Therefore, high-quality sound insulation in the construction of buildings is essential to a healthy living environment.
An architectural design can be as grand as you want it to be, but without a matching building or structural design it is worthless. Many different areas of construction come together here: architecture/aesthetics, building material properties, building science (e.g. thermal insulation, sound insulation, and fire insulation), building biology, structural engineering, mechanical systems, building costs, building regulations, and others. Thus it is so very important to design buildings in a holistic way by optimizing the whole through optimizing the many different design parameters instead of focusing on a few select individual criteria.
In this Building Biology Course, building professionals can find information to help them design better buildings by incorporating building biology criteria. Nonprofessionals tend to be quickly overwhelmed. However, to foster interdisciplinary cooperation, they can familiarize themselves with this topic as to be able to communicate with building professionals and to recognize when design suggestions by building material suppliers or planners/contractors are in need of improvement from a building biology perspective.
Architectural physiology deals with fitting buildings, spaces, building components, furniture, and mechanical systems to human needs as to promote health, well-being, and performance. Key issues include anatomy-based measurements as well as medical or ergonomic and safety-related requirements of furniture and furnishings.
Without light there would be no life. Life is essential to our well-being and health.
How can we use as much natural daylight as possible in built spaces? Which type of artificial lighting also meets building biology requirements? Which role does light play in the design of beautiful spaces? Which criteria are used in a professional lighting design?
Beside the psychological and physical effects of colors, this course module primarily covers the biological assessment and practical application of finishes and surface treatments. Which finishes are suitable for interior and exterior plaster and wood surfaces? Where are nontoxic paints available? Which ecolabels can you rely on? What do you need to consider so that surfaces look beautiful and last long? Which paints can you make yourself?
Oh dear, what a dry topic!? At a first glance, yes. But in the day-to-day dealings of building design and construction, regulations have their place and are quite important. As a building biology professional or even as an artistically inclined designer or craftsperson, it is quite important to know the regulations well so that in this regard no mistakes are made that may cost you your professional career.
Wow, you made it. Twenty-four course modules packed with information. Congratulations!
In this concluding course module, experienced Building Biology Consultants IBN share their stories on how they became involved in building biology and what their day-to-day professional life looks like. You will quickly realize that each building biology professional performs different tasks and that only a collaborative and interdisciplinary cooperation can ensure the creation of holistic living and work environments.