About 17,000 years ago, man moved to a sedentary way of life, and for the last 200 years he has been pursuing industrialization. In the building sector, too, each new construction technique creates further interactions between human health, the environment and housing that are often largely unresolved. Added to this are the urgent challenges of climate change, to which the construction industry must also formulate answers. Building biology is interdisciplinary and dedicated to this complex of topics. In doing so, it continuously identifies sustainability potential.
the essentials in brief
- Building biology studies the interactions of health, ecosystems and buildings.
- There are building biologists with different professional backgrounds – e.g. architecture or medicine.
- Building biology can not only identify sources of pollutants in the residential environment and thus contribute to individual well-being as well as health – it can also make a contribution to the very big issues: the implementation of international climate protection goals.
Building biology: history and designation
In Germany, building biology can be traced back to the physician Hubert Palm, who drew attention to himself in the 1960s with a series of lectures. Until then, the issues he addressed regarding housing health and environmental protection had gone largely unaddressed in discourses of the building industry. His book “Das gesunde Haus: Unser naher Umweltschutz” (The Healthy House: Our Nearby Environmental Protection), first published in 1979, is considered a seminal writing on building biology and ecological construction. Here you can find more information about ecological building.
The designation “building biology” is not subject to any special protection in this country; basically anyone can call themselves a building biologist. There is also no uniform regulation regarding the courses offered, yet there are a number of high quality ones. As a rule, a professional background or professional experience in construction-specific areas is required for the courses offered. The “Institute for Building Biology + Sustainability IBN”, for example, has been offering a state-approved “Distance Learning Course in Building Biology IBN” since 1977 (since 2016 also in English).
Definition of the occupational profile of a building biologist
Building biologists identify sources of pollutants in living spaces and their surroundings (e.g. in the soil of the property). They are familiar with a wide range of approaches to ecological construction and can advise both clients and architects on this and review or create house or living concepts. In doing so, they draw on both exact sciences and alternative approaches. Ideally, they accompany the planning and construction phase and coordinate the project of ecological and low-pollution construction in all relevant areas from the very beginning. In doing so, they perform analyses themselves or refer to the right experts. Devices for measurement according to the standard of building biology measurement technology (SBM) are for example: Particle counters for pollutants and residential toxins, measuring devices for assessing the indoor climate, high-frequency measuring devices for locating electromagnetic waves. The activity of building biologists can thus be summarized in the following three words: Consultation, analysis and design. Relevant areas include: renewable energies, energy efficiency (heating/electricity), photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, ventilation systems, insulation materials and associated health risks, exposure to questionable building materials, design with alternative ecological building materials, investigation of electrosmog and electromagnetic radiation, green roofs.
However, building biologists are also active in the field of research. Here, the departments of biology, medicine, chemistry, physics and architecture are worth mentioning.
Building biology: the holistic view
Within the framework of building biology, the interactions of people, ecosystems and buildings are studied. Both the impact of the built environment on human health and the impact of the development on the environment as such are relevant here. The aspects examined are understood to be interrelated: Not only living in houses polluted by certain building materials is detrimental to health, but also the general pollution of the environment caused by the production, obstruction and disposal of certain building materials has an effect on human health. This is done in a highly complex manner. Only a holistic view can lead to deeper understanding here. Building biology is interdisciplinary and takes into account psychological, physiological, constructional, physical-technical and architectural aspects.
Building biology: more important than ever in times of climate change!
In practical application, the focus of building biology is mainly on human health. However, it does not consider this subject in isolation; influences on the environment (e.g. CO2 emissions) are also optimized. Building biology thus always includes a global dimension in addition to the concrete health-promoting aspects.
It can no longer be seriously disputed that man-made climate change poses a threatening prospect for the future. These phenomena are explicitly about human-environment interactions. And this is – in the field of building – exactly the question of building biology.
Therefore, building biology can play its part in the implementation of international climate protection goals. For this, it is particularly important that a variety of regional and sustainable-regenerative approaches to saving CO2 emissions are developed and implemented. Building biology can help here to exploit the optimization potential of buildings. However, it can also develop new techniques and identify areas for optimization. Last but not least, it creates the necessary attention for its subject. Building biology thus accelerates general trends toward improved sustainability and offers concrete solutions locally and regionally.
Of course, builders are interested in whether the building materials used in the construction of a house are not harmful to health with regard to living in the house for many years. Since building materials and construction technology are constantly changing, suppliers cannot always make valid statements about this right away. Building biologists can provide an independent expert opinion on this, not only for houses that are already inhabited, but also during the planning and construction phase – because they have both the necessary knowledge and the appropriate measuring techniques. Moreover, the importance of building biology goes beyond such health aspects. This is because it can also help to optimize construction processes from an ecological point of view and thus help to comply with international commitments made by politicians with regard to climate protection.