Wednesday 9 April 2014

Gale & Snowden become first UK Building Biology Consultancy IBN

Gale & Snowden have become the first Building Biology Consultancy in the UK to be officially accredited by the Institute for Building Biology and Ecology (IBN) in Germany.

We have been designing healthy buildings for over 20 years.  This accreditation by the IBN is recognition of the practice's dedication and expertise in this field.

The IBN was founded in 1976 to provide objective information and to offer a holistic approach to building biology and its teaching and to promote a healthy, ecologically and socially responsible living environment.

What is Bau biology?

The term biology is derived from the Greek word bios, "life", and the suffix -logia, "study of."

Biology is defined as the science of the different forms and manifestations of life and the conditions, laws and the causes through which they have been affected. (G.R.Treviranus)

The German word ‘Bau’ means building and describes both the process as well as a completed construction.  It can also refer to a construction site or more general the building industry.

Bau biology (or Building biology) is the study of the holistic interrelationships between humans and their build living environment.

Why bother?

Today, our living environment is defined by the spaces and buildings we have created for ourselves.

Most of us take great care when it comes to what we eat, where our food comes from, what we give to our children, how we keep fit etc., but when it comes to construction unfortunately the focus is only very rarely on the human being, their health or well-being.

Very often the focus is purely cost driven and economic viability, low maintenance costs and short payback periods are typically the key drivers for developments.

Since the 1960s the industry has responded to this demand by developing a vast range of highly processed construction materials and elements that reduce costs and speed up construction.  Whereas up to the first half of the last century traditional construction materials like bricks, concrete, stone, timber would dominate construction, now highly processed petrochemical based materials and products are generally used.  Construction components today consist of a complex mix of chemicals to improve their lifespan, their workability or construction speed.  At the same time chemicals used are not fully understood with regards to long term exposure.  Materials are only looked at in isolation and not in combination with other materials.  Whilst toxic substances like formaldehyde are restricted in their allowed concentration within one component e.g. in plywood boarding, this does not take into account the amount of plywood used in a building or that it is typically combined with other indoor sources of formaldehyde e.g. carpets, PVC flooring, paints, varnishes, glues etc.  When assessing the complete building, limiting the concentration of a carcinogenic substance like formaldehyde in individual components is meaningless.

"The dose makes the poison" and the dose is dependent on the concentration and exposure time.

On average we spend about 90% of our time indoors and 30% of our time in bedrooms.  With these exposure times even low concentrations of potentially harmful substances can affect our health in the long term and cause chronic diseases.  More vulnerable inhabitants like children and elderly persons are particularly exposed to this risk.

Bau biology is about managing this risk.  Risks are identified and assessed based on the Standard of Baubiology Testing Methods issued by the Institute for Baubiology and Ecology IBN (Germany).

The Standard gives an overview of the physical, chemical and biological risks encountered in sleeping areas, living spaces, workplaces and  properties.  It offers guidelines on how to perform specific measurements and assess possible health risks.  All testing results, testing instruments and procedures are documented in a final written report.  In case potential problems are identified, an effective remediation strategy is developed.

By minimising the risks without affecting quality or comfort Bau biology seeks to create healthy living environments that are free from pollutants, dusts, particles, fungi, bacteria and radiation.  Based on the precautionary principle i.e. where there is evidence of a potential risk, this risk is to be designed out or minimised wherever possible.

The standard focuses on the four key elements: water, indoor air, indoor climate and radiation. 

The 25 ‘Baubiologie’ principles act as a guide:  

1.        Building site without natural and human-made disturbances
2.        Residential homes away from sources of emissions and noise
3.        Low-density housing with sufficient green space
4.        Personalised, natural, human- and family-oriented housing and settlements
5.        Building without causing social burdens
6.        Natural and unadulterated building materials
7.        Natural regulation of indoor air humidity through humidity-buffering materials
8.        Low total moisture content of a new building that dries out quickly
9.        Well-balanced ratio between thermal insulation and heat retention
10.     Optimal air and surface temperatures
11.     Good indoor air quality through natural ventilation
12.     Heating system based on radiant heat
13.     Natural conditions of light, lighting and color
14.     Changing the natural balance of background radiation as little as possible
15.     Without human-made electromagnetic and radiofrequency radiation exposure
16.     Building materials with low radioactivity levels
17.     Human-oriented noise and vibration protection
18.     With a pleasant or neutral smell and without outgassing toxins
19.     Reduction of fungi, bacteria, dust and allergens as low as possible
20.     Best possible drinking water quality
21.     Causing no environmental problems
22.     Minimising energy consumption and utilising as much renewable energy as possible
23.     Building materials preferably from the local region without promoting exploitation of scarce and hazardous resources
24.     Application of physiological and ergonomic findings to interior and furniture design
25.     Consideration of harmonic measures, proportions and shapes

More information on Building Biology and Gale & Snowden's approach to healthy buildings can be found here.

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