Building Biology... Going Beyond the Principles of Green Building
By Nancy H. Taylor
"Natural plant fibers can and will play a central role in the transition from a hydrocarbon-based economy to a ecologically sustaining carbohydrate-based economy." - Henry Ford
Building Biology™, also called Bau-biologie™, originated in Germany as a set of parameters that can help make buildings more compatible with human health. A building should contribute to the health of the earth and its inhabitants. But too often, the materials used for construction and furnishing our buildings are incompatible with our health.
When an office building or residence disrupts the health of those who inhabit it, it can lead to "sick building syndrome." This condition can be the cumulative result of compromised indoor air quality caused, in part, by off-gassing toxic chemicals in carpets, paints, adhesives and furniture. Those who live or work in an environment that compromises their health often have increased allergies, asthma and headaches. In severe cases of building sickness the immune and endocrine systems no longer protect the body from the toxins in a building. A recent example is the presence of formaldehyde in the FEMA trailers used to house Katrina victims. Residents began to complain of sickness caused by living in the trailers. Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen, but is still widely used as a binder in particleboard, cabinets, insulation, plywood and children’s furniture.
Building Biology considers the entire environment of a structure, inside and out as a living organism, hence the word biology. If our buildings are built in harmony with nature and designed to enhance our health rather than endanger it, we can thrive in the built environment, whether it be an office, school or home.
There are 25 guiding principles of Bau-biologie that emphasize making the building as compatible with nature as possible. A few highlights include: The building should be built in a way that does not disrupt the natural environment; the building should be oriented to take advantage of passive solar gain and natural day-lighting; the structure should be able to breathe, as in permeable walls, and the air within the building should circulate.
Building Biology also pays attention to the electrical currents that circulate in and around a building. There are specific prescriptions for wiring a home or business so that the inhabitants are not constantly bombarded by stray electromagnetic fields from conduit, appliances and machinery.
Care is taken to paint and furnish a dwelling with as many natural materials as possible, so that the inhabitants maintain harmony with their indoor environment.
Rowena Finegan, an experienced interior designer, is a trained Bau-biologist working in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her retail store with partner Agnes Bourne, Eco-Terric, offers green and healthy interior design products and services for the home. She has a degree in interior design and also helped develop a line of natural home furnishings sold in the store, and nationally.
Furnishings are as important as building materials in Bau-biologie. It is important that the furniture be built from durable materials that are natural and healthy. Carpets can detract from good indoor air quality and so they are discouraged in healthy homes. Chairs, couches and mattresses made from natural latex foam, covered with wool, hemp or natural textiles all compliment the idea of a natural home.
Finegan also will specify particular furnishings that are compatible with the lifestyle choices of the home or business owner, in particular if they suffer from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities. She can assure the occupant that they will have clean air quality along with a natural feeling in the home or business environment
Bau-biologie goes beyond green building principles in several respects. One of the principles of Bau-biologie™ is to source the materials from close to home. Often green building materials are shipped from a great distance. Bamboo flooring is a good example. Even if it is grown in a sustainable forest, it is often shipped from a great distance, which consumes energy in the form of fuel. This concept is called "embodied energy" and defines the amount of resources it takes to produce, ship and dispose of a product. Other building materials with high embodied energy content could be custom windows shipped from Germany, or Vinyl siding which is cost effective, but toxic to the workers who make it, and cannot go to the landfill at the end of its lifecycle.
Bau-biologists consult with the homeowner, architect and builder during the design process so that the vision of a healthy environment is carried through from the building’s inception. As the structure is being built, Bau-biologists can advise on use of materials, colors, textiles, and electrical guidelines. As buildings are constructed with our health in mind, it just makes sense to design our living and working spaces using the most natural and durable materials available. Homes and offices influenced by the principles of Bau-biologie are beautiful, healthy, pleasing spaces to inhabit.