Hundreds of books about housing and health have been written, lectures given, research projects carried out and laws passed by the state – yet there were and are many people who are ill in buildings in which they have lived and worked and there are people who experience an improvement in their wellbeing moving or working in another building.
Buildings are probably not the only cause of the sharp and rapid rise in allergies, asthma, ADHD, respiratory diseases, etc. – but most likely a cause of the so-called “Sick Building Syndrome”.
There are many reasons for that:
- We spend more time indoors than our ancestors (in western industrialized countries up to 95% of the day)
- We build denser, more energy-efficient and more comfortable. Therefore the constructions have become more complex and the construction products used more numerous.
- The product range is large and it is difficult to precisely identify all properties.
- Construction products may contain problematic hazardous substances and individual substances can “outgas” (i.e. they emit volatile substances below room temperature). The collective term for these gases is Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC).
So how do you build «healthy»?
To be clear: A house is not a living being that can become unwell or sick.
Buildings can, however, be built incorrectly in terms of building physics, choice of materials, technology and form / function. But a building can be the cause of many health issues. It is therefore wise to build in a way that promotes our well-being and reduces or completely eliminates stressful factors.
Simple building materials such as wood, clay, straw, stone, and glass do not contain any hazardous substances. Construction products based on synthetic substances (polymer materials) have a higher risk of containing volatile substances such as VOC.
The Norwegian technical regulation (TEK 17, §9.2 Substances harmful to health and the environment) basically clarifies:
“Construction products with little or no content of substances harmful to health or the environment are to be selected.”
The problem, however, is that there are far too few specific guidelines for those choosing construction products, as “low content” is not further defined.
This formulation is absolutely imprecise and therefore legally not tenable as long as it is not defined what “low” salary means.
That is why a building owner should draw up a list that specifically excludes the substances that are not desired. Transparency!
The attached guideline text from the Norwegian TEK 17 specifies:
«Particular attention should be paid to avoiding the use of construction products that contain the most serious substances that are harmful to health or the environment. This includes substances that are classified as carcinogenic, gene-changing or reproductive impairment (CMR), persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) and very persistent and very bioaccumulative (vPvB). The European Chemicals Agency has information on substances with these properties.
The candidate list in REACH (SVHC list) contains substances that give cause for concern. They are candidates for further regulation and companies are obliged to provide information. Apart from a ban on the use of HBCD, a flame-retardant substance in polystyrene insulation, no substance bans have been issued by the EU so far. ! »
In addition, TEK 17 requires, among other things:
Under chapter Air Quality / § 13-1. General ventilation requirements are:
(1) The building must have ventilation that ensures satisfactory air quality
c) The indoor air does not contain any pollutants in concentrations that could be harmful to health or cause irritation.
(7) Products for buildings may not or only slightly pollute the room air.
Since all of these formulations are very vague, it is necessary that planners draw up a list of the desired or undesired properties of the construction products. The planned construction products must present special documents (technical data sheet, safety data sheet, declaration of performance) from which their performance profile can be recognized.