Healthy Buildings I (Building Construction and Health)

Learn how building construction methods and materials can affect the health of the people who inhabit them, and how to make wiser choices to minimise health risks. Make changes to existing buildings and plan new ones better.

Course CodeBSS200
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Can Buildings Really Kill People?

To a human-being the walls of a building can be regarded as a third skin (the first is our own skin, the second is our clothing). Most buildings do not breathe like our natural skin and unfortunately in this has been shown to lead to a build-up in radioactive radon gas and reduce the benefits of passive solar energy in spring and autumn. If a building is to be sealed (which most are) then it needs to be well ventilated to remove unhealthy pollutants.

Many buildings contain hazardous materials or substances without the owner's knowledge. Freshly constructed cement homes have high levels of moisture, homes built up to the 1970s contain asbestos cement which is known to be carcinogenic and old piping systems are frequently painted with lead paints. In addition to the household disinfectants, fly sprays, paints, varnishes, and other fumes released from a large range of furnishings and commodities are of no benefit to the occupant's health.

Learn about the health impacts of buildings upon their occupants  

Through this distance learning course in eco-building techniques you can learn how to create a healthy building with the minimum toxicity from the ground up.  This unique course will help you make the right decisions for building a healthy interior environment, whether restoring an existing building or planning a new one.
Learn about the skills involved to determine the impact of building construction characteristics upon human health, and to recommend innovations in building design to improve habitability.

The course covers building materials, construction techniques, electrical wiring, temperature & light control, ventilation, plumbing, ergonomics and psychological factors. Perfect for the modern age of home improvement.


Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Introduction to the Scope and Nature of Building Biology
    • Building Diseases
    • Environmental Laws
    • Biological Damage and Buildings
    • Environmental Factors
    • What is a Clean Interior
  2. Construction Materials
    • Dangerous Construction Materials
    • Chemical Effects on the Human Body
    • Timber
    • Formaldahyde Adhesives
    • Plastics
    • Masonary and Concrete
    • Insulation Materials
    • Soft Furnishings
    • Paints
    • Timber Treatments, stains, polishes, etc
  3. Construction
    • Roofing
    • Roof Gardens
    • Roof Construction
    • Floors
    • Reasons to Choose Different Floors or Floor Coverings
    • Pests in Buildings
    • Dust Mites
    • Fleas
    • Ants
    • Termites, Flies, Mosquitos, Wasps, Cockroaches, etc
    • Spiders
    • Rodents, Birds, Snakes, etc
  4. Services
    • Electricity
    • Electrical Fields
    • Circuits
    • Measuring Electricity and Exposure limits
    • Terminology
    • Power Supply Systems
    • General Waste Disposal
    • Waste Water
  5. Temperature
    • Introduction to Heating and Cooling
    • Principles of TemperatureControl
    • Heat Loss
    • Types of Heaters
    • Cooling Effects
    • Air Cleaners, Filtration, Circulation, Air Conditioning
    • Energy Conservation
    • Solar House Design
    • Active and Passive Solar Heating Systems
  6. The Internal Environment: Ventilation
    • Scope and Nature
    • Natural Ventilation
    • Mechanical Ventilation
    • Air Conditioning
    • Humidity Management
  7. Light
    • Internal Light in Buildings
    • Natural Light
    • Artificial Light
    • Electric Light
  8. Acoustics
    • Internal Acoustic Control
    • Improving Internal acoustics
    • Noise Insulation
  9. Ergonomics
    • Form, Shape and Spatial Dimensions
    • Furniture Design
    • Interior Layout
  10. Psychological Concerns
    • Physical and Psychological Affects of Colour
    • Stress or Calming Environments
    • General Principles for Interior Design

Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.


Timber preservatives can be a serious problem for human health; if you use an inappropriate preservative in an inappropriate situation.

Some of these products are relatively safe to use and live with afterwards, particularly if a building is well ventilated and there is no direct contact with the skin. At the other end of the spectrum; there are product which are still widely used in construction, which can give off unnoticeable but potentially toxic fumes for many years after application.

To ensure it lasts though, timber often needs to be treated with preservative; particularly in warmer climates, or if exposed to the weather, and used for outdoor projects. Preservatives not only increase the resistance of the timber to rots and decay, but also to insect attack. As such, the useful life of the timber may be extended.
Some timbers are however more durable for outdoors - you should ensure that you are either using a weather and pest resistant timber; or you have treated it before exposing it to the weather.

Timber preservatives work by either sealing the surface or soaking into the timber, or a combination of both. This discourages fungal rots and insects from feeding on the wood. Preservatives are long lasting, and whilst applying them may be initially more expensive than paints or stains, over the life of the product the cost is justified due to the reduction in maintenance cost and time.
Oil-based paints are a popular way to preserve timber without losing the look and texture of the wood. Some oil paints include colouring that can actually enhance the appearance of the timber.  Paint is not as effective as some other timber preservatives, and it will usually be necessary to recoat the wood every few years, or wherever it flakes off. Paint may also be used on treated timbers as an extra layer of security. Stains may be used to give a more natural appearance. They are also easier to touch up.

The main protective liquids are in the form of toxic oils and include bitumen based products such as creosote. These are effective, but they are black, flammable, have an unpleasant odour, and may destroy plant and non-pest insect life they come into contact with.  

Other protective liquids are in the form of water-borne inorganic salts. CCA (chromated copper arsenate) is used to treat pine and other softwoods.  It is made from copper, chromium, and arsenic, and gives timber a characteristic grey-green colour. The arsenic acts as the insect deterrent, the copper fends off fungal attack, and the chromium binds these active ingredients to the cell walls in the timber. Once applied, it should not leach from the timber, however some studies have demonstrated small leakages of arsenic into surrounding soil over a long period of time, and so the use of CCA treated timber is restricted in some countries in residential areas.  CCA treated timber should never be burnt in open fires since it will produce toxic fumes when it combusts.  Other products have become more used because of conserns with CCA. Some of these include ammoniacal copper zinc arsenate (ACZA), various alkaline copper quarternary compounds (ACQs), and copper azole (CuAz).

Various other types of water-borne organic preservatives will also prevent fungal disease. These include copper and zinc napthenate. Most water-borne protectants can be used on interior as well as exterior timbers. 

Preservatives may be applied by brushing, spraying, dipping, or steeping in hot or cold preservative baths until thoroughly soaked. The preservative may be heated to 95° with the timber submersed in it, so that air is forced out of the timber pores. When it is allowed to cool the preservative is sucked into the pores.

Alternatively, preservatives are applied under pressure before the timber is made available for sale. The timber is placed in a cylinder and air is withdrawn to create a vacuum, which forces air out of the timber pores. Hot preservative is then injected under pressure for up to six hours.   
If you are using timber preservatives, always be careful.  Wear a mask and gloves, as some of these chemicals can be very toxic. If you cut pre-treated timber in to lengths ready for assembly, coat the cut ends with preservative and allow to dry before use.   


If you or someone in your family have allergies to many chemicals used in the production of buildings and their contents than this course could help you gain a better understanding of the alternatives.

If you would like to build a house that is 'healthy' this course is a great way to learn.

if you are looing to start work in this field as a consultant - this is a great starting point.

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Jacinda Cole

Former operations manager for highly reputable Landscape firm, The Chelsea Gardener, before starting his own firm. Gavin has over 20 years of industry experience in Psychology, Landscaping, Publishing, Writing and Education. Gavin has a B.Sc., Psych.Cert.
Bob James

Horticulturalist, Agriculturalist, Environmental consultant, Businessman and Professional Writer. Over 40 years in industry, Bob has held a wide variety of senior positions in both government and private enterprise. Bob has a Dip. Animal Husb, B.App.Sc.,