Healthy Buildings II (Building Environment & Health)

This building biology course complements our Healthy Buildings I course but considers the impact of location, surroundings and interior finishes and materials on human health. Learn to protect occupants from the potential harm of indoor environments.

Course CodeBSS300
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

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Towards a healthier life

Have you ever wondered why most people who work indoors cannot wait to get out of doors as often as possible into the sunlight or amongst the trees? As people we have an innate need ot connect with nature, to get away from the built environment. Buildings can pose a health risk.

People tend to get sick more often inside some buildings than they do inside others. British research by Professor Hedge and Andrew Wilkes in the 1980's provided evidence of common complaints peculiar to people in a ‘sick building’. Frequent symptoms included:

•Upper respiratory tract infections
•Runny noses
•Sore eyes
•Dry/irritated throats and dry skin

The World Health Organisation has referred to this group of symptoms as 'sick building syndrome' and it is caused by poor ventilation, biological and chemical pollutants, and contaminants in and around buildings.


Learn how to improve health through changes to the built environment  

Explain and evaluate the impact of physical characteristics of a building, other than construction characteristics, upon human health, and to recommend innovative ways to improve the habitability of a building.
This course develops skills to evaluate, describe and explain how physical characteristics of a building and its surrounds have an impact upon the habitability of the building and human health. The course covers how weather systems and garden design influences the internal environment of a house, health aspects of different furnishings, paints, pesticides and chemicals (and alternatives), alternative methods of pest control, managing building surrounds and interior environments.
Learn about the impact of chemicals, pesticides furnishings, finishes on the quality of the indoor environment.  Reduce the amount of chemicals in your home.

Lesson Structure

There are 8 lessons in this course:

  1. Environmental Impacts On Buildings
    • Scope, nature and principles of building biology
    • Environmental impacts on buildings
    • Climate, building location, radon, air quality, allergies, temperature, humidity, light, EMR
    • Creation of electric fields
  2. Chemicals
    • Air pollutants
    • Cleaning chemicals
    • Chemical breakdowns
    • Leakages and spills
    • Pesticides -household, industrial, agricultural
    • Solid Waste pollutants
    • Persistent organic polutants (POP's)
    • Formaldehydes
    • Heavy Metals
    • Ammonia
    • Resins
    • Where different chemicals originate in a building
  3. Building Surrounds
    • Creating a buffer zone
    • Windbreaks, hedges, screens
    • Creating Shade
    • Designing a healthy home garden
    • Going natural in the garden
    • Avoiding problem materials
    • Disposing of waste
    • Making compost
    • Working with rather than against nature
    • Energy conservation
    • Solar House Design
    • Green principles for house design
  4. Furnishings
    • Gas appliances, heaters and fireplaces
    • Furniture
    • Materials characteristics
    • Floor Coverings
    • Cane
    • Metals
    • Fabrics
    • Flame retardation treatments
    • Matresses
    • Dry cleaning and mothballing
    • Temperature and acoustic properties of fabrics
  5. Finishes
    • Chemical reactions
    • Lung disease, cancer, skin disease
    • Paint
    • Repainting
    • Timber finishes against decay
    • Varnishes and oils
  6. Pesticides & Alternatives
    • Types of insecticides -inorganic and biological (organophosphates, carbamates etc)
    • Rodenticides
    • Miticides, Bacteriacides, Algaecides, Termite treatments
    • Understanding pesticide characteristics -toxicity, persistence, volatility, etc
    • Common chemicals used in buildings, and natural alternatives
    • Common garden chemicals and natural pest/weed management
    • Understanding Insect Pest Management options
  7. Managing Interior Environments
    • Assessing air quality
    • Ventilation
    • Temperature control
    • Cleaning
    • Acoustics
    • Electricity
    • Domestic pets
    • Light
    • Colour
    • Indoor Plants
    • Othyer hazards
  8. Consulting
    • Services that can be offered to a client
    • Checklist of building hazards
    • Procedures and business practice for a consultant
    • Setting up costs
    • Operating a business
    • Developing a business plan
    • Determining fees to charge

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.


  • Explain the impact of the macro-environment (location) on health.
  • Explain the impact of building surrounds, including a garden, on the interior environmental conditions.
  • Choose interior furnishings which are not likely to damage human health.
  • Explain the health implications of using different types of finishes, including sealers, paints, preservatives and stains.
  • Explain the health implications of using alternative methods of pest control inside buildings.
  • Plan health conscious management systems of interior environments.

What You Will Do

  • Explain how proximity to different bodies of water can affect human health, including: *Sea/Ocean *Freshwater lakes *River *Ground water.
  • Explain how different aspects of prevailing weather patterns may influence house design in different regions, including: *temperature *rainfall *winds *day length.
  • Explain in a summary, how proximity to electromagnetic radiation may impact on health.
  • Explain in a summary, how proximity to different types of pollution can impact on health inside a dwelling.
  • Compare the impact of different garden treatments upon temperature inside buildings, including: -tall trees -lawn -paving -mulched surfaces -climbers on walls.
  • Explain how different garden design decisions can affect ventilation in a house, including: *earth shaping *planting *constructions *water features.
  • Compare the affect different garden components on light inside a building, including: *Plant types *How plants are grouped *Walls *Topography *Pergolas.
  • Explain how the visual characteristics of two different gardens influence the inside environment of a building.
  • Analyse two different gardens for the impact they have on buildings they surround.
  • Compare health aspects of different materials used for furnishings including: -metals -plastics -timbers -upholstery -curtains.
  • Compare health aspects of different floor coverings including: -tiles -carpets -vinyl -cork -slate -timber.
  • Explain health aspects of different electrical appliances including: -televisions -computers -refrigerators -microwaves -heaters -air conditioners -ovens.
  • Evaluate the furnishings in a building inspected by the learner, to determine recommended changes to improve building habitability.
  • Compare the health affects of different types of finishes including: sealers, paints, stains, preservatives and varnishes.
  • Compile a resource directory of ten sources of healthy alternatives to traditional finishes.
  • Describe the characteristics of three different specific products which are healthy alternatives to traditional paints and finishes.
  • Explain the toxic affects of ten different pesticides commonly used in buildings, both during and after construction.
  • List alternative "healthier" methods of controlling pests in buildings, including: -rodents -ants -termites -flies -cockroaches.
  • Develop a detailed pest control strategy for a building, in the learners locality, which includes: -structural treatments during and post construction
    • -preventative measures for anticipated problems
    • -eradication measures for existing problems.
  • Explain issues of building usage which can impact on health with respect to different factors including: -number of people -electricity -windows and doors -cooking -smoking -curtains -hygiene.
  • Analyse the way two specific buildings including a home and a workplace are used; to determine health risk factors in that use.
  • Recommend guidelines to the way in which different buildings, including an office, and a workplace, are used, to minimise negative impacts upon health.

What is involved in the Study of Healthy Buildings?

Building biology, bio-house design, biological architecture, and ecological building all refer to the construction of a building along lines of more natural, renewable resources and health of the occupants. In other words, buildings which are more people-friendly. It aims to establish a balance between technology, culture, and biology. 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 the United States 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 in the 1960's contain asbestos cement which is known to be carcinogenic and old piping systems are frequently painted with lead paints. In addition, household disinfectant, fly sprays, paints, varnishes, and fumes released from a large range of furnishings and commodities are of no benefit to the occupant's health. Environmental costs are considered from the very first stage of planning. If products need to be transported a long distance, then they are usually rejected due to pollution, energy and costs for transportation. Even non-renewable resources are avoided.

Building Diseases can be related to many factors including: 
  •      Chemical - fumes.
  •      Electrical - the human body is sensitive to electrical frequencies. Wiring should be minimal, not placed closer than 1 metre to the sleeping bed, and the use of TV and other appliances should be reduced. Even static electricity from synthetic floor coverings can cause problems.
  •     Cage - this occurs when concrete and steel buildings screen out natural radiations which help regulate life systems.
  •       Location - this covers geo-biology which is concerned with natural radiation that originates within the earth. It is a new science based on traditional principles. 

Building biology also deals with the environment in general and the climate of living. The climate of living can be determined by things such as:

  •       Installations and furnishings
  •       Noise and acoustics
  •       Lighting and colours
  •       Radiation, avoiding disturbed areas
  •       Radioactivity
  •       Space, form and proportion
  •       Physiology and psychology of living and working
  •       City planning with biological, ecological, and sociological aspects. 

Bio-houses and bio-settlements have been sprouting up throughout Europe over the years. They frequently contain solar temperature-control systems or insulated winter gardens for heating. Sites are surveyed with divining rods to ensure the area is free of ground water veins and other electromagnetic disturbances. 

Biotechture utilises vegetation to reverse the harsh processes caused by buildings. Plants usually intercept between 70% and 90% of incoming solar radiation. Deciduous trees can provide a 5º C reduction in heat in the summer but allow the sun through in winter thereby reducing energy loss by up to 30%. 

Many plants have characteristics that can be used for the benefit of construction. Leaves defoliate and remove air pollution, foliage that closes and opens can act like a ventilator, etc. It is advisable to use plants as much as possible to complement the house not only aesthetically but also functionally. 

Consider Climate and Location

The climate is essentially a set of environmental conditions that interact with the building by means of transfer (energy).    Buildings by their very nature provide protection from environmental factors such as temperature, precipitation and exposure.    Climate type should, but does not always, inform the design and siting of a building.   Climate type should influence: 

  • Building location
  • Building orientation
  • Location and design of windows for light and temperature control
  • Type of ground surfaces used in and around the building
  • Type of garden/plantings around the building for shade and temperature control

Consideration of these factors can enhance the interaction of the building and surrounding climate to maximise efficiency and comfort of the building. The decisions made when considering the above factors would all be influenced by climate aspects such as:

  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Pollution
  • Latitude
  • Aspect
  • Winds
  • Precipitation

Building Location

The location of a building greatly influences the health of the building. If located in the middle of the city it is fair to assume the building is more at risk of becoming unhealthy. Surrounding enterprises and businesses may affect the health of the building you work in.  

For example, in areas with a high level of processing plants, noise, or noxious fumes and gases may be a problem. In large cities, tall buildings may block out natural sunlight for part or even much of the day. Even in rural/agricultural areas certain businesses (such as a cement factory for example) in the district are likely to reduce your building's health, due to high levels of airborne particles or chemicals.  

Topographical location can also have an influence on the health of a building. Consideration should be given to the placement of a building. For example, placement in an area such as in a depression or on reclaimed swamp would result in damp conditions.


Cleaning products are one of the easiest ways to bring chemicals inside a building. Luckily it also makes them easily removed. Cleaning products are amon some of the most hazardous chemicals you will find inside most buildings; this is why many carry hazardous warnings. Slow exposure over years and years can lead to excessive exposure. Because we are accustomed to using or seeing these products it is easy to forget that they are hazardous chemicals.

Most manufactures are not required to list full ingredient lists nor are they required to include warnings against use for those at high risk of reacting.   The best way to avoid long term exposure to these products is by simply not using them. A simple cleaning kit comprising baking soda (sodium bi-carbonate), white vinegar, salt, lemon juice, borax and liquid soap will suffice to clean most areas as effectively as other chemical cleaners.

Detailed information on chemicals found in particular cleaning products can be found at the US Departments of Health & Human Service’s Household Products Database:


Detailed information on toxicity of particular chemicals can be found at the United States National Library of Medicine ToxNet (Toxicology Data Network). You can search the HSDB (Hazardous Substances Data Bank).    


Some common toxic chemicals used in cleaning products (nb: some of these chemicals may be banned in specific countries)





Carpet cleaners and speciality cleaners.

Methylene chloride

Paint stripper

Ethooxylated nonyl phenols (NPE’s)

General cleaning products


Moth balls and crystals - carcinogen


Solvent – reproductive toxin


Abrasive cleaners – respiratory dust

Trisoldium nitrilotriacetate (NTA)

Laundry detergents – possible carcinogen


Spray paints, paint cleaners (graffiti removal), air fresheners. Affects CNS.


Highly toxic if mixed with ammonia. Can bind with organic materials in water to form Organo-chlorides.


Environmental danger.


Used in furniture and shoe polish


Plywood, carpeting, paper products, glues, air fresheners (see table below)


Household Cleaners, disinfectants, air fresheners


Household Cleaners, oven & glass.

The above table is by no means inclusive and is given to demonstrate the astonishing range of toxic chemicals frequently used in cleaning products. Many chemicals used in cleaners are not only detrimental to human health but also have significant environmental impacts such as Chlorine.



Graduates will have a stronger knowledge and awareness of both construction and environmental industries; and should be seeing all sorts of ways to apply that learning, which may not have even occurred to them before taking this course.

If you already work in construction or environmental management; this may significantly enhance your career or business prospects.

Learning never just stops upon graduation though -not if your course was as good as this one.
What you learn here will become a solid foundation, helping you discover, notice and understand new things about building health well into the future.

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John Mason

Writer, Manager, Teacher and Businessman with over 40 years interenational experience covering Education, Publishing, Leisure Management, Education, and Horticulture. He has extensive experience both as a public servant, and as a small business owner. J
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.
Adriana Fraser

Freelance writer, businesswoman, educator and consultant for over 30 years. Adriana has written extensively for magazines including free living publications -Grass Roots and Home Grown; and has authored or co authored many books ranging from a biography
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.,
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