18 Mar 2020

Breathing new life into old buildings

A healthy building is one that is bright, warm, draught-free, soundproof and free from air pollutants. For occupant health, there is a myriad of benefits of healthy homes as poorly ventilated homes with a lack of daylight can contribute to asthma, allergies and even sleep disorders. This is particularly worrying considering that, according to research carried out by VELUX, one in six Europeans live in an unhealthy home, says Adrian Judd, Operations Director at Steico UK.


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Healthy buildings have minimal impact on the environment as well as being beneficial to occupant health, due to their high energy efficiency and use of sustainable and natural materials.

The cost of constructing an entirely new, healthy building may not always be feasible. Still, refurbishment and retrofitting provides a cost-effective alternative to creating a healthy home with improved performance, enhancing air quality, energy efficiency and the health of occupants.

Acting to healthily improve the performance of homes

Retrofitting and refurbishments provide self-builders with a valuable tool for creating healthy buildings. The energy use for retrofitting homes is minimal in comparison to that used for new builds. This results in a much smaller impact on the environment, which is further decreased when retrofitting with natural materials.

Retrofitting homes with natural materials has other benefits, including:

Increased comfort and occupant wellbeing
Retrofitting with natural materials can contribute to a more comfortable environment for occupants as the performance of insulation will be enhanced. This helps to improve the overall wellbeing and health of occupants.

Older homes may not have been built with resistance and durability in mind – two key properties of natural materials – so retrofitting can ensure that buildings are resilient to their external environments.

Long-term cost savings
Overall, energy efficiency can be improved with the use of natural materials, therefore, reducing the cost of energy bills for occupants. The price of repairs and maintenance over time can also be reduced due to the durability of natural materials.

Reduced carbon emissions
A higher energy efficiency contributes to reduced carbon emissions. In addition, a reduced amount of energy will be used to retrofit a building in comparison to constructing a new building, therefore, reducing the carbon emissions released in the construction process.

Due to a shift in focus towards energy efficiency, many newer buildings have been built with a lack of consideration to air quality and ventilation. Barbara Fischer-Clarke from Stommel Haus commented on the issue, saying: “When you build a more airtight house, you have to be careful that you don’t end up with an internal atmosphere that’s little more than a plastic bag.”

Ventilation within a healthy building is key, as it can reduce – or even eradicate – the number of toxins released internally while ensuring a constant airflow. Vapour-permeable materials, mechanical ventilation systems and glazing products can help to achieve an improved air quality – elements which can easily be installed by an experienced self-builder or renovator.

Cost-effectively breathing life into older buildings

Without entirely refurbishing a building, there are smaller retrofitting processes that can be carried out to ‘breathe life’ into old buildings. Proponents of Baubiologie (building biology) believe that certain design ideas can not only contribute to healthy homes but also have a positive impact on wellbeing, making them a suitable choice for self-builders or renovators when retrofitting a property.

1. Utilise natural light
Natural light in a home has countless benefits. It is used in space conditioning (lighting and temperature control) and can improve focus and regulate sleep cycles.

2. Install an external insulation system
An external insulation system made from wool or woodfibre will contribute to a warmer home with improved indoor air quality, due to the thermal efficiency of the natural materials and their vapour-permeable properties.

3. Use natural or sustainable materials for any structural improvements
When making any structural improvements to a home, such as new flooring, windows or building an extension, natural materials can be used to contribute to a healthy building, breathing new life into the existing home.

4. Remove toxins
The impact of impurities in outdoor air is heavily focused on. However, impurities can also exist in the internal atmosphere of a home, such as toxins released from damp, mould and mildew. The internal air quality can be improved by eradicating damp in homes through improved ventilation.

5. Incorporate eco developments
Throughout the entire home, eco-friendly developments can be used to improve performance. As the construction industry paves the way for making buildings healthy, follow suit by keeping up with the new technology and materials used within self-building projects.

Healthy homes are beneficial – both to the planet and the population. Retrofitting and refurbishment offers a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution to improve the performance of homes and safeguard a healthy planet for the future.

Further information....

Adrian Judd

is the Operations Director at Steico UK, a manufacturer of environmental wood-based products
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