Energy efficiency is very high profile these days, as is sustainability, and environmentally friendly and responsible. All of these are great – but at what expense to our health?
I recently saw a popular home show story on a modular home, being build prefabricated and then fitted together onsite. The home was built from something like a sandwich style material – polystyrene is sandwiched between sheets of colourbond steel or aluminum. This is great for an esky. Do you want to live in an esky?
The main thing about all this energy efficiency is that heat is sealed to wherever you want it to be – in or outside, depending on your climate. In order to do that, you need to prevent any sources of heat exchange. That means sealing draughts. Another way of saying “sealing draughts” is “stopping airflow”.
What happens to the inhabitants of a house when the airflow is stopped?
Another thing you’ll have noticed about eskys is that when moisture gets in, it stays in. So when you let humid air in (and let’s face it, air is humid, it needs to be for our health) and the temperature drops, the moisture in the air condenses. On your nicely insulated walls and floor and ceiling. What happens when moisture forms and stays on a surface? That’s right – mould.
You could, of course, remove a lot of the humidity and thus prevent moisture, and improve your flow, by mechanical means – install an air conditioner. Now you’re living in a temperature regulated esky. And your energy efficiency has just gone out the triple-glazed window.
The alternative (and preferred by Building Biologists) is that you build the house to suit the climate it’s going to be situated in. This involves knowing the climate and seasons of the locality, including where the breezes come from, the temperature range, rainfall etc, and designing a house to suit those aspects, as well as the requirements of the occupants. So if you live in a warm temperate area (for example Ipswich, which has this climate, with some aspects of sub-tropical), you’d design for hot humid summers, with late afternoon storms with a lot of rainfall in a short period of time. You’d design for sharp, cold, mostly dry winters, but not for heavy frost. You’d include social sustainability aspects such as ease of access throughout the house for aging occupants, as well as areas for younger occupants to play and run. Safety, inside and out, as well as security could also be designed into the house and garden (not just putting bars on the windows – landscape design should integrate safety and security as well as beauty and functionality.
All aspects of the occupants’ lifestyle should be considered, now and in the future, and the home should be designed to meet those requirements, not just “this looks nice and the neighbours will envy us” and then sustainability “tacked on” to the design.
Natural materials are preferable – especially natural materials from the local area. This is not just to minimise the transport costs and the transport energy included in the building, this is because the products in the local area have evolved to suit the local area – the woods grown locally will be suited to the climate of the area and minimise the bad effects of the climate and maximise the good ones. A Building Biologist can assist with home design for healthy living, factoring these aspects in. A good architect or builder will also be aware of these factors.
Insulation and energy efficiency is good, and should be a part of your home design, but not at the expense of your health.
It may be that you think having a home designed by an architect or custom-built to your specifications may be too expensive. However, I urge you to really look at the costs, not only short term design and building costs, but also the long term costs of living in that house, as well as the health of the occupants – your family – and work out what’s really important to you.