Learn how buildings can damage or repair people's health; depending on the materials they are made of, and the way the building is designed, constructed and managed.

Course Code: BSS200
Fee Code: S2
Duration (approx) Duration (approx) 100 hours
Qualification Statement of Attainment
Get started!

Study Building biology

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 become more people-friendly. It aims to establish a balance between technology, culture and biology.

"Building Biology deals with the study of living organisms in and around the building environment which have direct or indirect effect on the health of the building fabric, its materials, structures, environments and occupants." Jagjit Singh (1993)

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 USA 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.

Learn about the environment of buildings and human health

  • Discover how your home or workplace can make you sick
  • Learn innovations in building design to improve habitability
  • Help friends, family and clients improve their health
  • Study building materials, construction techniques, electrical wiring, temperature & light control, ventilation, plumbing, ergonomics and psychological factors.

This course is divided into ten lessons as follows:.

  1. Introduction To Building Biology
  2. Building Materials
  3. Construction
  4. Services
  5. Temperature: Heating & Cooling
  6. The Internal Environment: Ventilation
  7. Light
  8. Acoustics
  9. Ergonomic Considerations
  10. Psychological Considerations

Why Do We Need To Learn About Healthy Buildings?

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 USA 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 60's 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.


  • Explain the concept of healthy buildings including its relevance to human health.
  • Select building materials which are safe to human health.
  • Evaluate the health impact of different building techniques, including construction and design.
  • Explain how the way in which services are installed, can impact upon the health of people using a building.
  • Explain how building design can impact upon the quality of the physical environment inside.
  • Explain ergonomic considerations in building design.
  • Explain psychological considerations in building design.

What You Will Do

  • Explain the concept of building biology, in accordance with the international building biology institute.
  • Explain the history of building biology institutes, in Germany, America, and New Zealand; with relevance to Australia.
  • Explain the current status of bio-harmonic architectural practices in Australia.
  • Assess in a summary for each, problems with different dangerous building materials including: *Asbestos *Plastics *Insulation materials *Treated pine.
  • Compare characteristics of different commonly used building materials, including: *Rate of deterioration *Thermal qualities *Chemical properties *Acoustic qualities *Dust collection/repellence *Light reflection.
  • Develop a checklist, for evaluating the health impact of different building materials.
  • Evaluate the impact of different building materials on health, in a building inspected by the learner.
  • Develop a checklist of building design factors, to assess the affect of design on human health.
  • Develop a checklist of building construction factors (other than materials) which may impact upon human health.
  • Explain how design can impact upon different aspects of the internal environment, including: *Thermal comfort *Light intensity *Humidity *Condensation *Acoustics *Control of pests *Noise insulation.
  • Compare the impact of building techniques, including construction and design, upon human health, in two different specific buildings studied by the learner.
  • Explain the impact of electric fields on human health in a building inspected by the learner.
  • Explain how electrical fields can be minimised by the way in which electric wires are laid in a specific house plan analysed by the learner.
  • Compare differences upon the impact on health from different power supplies including: *Mains power *Self generated systems *Different voltages.
  • Compare the potential impact on health, of different waste disposal systems including: *Chemical treatments *Reed beds *Settling ponds *Combustion systems *Land fill.
  • Explain potential impact of different water supply systems on human health, including: *Mains water *Ground water *Different types of rain water tanks.
  • Explain possible impacts of gas supply systems on human health including: *Mains gas *Bottle gas *Self generated bio gas.
  • Compare the impact of different types of artificial light sources on human health, including: *Electric light *Combustion systems.
  • Compare the impact of different types of heating systems on human health.
  • List ways temperature can be controlled inside a building by design.
  • Explain health impacts of air conditioning in a building studied by the learner.
  • List ways acoustics can be controlled, by building design.
  • List ways light can be controlled, through building design.
  • List ways ventilation can be controlled, by building design.
  • Explain solar energy applications in a specified building.
  • Evaluate the impact of the design of a building visited by the learner, on the interior environment.
  • Redesign a building from a specified building plan, to improve the quality of the physical environment inside.
  • Evaluate the heights of three different kitchen benches for ergonomic suitability to the people who are primary users of those benches.
  • Explain the importance of clear and easy access into and through the building for all users, including the disabled.
  • Explain health aspects of the relationship between the human body and the interior of a specific building.
  • Explain the affect that different colours may have on human health.
  • Explain the affect of space perceptions may have on human health, in a visited interior workplace.
  • Evaluate the psychological impact of the interior environment in two distinctly different offices, upon the people who work in each of those offices.

What Affects the Inside Environment?
The climate of an internal living space 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.
How Important is Ventilation?
Ventilation in a building serves many purposes but mainly serves to remove undesirable components in the air such as carbon dioxide, smoke, vapours etc and to allow the renewal of fresh air. In addition to this ventilation can also help control temperature, humidity and velocity of the air.
When provisioning ventilation there are actors that need to be considered:
Energy conservation, especially if the air being removed has previously been heated. Losing this heat could dramatically increase energy consumption.
  • Noise
  • Fire control
  • Volume of air required
  • Air movement and distribution to different areas of the structure
  • Temperature changes
  • Humidity changes
  • Control
  • Filtration

What Else is Important to Understand?
This is a complex area of study, which mankind is still only starting to learn about; but nevertheless very important to human health and well being.
Considering Walls
 Think -what are your walls made of? Some wall materials are safer than others. Natural materials can be free of chemicals, but people can also be affected by natural materials, such as dust from an earth building if th walls are not properly sealed.
Walls might be constructed from any of the following:
  • Earth and clay (i.e. rammed earth)
  • Straw/fibre plants
  • Straw – clay
  • Wood
  • Alternative cements
  • Magnesium Oxychloride Composite sheeting
  • Autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC)
  • Glass
  • Plastics
Walls may serve a whole range of functions, including:
  • Protect from the environment
  • Self-regulate moisture
  • Store and release heat
  • Reflecting and distributing light and heat
Wall design elements may include:
  1. “Lighter” outer layer
  2. Middle core
  3. Inside “heavier” thermal layer
The job of the exterior wall is to slow down temperature and moisture transfer so that the home remains relatively comfortable. Until a century ago, all dwellings were made out of natural, locally available materials which provided breathable, or “flow-through,” wall systems.
Needless to say, without added insulation, a hollow stud wall of metal or wood does a very poor job moderating temperature and moisture. Standard insulation such as fibreglass batts perform poorly when moisture is allowed to travel through them. If enough water vapour condenses in the hollow cavity, it will cause mould, decay and eventually structural deterioration. To avoid this, insulated stud walls frequently have added moisture barriers.

Miscalculations in the application of this non-breathable approach often accelerate the process they were meant to avoid — moisture trapped within walls by plastic barriers has resulted in countless building failures, causing mouldy and unhealthy indoor air.

Massive breathable wall construction (i.e. clay/straw) eliminates this problem. Airborne moisture is intercepted by the clay in the first two or three centimetres of the wall, long before its reaches the condensation zone.
When choosing materials for wall construction - use building materials (structural and finishing) that allow the structure to “breathe”.
Natural building materials - such as untreated wood, clay bricks, cork, wool, sisal, coconut fibers - usually have the ability to exchange humidity, heat, and fresh air with the exterior and to maintain proper ion levels. They can also absorb a large number and variety of airborne toxins (diffusion).


Why Study This Course?

This course is aimed at people who are interested in the impact of buildings on the health of their occupants, whether from a personal perspective e.g. an allergy sufferer. or a professional one e.g. builders or architects who would like to make better decisions about construction materials and design. Use what you learn here to:

  • Make better decisions concerning fixtures and furnishings in homes
  • Help you decide how to replace unhealthy materials
  • Examine existing buildings with an eye for health risks
  • Add to existing building design and health knowledge
  • Forge a foundation towards further study

The course can be studied independently or as part of a learning package.

UK Register of Learning Providers, UK PRN10000112

Alternative Technology Association Member

Member of the Permaculture Association

Member of Study Gold Coast

College Member of Complementary Medicine Association assessed to teach a range of areas including Counselling, Nutrition, Natural Therapies.

Recognised since 1999 by IARC

Course Contributors

The following academics were involved in the development and/or updating of this course.

Need Help?

Take advantage of our personalised, expert course counselling service to ensure you're making the best course choices for your situation.

I agree for ACS Distance Education to contact me and store my information until I revoke my approval. For more info, view our privacy policy.