Updated: Jun 26
by Jacob Waddell
5 reasons healthy building materials matter and how natural building products can help.
Healthy building materials are essential for a healthy population, and we have been neglecting the impact of our building materials and practices for decades. This negligence may be doing great harm to generations around the world. Here are 5 reasons why we need to care and take this seriously.
1. 87% of Our Time is Spent Indoors
According to the National Human Activity Pattern Survey (NHAPS), sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 87% of our time indoors. According to a Center for Disease Control (CDC) report, the average American life expectancy is 76 years old. This means we spend 66 years of our lives indoors. Our lived environment is largely the buildings we live in, and what materials are used in their construction matters greatly to our health.
2. Exposure to Pollutants are 2-5x Higher Indoors
According to the EPA, levels of pollutants are 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. The number and variety of indoor pollutants varies greatly. We must lower the toxicity of our buildings to decrease exposure to pollutants by using healthy building materials.
3. Children are at Greater Risk
According to the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund's (UNICEF), the first 1000 days of life from inception are the most influential on the health of a human. This means that childhood exposure to chemicals and other pollutants can affect a person for their entire life.
With increasing use of chemicals in our homes, we are exposing our children to more and more toxins. The consequences of exposure to toxins that have become widely used in building materials, such as fire retardants, may not be realized until decades later. The most recent generations could be plagued by a host of illnesses caused by chemicals used in the manufacturing of building materials. Add to this that exposure to some toxins can alter DNA and we are talking about multi-generational consequences. We can not keep putting the lives of our children in jeopardy for a cheaper, more convenient option in our building materials.
4. We Eat, Breathe, and Absorb Building Materials
At this point you may be wondering, how are building materials getting into our bodies? People aren't going around eating wall boards? Are they? Well in a way, they are.
Building materials can break down and pollute the indoor environment by off gassing, breaking down through physical contact or impacts, or by degradation caused by other means like UV light. These broken down pieces or chemical remnants from the product can be eaten, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.
Eating of toxins often occurs when particles in the air or on surfaces come in contact with our food. Inhalation of both gas and dust in your environment happens with each breath and the composition of the inhalants is dependent on your environment. Chemicals and other materials that come in contact with the skin can absorb and in some cases enter our bloodstream circulating throughout our body. You are consuming building materials regularly when you spend time indoors.
5. Toxicity Occurs Beyond Occupancy
When we consider the toxicity of a material, we must look at its entire life cycle. Exposure to toxicity during the operational life of the material affects us all, but it is important to take into account the manufacturing and disposal of the material and the related health risks.
Products may be most toxic when their raw materials are being mined, they are being manufactured in a factory, building crews are installing them, or they are being removed and disposed of. Many people exposed are from vulnerable communities, which makes disregarding the health consequences a social justice issue. Toxins related to manufacturing also take a major toll on their environment, causing land and bodies of water to become contaminated. The health of builders, factory workers, and disposal groups are important and should be considered when selecting building materials.
Healthy Building Materials are Essential for a Healthy Population
Exposure to building materials happens everyday as we spend the vast majority of our time indoors. Because of current practices our indoor environments are toxic. Our children are at a great risk with consequences that may not be realized for years to come. We are eating, breathing, and absorbing these toxins. Many materials are even more damaging to those people that are involved in their creation, installation, and disposal. Creating healthier building environments is essential for the health and safety of us all.
The Hemp Building Institute works to bring healthier building materials options to affordable housing using natural building materials and sustainable building practices. Learn more at HempBuildingInstitute.org.