Blog: What is Building Biology?

As you may know, we are currently working on a new build in Bristol, adhering to both Passive House and Building Biology Standards. Many are familiar with what is involved in fulfilling the Passive House requirements, but what is Building Biology, and what are the Building Biology standards?

A brief history: In Germany, after World War 2, many new buildings were constructed very rapidly, resulting in unusual patterns of illnesses. Studies found the swift construction of the buildings had not given the materials enough time to outgas many volatile organic compounds (VOCs),  and, along with problems with the electrical systems, the occupants were then negatively affected. As a direct result of these issues came a Standard of Baubiologie Method of Testing, which recommended guidelines for sleeping areas. ‘The Building Biology measuring standard’, and the idea that considering the physiological impact on biological systems is important when considering new builds, quickly spread to the USA and New Zealand. In 1987, Helmut Ziehe introduced Building biology to the USA, and founded the International Institute of Building Biology & Ecology. In 1990, Reinhard Kanuka-Fuchs Introduced Building Biology to New Zealand and founded the Building Biology and Ecology Institute of New Zealand.

So what are the current standards that we at Urbane Eco are following with are current new build?

Listed below, directly from the website, are the 25 Guiding Principles of Building Biology-

25 Guiding Principles of Building Biology

Building biology is about creating healthy, beautiful, and sustainable buildings in ecologically sound and socially connected communities.  In the selection of materials and the design of living environments, ecological, economic, and social aspects are considered.

In reality, all criteria may not always be met.  The goal therefore is to optimise each criterion within an indivdual’s framework of feasibility.

Healthy indoor air

  • Supply sufficient fresh air and reduce air pollutants and irritants
  • Avoid exposure to toxic molds, yeasts and bacteria as well as dust and allergens
  • Use materials with a pleasant or neutral smell
  • Minimise exposure to electromagnetic fields and wireless radiation
  • Use natural, non-toxic materials with the least amount of radioactivity

Thermal and acoustic comfort

  • Strive for a well-balanced ratio between thermal insulation and heat retention as well as indoor surface and air temperatures
  • Use humidity-buffering materials
  • Keep the moisture content of new construction as low as possible
  • Prefer radiant heat for heating
  • Optimise rom acoustics and control noise, including infrasound

Human-based design

  • Take harmonic proportion and form into consideration
  • Nurture the sesory perceptions of sight, hearing, smell and touch
  • Maximise daylighting and choose flicker-free lighting sources and colour schemes that closely match natural light
  • Base interior and furniture design on physiological and ergonomic findings
  • Promote regional building traditions and craftmanship

Sustainable environmental performance

  • Minimise energy consumption and renewable energy
  • Avoid causing environmental harm when building new or renovating
  • Conserve natural resources and protect plants and animals
  • Choose materials and life cycles with the best environmental performance, favouring regional building materials
  • Provide the best possible quality of drinking water

Socially connected and ecologically sound communities

  • Design the infrastructure for well-balanced mixed use: short distances to work, shopping, schools, public transit, essential services, and recreation
  • Create a living environment that meets human needs and protects the environment
  • Provide sufficient green space in rural and urban residential areas
  • Strengthen regional and local supply networks as well as self-sufficiency
  • Select building sites that are located away from sources of contamination, radiation, pollutants, and noise

For those interested, more detailed documents of how to achieve Building Biology standards can be found at

The Holistic Building Biology Survey according to the STANDARD OF BUILDING BIOLOGY TESTING METHODS (found at ‘gives an overview of the physical, chemical, biological, indoor climate and other risks encountered in sleeping areas, living spaces, workplaces and properties’.

For the sake of clarity, the overview of these risks  is listed below, directly from the document mentioned above. These risks are measured and using the Building Biology Testing Conditions, and Building Biology Evaluation Guidelines, minimised as so to adhere to Building Biology Standards. Those who benefit the most from having these standards in place are the elderly, infants and the immune-compromised, but it’s safe to say everyone will benefit!

Sources: AC voltage in electrical installations, cables, appliances, outlets, walls, floors, beds, high-tension and other power lines…
Measurement of low frequency electric field strength (V/m) and human body voltage (mV) as well as identification of dominant frequency (Hz) and dominant harmonics
Sources: AC current in electrical installations, cables, appliances, transformers, motors, overhead and ground cables, power lines, railways…
Measurement and data logging of low frequency magnetic flux density (nT) from power grid or railway system as
well as identification of dominant frequency (Hz) and dominant harmonics
3 RADIO-FREQUENCY RADIATION (High Frequency, Electromagnetic Waves)
Sources: cell phone technology, RF transmitters, broadcast, trunked radio systems, line-of-sight systems, radar, military, cordless phones…
Measurement of radio-frequency electromagnetic power density (µW/m²), identification of dominant frequencies
(kHz, MHz, GHz) or RF sources and signal characteristics (pulses, periodicity, broadband width, modulation…)
Sources: synthetic carpeting, drapes and textiles, vinyl wallpaper, varnishes, laminates, stuffed toy animals, TV or computer screens…
Measurement of electrostatic surface potential (V) as well as discharge time (s)
Sources: steel components in beds, mattresses, furniture, appliances, building materials; DC current from street cars, photovoltaic systems…
Measurement of earth’s magnetic field distortion as a spatial deviation of magnetic flux density (µT, metal/steel)
or as a temporal fluctuation of magnetic flux density (µT, direct current) as well as compass deviation (°)
6 RADIOACTIVITY (Alpha, Beta and Gamma Radiation, Radon)
Sources: building materials, stones, tiles, slags, waste products, devices, antiques, ventilation, terrestrial radiation, location, environment…
Measurement of radioactive radiation as count rate (cps), equivalent dose rate (nSv/h) and deviation (%) as well
as measurement and long-term data logging of radon concentration (Bq/m³)
7 GEOLOGICAL DISTURBANCES (Earth’s Magnetic Field, Terrestrial Radiation)
Sources: currents and radioactivity in the earth; local disturbances caused by faults, fractures, underground watercourses, geological deposits…
Measurement of earth’s magnetic field (nT) and radioactive radiation (ips) and its dominant disturbances (%)
8 SOUND WAVES (Airborne and Structure-born Sound)
Sources: traffic noise, air traffic, train traffic, industry, buildings, devices, machines, motors, transformers, wind turbines, sound bridges…
Measurement of noise, sound, infrasound and ultrasound (dB), oscillations and vibrations (m/s²)
9 LIGHT (Artificial Lighting, Visible Light, UV and Infrared Light)
Sources: incandescent lamps, halogen light, fluorescent tubes, compact fluorescent lamps, LED, screens, displays, VLC data transmission
Measurement of electromagnetic fields (V/m, nT), light spectrum, spectral distribution (nm), light flicker (Hz,
%), illumination level (lx), color rendering index (CRI, Ra, R1-14), color temperature (K), ultrasound (dB)
1 FORMALDEHYDE and other Toxic Gases
Sources: varnishes, glues, particle board, wood products, furnishings, devices, heating, gas leaks, combustion, exhaust fumes, environment…
Measurement of toxic gases (µg/m³, ppm) as formaldehyde, ozone and chlorine, urban and industrial gases,
natural gas, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and other combustion gases
2 SOLVENTS and other Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC)
Sources: paints, varnishes, adhesives, synthetics, building materials, particle board, furniture, coatings, diluents, cleaners…
Measurement of volatile organic compounds (µg/m³, ppm) as aldehydes, aliphatics, alcohols, aromatics, esters,
ethers, glycols, ketones, cresols, phenols, siloxanes, terpenes and other organic compounds (VOC)
3 PESTICIDES and other Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOC)
Sources: wood, leather and carpet protections, adhesives, plastics, sealers, coatings, moth-proofing agents, pest-control agents…
Measurement of semivolatile organic compounds (mg/kg, ng/m³) as biocides, insecticides, fungicides, wood
preservatives, carpet chemicals, pyrethroids, fire retardants, plasticizers, PCBs, PAHs, dioxins
4 HEAVY METALS and other Similar Toxins
Sources: wood preservatives, building materials, building moisture, PVC, paints, glazes, plumbing pipes, industry, toxic waste, environment…
Measurement of inorganic substances (mg/kg) as light and heavy metals (aluminum, antimony, arsenic, barium,
lead, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, mercury, zinc…), metal compounds and salts
5 PARTICLES and FIBERS (Fine Particulate Matter, Nanoparticles, Asbestos, Mineral Fibers…)
Sources: aerosols, airborne particles, dust, smoke, soot, building and insulating material, ventilation and air-conditioning, toner, environment…
Measurement of dust, number and size of particles, asbestos and other fibers (/l, µg/m³, /g, %)
6 INDOOR CLIMATE (Temperature, Humidity, Carbon Dioxide, Air Ions, Air Changes, Odors…)
Source: moisture damage, building materials, ventilation, heating, furnishings, breathing, electric fields, radiation, dust, environment…
Measurement of air and surface temperature (C), air humidity and material moisture (r.h., a.h., %), oxygen
(vol.%), carbon dioxide (ppm), air pressure (mbar), air movement (m/s) and air ions (/cm³) as well as air electricity (V/m), identification of odors and air exchange rate
1 MOLDS and their Spores and Metabolites
Sources: moisture damage, thermal bridges, construction defects, building materials, remediation mistakes, air-conditioning, environment…
Measurement and identification of culturable and nonculturable molds, their spores and fragments (/m³, /cm²,
/dm², /g) as well as their metabolites (MVOC, mycotoxins…)
2 YEASTS and their Metabolites
Sources: moist areas, hygiene problems, food storage, garbage, kitchen appliances, water purification systems, sanitary plumbing systems…
Measurement and identification of yeasts (/m³, /dm², /g, /l) and their metabolites
3 BACTERIA and their Metabolites
Sources: moisture areas, waste water damage, hygiene problems, food storage, garbage, water purification, sanitary plumbing systems…
Measurement and identification of bacteria (/m³, /dm², /g, /l) and their metabolites
4 DUST MITES and other Allergens
Sources: dust mites, their feces and metabolites, insects, mold, pollen, hygiene, house dust, pets, scents, moisture, ventilation, environment…
Measurement and identification of mite number and feces, pollen, animal hair, allergens (/m³, /g, %)