Houses Built For Human Health

Technology in buildings should be a supplement, not a life support.

Paula Baker-Laporte and Bobby Ilg presented on Friday at the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s conference in Ottawa, detailing a very fresh (for North America) approach to residential architecture.  

Their architecture is one of thermal mass, natural building materials, and radiant heat. This is an approach that comes from a d people understanding of social cl buildings and what they can do to humans. Paula wrote a book about healthy buildings that details her approach. 

In the US, full health data only exists for about 7% of chemicals are used in a typical new building. Paula is an advocate that we should be building more naturally, and relying less on chemicals. 

An example is foam insulation which is marketed as a ‘green’ building material but it requires a full safety suit and respirator to install. Seems fundamentally questionable. Wool batt insulation, by contrast, requires no equipment to install. 

Contemporary building construction is using a lot of unknown materials but isn’t generating better results in terms of building performance or human health. The Building Biology movement looks at the building as an organism, and works to ensure its health, improving the health of the humans that use it at the same time. 

Principals of healthy buildings include:

  • Heavy walls that retain heat
  • Radiant heat 
  • Few or no chemicals; natural materials 
  • little waste
  • No pollution
  • Hyic buffering (can safely store water)

Bobby saw Paula speak at a conference a few years ago, and has embarked on his own healthy building journey, building his own healthy house on a 50’x100′ lot in Ottawa. 

The frame is heavy timber with Japanese style joinery. Insulation is clay coated straw. A couple of natural builders in Ottawa have now built a shop where they’ll build and dry straw panels for buildings. 

Bobby worked with RDH building envelope consultants from Waterloo to show the city how the building would perform, in order to get a permit. He had to demonstrate how the building met Ontario Building Code durability requirements, under part 5 of the code. 

Carbon emissions comparisons were done for typical high performing (as in LEED Platimum for example) and high performance natural buildings. The natural buildings have negative carbon footprint for many years. Quite an impressive feat. 

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