Thinking about a more breathable future

Blog By Dermot Moore

When thinking about a breathable future, traditional construction poses many health risks, primarily to construction workers and those who will be living or working inside.

On the construction side, it is challenging to avoid tasks that involve working from a height, using electrical materials, working in confined spaces and exposure to toxic airborne substances. Recommended precautions on worksites don’t guarantee safety. 

With the focus shifting toward more sustainable construction practices, there is an opportunity to reduce the precautions required. 

How to reduce?

A helpful place to begin would be to look at the load-bearing aspects of a structure and interior features, such as insulation. For example, most construction uses concrete and metal as a load-bearing feature. However, making concrete involves producing a lot of dust, containing silica; this can scar the lungs or induce silicosis.

Can concrete use, at least on a residential scale, be reduced to help protect workers from unnecessary particle exposure? In short, yes. However, concerns over material cost significantly sway decisions to continue using concrete, which is cheaper than most sustainable alternatives. Yet, precautions often recommend using tools that remove excess particles from the air. 

  • Surely this also means overall expenses for producing and laying concrete are higher?
  • What are the extra costs of reducing health risks when removing a concrete feature?
Health Risks

Regarding health risks posed to residents, interior insulation plays a more significant role as the insidious sapper of one’s well being. Poorly installed insulation is one issue, but the type of material is also relevant. Using breathable, bio-based materials, such as sheep wools, “cellulose and fibres from hemp, flax, kenaf and cotton” can help you avoid some of the respiratory risks that the commonly chosen artificial insulators pose. The results of going bio-based include superior heat transfer and retention, meaning less intense fluctuations in indoor temperatures year-round. It would be interesting to see what benefits this may have for our immune response.

But the conversation here is breathability, so how can biomaterials improve our indoor air quality? Their prominent ability here is their capacity to regulate moisture. Allowing clean, humid air to move through a home is particularly important for people who have asthma, dry skin conditions and respiratory disease. More common insulating materials, such as fibreglass, rock wool, open-cell spray foam and foam board, do not hold the same capacity. So it seems bio insulation is the way to go if you are concerned about the effects of the health conditions mentioned above. Unfortunately, the instalment of materials like fibreglass also increases health risks for workers when trimming or cutting it into shape. 

So when it comes to the GREAT decision, it should be known that bio-based does not solely relate to environmental wellbeing; it can also connect to one’s own improved state of being.

 

Sources:

20/10/2021: Shaping the future of health and safety in the construction sector

Cement and Concrete Manufacture

Lung function in insulation workers

Concrete Equipment

Guide to Home Insulation

Insulation And Your Home: Health Considerations

Bio-based insulation materials facts & myths

Fibreglass hazards

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Concrete construction