Bau-biologie – Building Biology – Going Beyond Green
Bau-Biologie is literally translated from the German as "building biology." These terms are used interchangeably. In Germany, where the field originated, they use the German word, of course; here in America, there seems to be a preference for building biology, as it communicates more easily to those of us who speak English. I like to use the German word myself, as it defines a particular way of thinking and living and viewing the world that is special to itself.
A Bau-Biologist is a professional who has completed a specific training course in Bau-Biologie and has received a certification to practice as a Bau-Biologist. If one has not been trained and is not certified, it would be correct to say, "I apply Bau-Biologie principles…"
There is nothing new about Bau-Biologie. "It is as old as the Earth," says Helmut Ziehe. "It's only a new movement in comparison to our industrial way of living."
For many years, I wondered how Bau-Biologie was different from what I and others were doing in the field of healthy homes. I finally realized, while writing this article, that Bau-Biologie is a body of information based on established principles, collected and presented in a way that all the pieces fit together. Others, like myself, specialize in one aspect or another (in my case, toxic exposures) but often know nothing about the other aspects (I can't evaluate, for example, the effects of moisture in a home on its inhabitants). Bau-Biologie covers the whole home environment and everything that can be affecting one's health in the built environment, and also, how the building affects the ecosystem in which it is built.
What is Bau-Biologie?
The standard definition of Bau-Biologie given by the International Institute for Bau-Biologie & Ecology is:
The impact of the building environment on human health, and the application of this knowledge to the construction, or modification, of homes and workplaces, and the holistic interaction between human life and other life-forms with our environment.
On her website, Mary Cordaro gives this definition of Bau-Biologie:
The German word Bau-Biologie means "building biology" or "the relationship between buildings and life". It can be defined as: The holistic interaction between man-made structures and the health of all life and all living environments. Bau-Biologie advocates buildings that contribute to the occupant's health of spirit, mind and body and have a low impact on the environment.
Mary explains we have three homes: the home of our body, the home of our house, and the home our planet. These three homes are nested–a home within a home within a home–and all are interconnected as they exchange with each other through the processes of life. I liked seeing this on her website, as that's the way I think of it myself.
Bau-biologie Safety Standards
Will Spates says, "Instead of using government standards of safety, Bau-Biologie uses nature as its measuring stick. If you were to take air readings in the middle of nowhere for mold, volatile organic chemicals, pesticides, temperature and humidity, electromagnetic fields, lead, radon, and asbestos, you would expect to find very low levels. Bau-Biologie is the practice of bringing the home environment in line with the conditions found in natural environments as closely as possible."
Bau-Biologie has its own standards for acceptable levels of exposure. These are determined in Germany. Standards are based on biological activity. What is "too much" exposure is determined as being the point when cells begin to demonstrate unusual behavior. Bau-Biologie also puts the burden of proof of safety on the manufacturer, supplier or industry. Like the new Precautionary Principle movement here in the United States, Bau-Biologists advocate that if it can't be absolutely proven that a substance, material or product does not pose both short- and long-term health hazards, then it should be "prudently avoided."
In America, the concept of "healthy homes" or "green buildings" focuses primarily on choosing materials and products that are nontoxic or have environmental benefits. However, suppliers and manufacturers in the United States are not required to verify that their materials are nontoxic with independent testing nor are there any current United States standards for acceptable levels of contaminants for the home. (Indeed, there is not even a legal definition of nontoxic here–manufacturers are allowed to use the term on product labels if the product does not meet the legal definition of toxic, which is fifty percent of the animals die in the laboratory test. That means forty-nine percent of the animals could die and the product could be labeled nontoxic in the United States.) In Germany, Bau-Biologie standards for nontoxic building and interior materials are verified through independent testing paid for by the manufacturers. The manufacturers must prove that their materials meet acceptable levels for use specifically in homes.
The Bau-biologie Home Inspection
Here in America, the primary focus of Bau-Biologie is on how buildings affect the health of their inhabitants. Bau-biologists include a full spectrum of investigations in their evaluation of a home, based on technical, measurable standards:
exposures to chemicals, both as shorter term gasses in the air (VOC's) as well as longer term molecules that attach to house dust (SVOC's).
building and finishing materials made of natural, renewable, biodegradable resources, which are considered more compatible with the human body
exposures to microorganisms, including mold and bacteria, and other micro air pollutants such as dust, dander, and other particles
thermal and moisture conditions
electromagnetic fields, both manmade and natural
radiation from various sources natural and manmade.
A certified Bau-Biologie inspector will look at all of these concerns and make recommendations on how to change conditions in a home to optimize all these factors for good health, while a Bau-Biologist who specializes in healthy building and remodeling includes all these factors in the design and construction of the home.
Applying Bau-Biologie Principles At Home
Bau-Biologie is a field with many facets and interpretations. But at its heart, its about practical ways to support life, whether that be our own bodies or the larger ecosystems that sustain us.
Though Bau-biologie originated in Germany and was first applied to European building methods, its principles can be applied to any home where the architect, builder, or owner wants to incorporate them in the building. Though some of the principles are not easily adapted to the standard methods of building mass market homes, every homeowner can–regardless of the building method–use the basic ideas contained in Bau-biologie to make home improvements that benefit their health.
For more information on Bau-Biologie see:
The 25 Principles of Baubiologie by Anton Schneider, PhD
A list of the various aspects of building considered optimum by Bau-Biologie.
International Institute for Baubiologie & Ecology
Offers correspondence courses and seminars which result in a certification as a Bau-Biologist. They also have a list of certified Bau-Biologie home inspectors, alternative medical practitioners, and architects and builders.
Doctor in the House
Bau-Biologie experts make sure your home isn't making you sick
A description of one woman's experience with a visit from a Bau-Biologie home inspector.
[NOTE: If the book links below don't go directly to the book, scroll down the page until you find it.]
The New Natural House Book: Creating a Healthy, Harmonious, and Ecologically Sound Home
by David Pearson
A clear and inspiring overview of the possibilities for creating a natural home. David Pearson was one of the very first students of Bau-Biologie in the English-speaking world. His original Natural House Book, first published in 1989, was the first book in English to outline the possibilities for use of natural materials in building, and established the field of green building worldwide. Part One gives an excellent explanation of the interaction between the home and its external environment, discusses the home's components and natural materials, and the third part with the design of the home room by room. Inspiring color photos and drawings are on every page. This update of the classic contains new resource listings, more gorgeous photos and the latest and best developments in natural construction.
Prescriptions for a Healthy House
by Paula Baker-Laporte, Erica Elliot and John Banta
Within chapters arranged like an architect's specifications, this nuts-and-bolts book addresses every aspect of building a house from a Bau-Biologie perspective. If you are building a healthy house, this book to get. It covers everything from theory to product specifications, and leads you through the process.
Homes That Heal and Those That Don't
by Athena Thompson
An overview of the indoor home environment from a bau-biology perspective. This book goes through the home room-by-room showing how one might be exposed to chemicals, microorganisms, electromagnetic fields, radiation, and unhealthy thermal and moisture conditions and gives advice for corrections.
The Good House Book: A Common-Sense Guide to Building
by Clarke Snell
This book describes all the alternative natural building methods and discusses how to construct a house as a living organism. Includes full color photographs of natural houses on almost every page, visits to cutting-edge natural houses built in the USA, and interviews with natural builders.
Living Spaces: Ecological Building and Design
by Thomas Schmitz-Gunther
A big book from Germany about building from a baubiology perspective, adapted for an international audience. Explains basics of architecture that promotes health and natural building principles, energy efficiency, slar architecture, and more. Includes tips on keeping costs under control, working with building professionals, and the real estate market, plus analysis of building materials for toxic chemicals and embodied energy. This book is out of print, but I was able to get a used copy.
1. A building site shall be geologically undisturbed.
2. Residential homes are best located away from industrial centers and main traffic routes.
3. Housing shall be developed in a decentralized and loose manner interlaced with sufficient green space.
4. Housing and developments shall be personalized, in harmony with nature, fit for human habitation and family oriented.
5. Natural and unadulterated building materials shall be used.
6. Walls, floors and ceilings shall be diffusible and hygroscopic.
7. Indoor air humidity shall be regulated naturally.
8. Air pollutants need to be filtered and neutralized.
9. An appropriate balance of thermal insulation and heat retention is needed.
10. The air and surface temperatures of a given room need to be optimized.
11. A heating system shall feature radiant heat using as much (passive) solar heat as possible.
12. The total moisture content of a new building shall be low and dry out quickly.
13. A building shall have a pleasant or neutral smell. No toxins shall outgas.
14. Light, lighting and color shall be in accord with natural conditions.
15. Protective measures against noise pollution as well as infrasonic and ultrasonic vibrations need to be human oriented.
16. Only building materials with little or preferably no radioactivity shall be used.
17. The natural balance of atmospheric electricity and ion concentration shall be maintained.
18. The Earth’s natural magnetic field shall not be altered or distorted.
19. Man-made electromagnetic radiation shall be eliminated (or reduced as much as possible).
20. Cosmic and terrestrial radiation is essential and shall be interfered with as little as possible.
21. Interior and furniture design shall be based on physiological findings.
22. Harmonic measures, proportions and shapes need to be taken into consideration.
23. The production, installation and disposal of building materials shall not contribute to environmental pollution and high energy costs.
24. Building activities shall not contribute to the exploitation of non-renewable and rare resources.
25. Building activities shall not cause a rise in social and medical costs.