3 Health Benefits of Green Buildings

3 health benefits of green building

We spend nearly 87% of our lives indoors. These three health benefits of green buildings will inspire you to think out of the stick construction box and embrace innovative building materials.

You know the health benefits of eating your vegetables and exercising, but did you know buildings play an essential role in your health? Likely, you haven’t given much thought to construction as a part of your healthy lifestyle. It turns out there is more to green buildings than reducing your carbon footprint. Building green can improve your health, quality of life and save you money.

Harvard University HealthFx Study Diagram. Health Benefit Savings in Green Buildings.
Harvard University HealthFx Study Diagram. Health Benefit Savings in Green Buildings.

A global study from 2000 to 2016 by Harvard University called HEALTHfx found that on average, for every dollar saved on energy costs by green buildings, another 77 cents was saved in health benefits. 

Prior to the pandemic many of us weren’t aware of our indoor air quality (IAQ). Busy schedules didn’t allow for such contemplations. But once we were required to shelter in place from an airborne virus, creating a healthy sanctuary became one of our top priorities.  And with it a new perspective on construction design, techniques, and materials.

Most everyone is familiar with the conventional stick-built home (image below). The load-bearing framing, often referred to as the ‘bones’ of the house, is made up of studs, headers, and posts. The studs form the cavity in which insulation, wiring, plumbing, and some heating and air ducts reside. This is traditionally enclosed with drywall on the inside. And plywood or OSB, continuous rigid foam insulation, and siding on the outside. Let’s examine the volatile organic compounds present or exasperated in this conventional home and how adopting green building as the new status quo will be rewarded with better respiratory health, cognitive function, and emotional wellbeing.

3 health benefits of green buildings

Wood Home Framing Stick Construction.
Wood Home Conventional Framing Stick Construction.

Respiratory Health

The conventional construction problem:

Conventional building design and materials unintentionally generate poor indoor air quality from Formaldehyde off-gassing, mold, and other volatile organic compounds. In stick-built homes, the drywall and OSB (Oriented Strand Board) or plywood shear membranes restrict water vapor permeance, trapping moisture and creating a nice damp home for mold to grow. 

Mold spores adversely affect indoor air quality. Different types of mold – black mold, toxic mold, allergenic mold – are present all the time around us and in the air, we breathe. But, mold growth in the home should not be taken lightly. Symptoms from toxic exposure range from flu-like symptoms, skin rashes and lesions, bleeding, fatigue, difficulty breathing, depression, etc., to longer-term nerve and organ problems, altered immunity, and cancer.

Mold on particle board
Mold on particleboard.

Formaldehyde is another volatile organic compound found in older fiberglass insulation, flooring, doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, plywood, MDF, and OSB. It is fair to mention that Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance, and it is considered safe in small quantities. But, the Formaldehyde found in nature only amounts to 0.03 ppm instead of the .4 to 3 ppm found in conventional construction materials. There is evidence that long-term exposure to low levels of Formaldehyde can result in asthma-like respiratory symptoms. Furthermore, epidemiology studies have found a possible link between formaldehyde exposure and nasopharyngeal cancer.

The health benefits green building fix:

Green buildings decrease volatile organic compounds by using building design and green building materials to increase the indoor air quality. Alternative building methods and materials like BamCore Prime Walls reduce or eliminate the use of OSB, plywood, and drywall, where many volatile compounds such as Formaldehyde and molds reside. In most climates, water vapor (humidity) will rise and fall in a wall cavity. Healthy homes breathe this water vapor out; this release keeps the inside of your walls dry and restricts mold growth. Your water vapor permeance increases by eliminating the OSB and drywall in your building design. This, in turn, increases your indoor air quality. Side bonus: Reducing OSB, plywood, and drywall also reduces construction cost.

Diagram of stick construction vs. BamCore.

Cognitive Function, Thyroid, Liver, & Endocrine Health

The conventional construction problem:

A commonly required material in low-rise construction is continuous exterior rigid foam insulation. Proper insulation is necessary for all buildings, and insulation is a primary material for green buildings. But, not all insulation is created equal. The Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) and Expanded Polystyrene (XPS) required in SIP’s, and traditional stick construction comes with health risks.

Exterior rigid foam insulation: Polystyrene Foam (EPS or XPS Rigid Boardstock) The fire retardant HBCD contains bioaccumulation toxins which build up in the environment and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, cancer, nervous system damage, and genetic impacts. There also is fear that styrene, which is suspected of being carcinogenic, could off-gas. Alternatives include cork, rigid mineral wool, rigid fiberglass, and cellular glass. Health Threat: High

Made from flammable polystyrene, a brominated flame retardant called Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) is added for safety. HBCD is known to affect the liver, thyroid, and reproductive health at relatively low exposure levels. Also, the manufacturing of polystyrene involves the carcinogen benzene. While the insulation is placed under the siding and not inside the structure, we know that it does off-gas, losing its R-value (insulation value) over time. There is some evidence that it can leach into the water supply. 

The health benefits green building fix:

Through design and materials, we eliminate exterior rigid foam insulation. There are a lot of exciting healthy alternatives making their way into the market. Mushroom insulation and hempcrete are two that stand out for a healthy organic insulation alternative. But, whatever insulation you choose, changing your structural building material to one, like Bamcore, that eliminates the need for exterior rigid foam insulation is a good choice. And will provide a healthier indoor environment free from toxic off-gassing. 

BamCore walls diagram showing 83% less air leakage than conventional walls.
BamCore 83% less air leakage* than conventional walls.

Thermal & Emotional Health

The conventional construction problem:

Stick-built homes leak air, temperature, and sound through design. This is because the cross-cavity load-bearing structural framing members like studs, headers, and posts interrupt the insulation barrier and act as a superhighway for air, sound, and heat to travel through the wall. 

The thermal environment impacts our buildings’ energy consumption and plays a role in how we experience the places we live and work. Whether we are aware of it or not, one of the highest contributing factors to overall human satisfaction indoors is a comfortable ambient temperature. Noise and lighting are close seconds. Thermal comfort affects the endocrine and respiratory systems. Exposure to cold air and sudden temperature changes can trigger asthma in adults. 

The health benefits green building fix: 

When our living and workspaces are quiet and thermally comfortable, we feel safe, experience better sleep, and breath easier. Green building enhances our wellbeing by securing the envelope, increasing the effectiveness of the insulation, and eliminating the superhighway of studs, headers, and posts. This is done through materials and design. There are alternatives to stick construction that meet this goal; choosing the one that compliments your environment and lifestyle will prove rewarding for years to come. Some options include hay bale, rammed earth, 3D printed homes, and BamCore. BamCore’s innovative use of super-strong timber bamboo allows us to design a patented load-bearing Prime Wall system that eliminates over 90% of the cross-cavity framing responsible for energy loss. This makes insulation more effective, so you can breathe and sleep easily. Side bonus: it reduces your heating and cooling bill.

Thermal bridging diagram. Conventional construction vs. BamCore. Health benefits of Green buildings begin with a thermally superior envelope.
Thermal bridging diagram. Conventional construction vs. BamCore.
*All numerical data in this article reflects the BamCore Gen 2 panels. We are currently testing Gen 3 and expect them to perform even better.

We think a lot about building green at BamCore; it’s kind of our thing. 

Green building doesn’t have a one size fits all solution. The design, construction, and materials of a green building are thoughtfully chosen for each location and purpose. Green buildings eliminate or reduce embodied and operational carbon, save money and increase comfortable healthy indoor environments.

BamCore Bamboo hollow framing wall
Gen 3 BamCore hollow framing wall.

BamCore FAQ’s

What is BamCore?

BamCore is an alternative method and materials framing solution. The BamCore Prime Walls eliminate OSB, continuous exterior rigid foam insulation (EPS, XPS), and over 80% of drywall, studs, headers, and posts. The hollow wall design creates a superior thermal envelope that increases indoor environment satisfaction and decreases operational energy costs.

What type of Adhesives are used in the BamCore Prime Wall, and do they off-gas?

We use a CARB-compliant adhesive, and once panels are made and cured, there is NO off-gassing.

What is the Mold Growth Index of the BamCore Prime Wall system*?

The risk of mold is reflected in a 0 to 6 scale of the Mold Growth Index (MGI). The general interpretation is that mold risk is low when the MGI is below 2. A leading building performance consultant, Passiv Science, completed a 12-city MGI simulation. Across the 12 cities, the MGI for the Prime Wall never exceeded 2, and in many cases, was 0, suggesting in all situations a low risk of mold. The conventional wall, in contrast, had an MGI exceeding 2 in six cities.

What is the water vapor transmission rate*?

Building materials are designed to keep air and liquid water from penetrating walls while at the same time allowing water vapor to breathe out of the wall. Unfortunately, conventional construction has a low water vapor transmission rate trapping moisture in the walls. The BamCore Prime Walls are up to 8 times more effective at breathing water vapor out. 

What are the BamCore Gen 3 Panels made of?

  • The core is Southern Yellow Pine from Brazil
  • The sides are ¼” each of vertically orientated engineered timber bamboo slats.
  • MDO is added to all interior facing panels (kraft color) for quick and easy painting.
  • An eco-friendly ink is used to mark nail patterns and electrical and plumbing placement.

Why Southern Yellow Pine?

Southern Yellow Pine is a fast-growing hardwood that produces some of the strongest wood in the America’s. Its high density gives it natural strength, weight, impact, and wearing resistance.

Why is Timber Bamboo vs. Wood a sustainable solution to the construction materials crisis?

  • Because timber bamboo is fully grown and harvestable within four years in a mature stand, it regenerates far faster than typical lumber used in building framing.  
  • Once mature, by harvesting 25% of a plantation or stand every year, timber bamboo has an effective rotation age of four years.  
  • In contrast, Douglas fir has a rotation age of 45 years. Over the 45-year period, 2.47 acres (1 hectare) of Douglas fir sequesters 340 MT CO2, while timber bamboo over an equivalent of 45 years sequesters 3400 MT in long-term storage. Timber bamboo has the potential to yield 10 times the merchantable biomass of Douglas fir and thus sequesters 10 times the CO2.