Comfort and safety

How to improve the health of buildings? Insulation could be just what the doctor ordered

By Knauf Insulation
April 07, 2022

To mark World Health Day, Knauf Insulation’s Head of Building Science discusses how insulation can help improve the well-being and health of buildings.

Is the building where you live, work or study making you feel sick? Is noise pollution spoiling your concentration or ruining your sleep? Is your workplace or home making you miserable because it is too cold or too hot? Do you suffer from coughs, sneezes, allergies or itchy eyes and you’re not sure why?

Domen Ivanšek Head of Building Science Knauf Insulation

Domen Ivanšek, Knauf Insulation’s Head of Building Science, says: “Over the years we have become increasingly aware of how buildings can negatively impact our health and well-being and the challenges of the pandemic have sharpened this focus.

“We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, so clearly if we are forced to endure an internal environment that is cold, noisy, damp or has poor air quality that is going to impact our well-being and health.”

Today, we know it is a good thing to put healthy food inside our bodies, but what about putting building materials in our home, offices and schools to improve the health of those who use them?

An important element of any healthy building is good insulation,” says Domen.

And to mark World Health Day today, the building scientist offers five important reasons why insulation matters.

Health risks of cold homes

Seven per cent of Europeans cannot afford to keep their homes warm. For the vulnerable suffering in the winter, the consequences can be tragic.

In the UK, for example, during the winter of 2017-18, there were 46,000 excess winter deaths among people aged over 65.

Respiratory diseases such as pneumonia accounted for a third of the deaths that winter with the charity Age UK stating, “At the root of this problem are poorly insulated homes.”


Health improvement

Domen says, “In an uninsulated house up to 25% of heat can be lost through doors, windows and the roof, with uninsulated walls responsible for up to 35% of heat losses.

“Countries should ensure the vulnerable are protected from the cold. Everyone has the right to a warm comfortable home.

Thermal insulation on the external side of walls, creating a façade, supported by heavier building material layers on the inside will achieve the most stable indoor temperatures and help keep those inside healthy and warm.”


Health risks of excessive heat

For those who cannot keep their buildings cool in summer, excessive heat undermines well-being, causes irritation, sleepiness, a lack of concentration or worse.

Heatstroke, exhaustion and dehydration are dangerous for the young and elderly particularly those suffering from cardiac, kidney or respiratory diseases. In the US, the highest rate of weather-related fatality over the past 30 years has been linked to heat.

The bad news is that hot summers are getting worse. For example, Europe and the United States recorded their hottest summers on record in 2021.

Kid Suffering Heatstroke Uninsulated House Hot Summer

Health improvement

Domen says: “Insulation blocks the path of heat. That means in summer insulation acts as a barrier to external heat keeping interiors cooler, which ensures the comfort of building users when the external heat is excessive.”


Health risks of poor air quality

The challenges of Covid-19 have heightened awareness of the importance of well-ventilated interior spaces.

Poor Air Quality Detected Health Risks

However, even before the pandemic, indoor air quality was becoming an important health issue in countries such as Germany and France which had introduced mandatory regulation of what are known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from building materials, furnishings and cleaning products.

In the US, for example, the Environmental Production Agency states that indoor concentrations of pollutants are often two to five times higher than outdoor concentrations, while in schools and offices poor air quality has been linked to absences and low performance.

In addition, a poorly ventilated home combined with damp is highly likely to have a negative impact on well-being and health with the potential to cause respiratory problems such as asthma.


Health improvement

Domen says: “Insulation combined with good ventilation contributes to air quality by creating dry, warm homes with no cold spots where mould can grow. For schools, public buildings and homes, the installation of Knauf Insulation solutions can really help.

“For example, our solutions with ECOSE Technology® are certified to the highest Eurofins Indoor Air Comfort Gold standard which is regarded as Europe’s most comprehensive label for verifying low product emissions of VOCs

“Air quality in terms of external air pollution is also becoming an increasingly important global health issue, particularly in urban areas where traffic and smog can be intense. Green roofs, such as Knauf Insulation’s Urbanscape®, can help by absorbing significant levels of air pollutants.

“Studies have found that 0.2kg of airborne particles can be captured by one square metre of green roof every year and researchers in Singapore have found that the level of particles above a 4,000m2 green roof were reduced by 6%.”


Health risks of noise pollution

According to pre-pandemic research by the European Environment Agency (EEP) at least one in five people in Europe are exposed to external noise levels that are harmful to health.

The research found that 22 million Europeans suffered chronic ‘high annoyance’ ranging from irritation to distress, while 6.5 million endured significant sleep disturbance which can cause health issues such as physiological stress or cardiovascular problems.

External noise pollution also impacts productivity and alertness levels in schools and workplaces with research by the World Health Organisation finding that external noise costs the European Union €40 billion every year in terms of lost workdays, healthcare, hospital allocation, decreased productivity and learning challenges.

Noise Pollution Affects Health Solution House Isolation

Health improvement

Domen says: “The complex fibre structure of Mineral Wool is highly effective at absorbing sounds and improving the acoustic comfort of interior spaces.

“At Knauf Insulation we enhance the acoustic performance of our Mineral Wool by combining it with, for example, our Knauf plasterboards or Heraklith Wood Wool.

“By tailoring these systems — such as the thickness of the Mineral Wool or the type of board used — it is possible to minimise noise pollution in schools, offices, homes, hospitals or any public building.”


Safety risks of fire

Eleven people are killed every day in Europe as a result of fire, according to the campaigning group Fire Safe Europe.

The organisation reports that there are 5,000 fires daily with 90% of all victims killed by a fire in a building. Many of these deaths are not caused by burns, but by smoke inhalation.


Safety improvement

Domen says: “Fire risk in buildings must be eliminated from the start and that means ensuring the most efficient building solutions are used from the beginning.

“At Knauf Insulation we manufacture a wide range of insulation solutions that are certified A1 and A2 fire-safe such as Rock Mineral Wool and Glass Mineral Wool rolls and slabs.

“These solutions minimise fire risk and its spread which gives people time to leave a burning building and fire fighters more time to tackle the blaze.

“Our Tektalan Wood Wool board combined with our Rock Mineral Wool has a fire resistance of up to 180 minutes. Tektalan does not melt in a blaze and there is hardly any smoke created during combustion.”

• To learn more about how insulation can improve the health of any building visit and for information about World Health Day click here.