Ecobuild event debates the delivery of healthy homes

An event held in London last week as part of World Green Building Week saw a panel of industry experts looking at the need to ensure future housing design provides health and wellbeing for users. Hosted by Saint-Gobain and Ecobuild, the event aligned closely with Ecobuild 2016’s focus on housing and healthier buildings which will continue to discuss the challenges and opportunites.

A full house at Saint-Gobain’s Innovation Centre in central London heard how designers and specifiers must consider a wide range of factors including comfort, air quality in order to provide truly healthy homes. The speakers also tackled key challenges including user engagement and the current housing crisis in the UK, in an insightful series of talks.

Stacey Temprell, residential sector director at Saint-Gobain UK & Ireland, and a member of the World Building Council, asked whether the industry was doing all it can to provide the practical tools needed to create comfortable and healthy homes, and looked at how current building design could be affecting users. She also pondered whether the industry should be talking to consumers more to drive demand for healthier homes, and described how Saint-Gobain will be measuring the success of its Multi-Comfort design concept for healthy homes including thermal, audio, visual, economic and indoor air factors, on live projects.

David Ormandy from the Institute of Health at the University of Warwick spoke passionately about a lack of awareness of the effects of poor housing on health, and how a focus on building fabric in the current framework of standards was compounding this. Peter Halsall, chief executive of sustainable housing developer the Good Homes Alliance, acknowledged the challenges of proving health benefits from housing but stated that more research was needed in specific areas such as the psychological benefits of sunlight. He also questioned increases in air tightness and insulation in the UK climate, and advocated a fresh approach to avoid overheating and increase health benefits.

Richard Francis, principal at sustainability consultant the Monomoy Company, then gave an enlightening talk on the potential to harness technology such as mobile apps working with sensors to measure wellness benefits of homes in real time. He described how providing a true picture of the health value of homes in this way could help to engage future users as well as developers.

An audience Q&A session followed, chaired by Dr Marcella Ucci, lecturer in Environmental and Healthy Buildings at the Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment at UCL. Several questions and comments were aired around crucial subjects including the difficult task of engaging homeowners to choose healthy homes against the backdrop of a shortage in housing supply, bringing relevant research together, and whether building physics was fit for purpose in the UK.

Martin Hurn, director at Ecobuild, commented: “The creation of healthy homes which not only serve the wider health needs of current but also future generations is a critical priority for the industry. Ecobuild’s conference programme will be looking in depth at what it takes to bring all of the elements together to provide the housing that fully meets all sustainability criteria.”