Natural insulation: enhancing the health of a building and its occupants

Alex Campbell, Director at Steico, explores the effects of making better decisions when it comes to choosing materials for your building on a building's performance and occupant health.

Most of us spend the majority of our lives indoors. Little surprise then that the health of the buildings we live and work in, heavily influences our physical, psychological and
social well-being. A healthy building is both life-enhancing and supports occupants' health, mood and productivity. British buildings are currently regulated regards their ventilation and heating but there are some glaring omissions. For instance, indoor air quality and exposure to natural light remain free of legal requirements despite the health benefits
they offer occupants. It's the responsibility of the entire UK construction industry – from designers, to architects, to builders – to drive the need to change.

But how do we build healthy buildings when we're already struggling with volume? The key to building healthy buildings is using natural materials which is no longer the more expensive solution. Natural building materials contribute to a healthier internal environment of a building – maintaining a more stable and comfortable temperature and humidity throughout the seasons as well as improving indoor air quality and acoustic properties.

Although some of the more common building materials have their advantages, there is a better, more efficient way to build – and we hope this will soon become the norm. Insulation is a key component in a building's design. There is a proven relationship between insulation and the overall performance of a building and the health of its occupants.
Natural insulation is hygroscopic in that it provides a degree of humidity control to a building, positively impacting its thermal comfort. It is typically recognised for its ability to retain heat within a building but it has an equally important role in preventing a building from overheating in summer months. The properties of natural insulation – such as woodfibre, sheep's wool or cellulose – mean they tend to have a higher thermal mass than their synthetic alternatives, providing improved thermal efficiency.

Woodfibre insulation boards are quick and easy to install and thanks to their tongue and groove profile, the boards slot together seamlessly, creating a tight thermal envelope. The cleanliness of wood fibre insulation means it does not release any harmful chemicals as it degrades so carries zero risk of toxic emissions, dust or fibres.
Natural insulation is also breathable and vapour-permeable – an essential quality to prevent the build-up of damp, condensation or structural decay. This is the key factor
in improving the overall indoor air quality. The higher density of natural materials also makes them more effective at mitigating noise pollution – both into and from a
building – improving the occupants' daily life.

In years to come, our children's children will wonder why on earth we continued putting synthetic insulation into buildings in 21st century – using up the world's precious
and dwindling non-sustainable resources – when woodfibre is not only renewable, reusable, recyclable and compostable but also does a better job. To raise the bar on building healthy British buildings, developers, planners, architects, designers and engineers must all work in harmony.

Together, let's embrace natural materials and shape a built environment that performs brilliantly and feels more solid making for happier occupants.

For more information visit:, Email 'health newsfeed' to to sign up to the healthy building newsfeed.

Visit us at Futurebuild, stand E54, 5-7 March 2019, ExCel, London where you can pin a leaf to the Steico tree to demonstrate your commitment to building healthy buildings.

Original Link: Structural Timber Magazine 

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