Advancing human health, safety, and well-being with healthy buildings
What are the so-called "healthy buildings"? Air quality, thermal health and noise, are some of the nine key factors that the Harvard team determining has identified a building is healthy.
If there is one good thing that the devastating global pandemic has shown us, it is the importance of looking after ourselves and bearing in mind the external elements that impact our health. Bearing in mind that we spend a large part of our lives in enclosed spaces, whether at home or in the office, the term "healthy buildings" has been coined around the axes of correct ventilation, air quality, thermal health, dust and noise. At URSA, aware of the importance of insulation to protect indoor spaces, in this short article, we will explain what defines healthy buildings and how they can improve our safety and quality of life.
What are the so-called "healthy buildings"?
In a nutshell, healthy buildings are those that, due to their technical and constructive characteristics, promote their occupants' physical, mental and social well-being and minimise health and safety risks.
In recent years, the climate emergency has led to a revolution in building construction by applying sustainability criteria to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions while at the same time improving the habitability and durability of structures. Furthermore, the pandemic has further accelerated these changes by highlighting buildings' impact on our health. For this reason, in new architectural designs, the concept of sustainability starts with the individual.
The Harvard School of Public Health has created the Healthy Buildings Initiative. Led by Dr Joseph Allen, the Initiative's mission is to "improve the lives of all people, in all buildings, everywhere, every day". With this maxim in mind, the Harvard team has identified nine key factors determining a building is healthy.
- Ventilation – Air intake from the outside should be situated away from sources of street pollution. Whether air comes from outside the building or is recirculated, it should be filtered down to the nano-particle level.
- Air Quality – Low-emission construction materials and furnishings should be used. Vapor barriers (e.g. damp proofing) should be used, and humidity levels should be controlled.
- Thermal Health – Temperature control should be a constant to meet the comfort requirements of those inside.
- Moisture – Constant monitoring of moisture sources or condensation within the building should take place.
- Dust & Pests – Regular cleaning and trash removal are necessary to keep dust levels down. There should be no entry points into the building for pests or animals.
- Safety & Security – Fire safety precautions and protocols should be in place. As should an emergency action plan. Adequate lighting, video monitoring, and an incident reporting system can all help increase the safety and security of the building’s occupants.
- Water Quality – Drinking water should comply with the relevant standards. Measures might include a water purification system and efforts to avoid water stagnation at rest in the building's plumbing.
- Noise – Background noise should not rise above 35db, and protection should be in place to minimise noise from outside.
- Lighting & Views - Work and habitation spaces should have direct lines of sight to exterior windows. The use of natural daylight should be maximised, and interior lighting design should avoid causing glare.
The Harvard team has put together this comprehensive list of building health factors, but what are the key challenges facing designers of healthy buildings?
The 4 Ds
In 2021, the International Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate (ISIAQ) organised the 17th Healthy Buildings Conference in Oslo, Norway. The conference highlighted four key topics that are currently relevant to healthy buildings.
Appropriately enough, given the current pandemic, the first D is for disease. As mentioned above, the COVID-19 pandemic has done much to encourage research and raise awareness of how respiratory illnesses are transmitted indoors.
The second ‘D’ is decarbonisation, bringing us to the EU’s 2050 targets for carbon neutrality. These targets demand deep renovation of much of the existing building stock, and ensuring that such renovation doesn’t compromise health for lower emissions is essential.
A helpful tool in improving building health is digitisation as sensor and automation technology is improved. This third D makes it easier to control ventilation and airflow in building structures, potentially benefiting indoor environmental quality (IEQ).
Finally, dwellings bring the focus to people’s homes. As urbanisation increases, we need to consider building design's impact on neighbourhoods and communities. For example, how are we regulating outdoor air quality? How do we avoid creating urban canyons that trap pollutants at the street level? How do we avoid the ‘heat island’ effect, often associated with increased air pollution?
We need to consider building design's impact on whole neighbourhoods and communities. For example, how are we regulating outdoor air quality? How do we avoid creating urban canyons that trap pollutants at the street level? How do we avoid the ‘heat island’ effect, often associated with increased air pollution?
Healthier buildings for the future
Looking ahead, can we be optimistic? The importance of indoor air quality and other environmental factors, such as temperature, moisture and noise, is increasingly accepted. URSA is aware that insulation becomes a critical factor in achieving health goals in buildings all over the world, helping improve people's lives and therefore invests heavily in developing new technologies for that, such as the InCare™ technology, which protects inside air from microorganisms.
As wired.com points out, “Because of COVID-19, developers realise that incorporating health concerns in a building's design isn’t just a luxury—it’s a necessity.”
Indeed, the quality and design of our building stock are more than an environmental issue; it’s a critical health factor for the world’s population.
- Accelerate Renovation
- Building Renovation
- Circular Economy
- Climate change
- CO2 Reduction
- Deep renovation
- Energy efficiency
- ETEX Group
- Green Deal
- Healthy Buildings
- Healthy homes
- Indoor air quality
- Mineral wool
- renewable energy
- Renovation Wave
- Safe homes
- Safe life
- Safe work
- Thermal insulation
- UN Sustainable Development Goals
- United Nations Global Compact
- We are URSA
- We are Xella
- Xella Group
Time to Act: recognising Spain’s key role in enabling renovation in Europe.
On 3 October, Renovate Europe Day, named ‘Time to Act: Spain as a driving force on building renovation’ will take place in Madrid. It’s the first time the event is being held in a national capital other than Brussels. The decision reflects the organisers’ desire to capitalise on synergy opportunities with the Spanish presidency of the EU at a crucial time for the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), now in its final trilogue. It’s also a response to the growing importance of Member States in making groundbreaking EU legislation a reality.
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URSA obtains certification for its energy management system following the ISO 50001:2018 Standard
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URSA is committed to renewable energies with the installation of photovoltaic plants at its factories in Tarragona.
The plants will have nearly 7,000 state-of-the-art photovoltaic panels on their roofs, which will provide the annual energy equivalent to the consumption of 1,515 homes.
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Etex continues its portfolio shift towards lightweight and sustainable building solutions by completing the acquisition of insulation expert URSA
Today marks a major milestone for Etex, as it secures a fifth technology in its business growth strategy. By adding URSA’s insulation expertise to Etex’s portfolio of technologies, Etex enhances its ability to provide products and solutions to meet the building challenges of today and tomorrow. Announced in January 2022, the deal has successfully been completed after meeting the customary closing conditions.
URSA obtains the GOLD certificate for indoor air quality
URSA certify the white blow-in wool range with the most prestigious private label in terms of VOC emissions: the Eurofins Indoor Air comfort GOLD.
Boosting the circular economy with the reuse of pallets
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Bankiz, the new verified FDES configurator of URSA insulation solutions
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Building insulation – a priority for the EU’s renovation plans
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Etex confirms its portfolio shift by acquiring thermal and acoustic insulation expert URSA
The new year sees Etex consolidate its portfolio of sustainable business activities through the acquisition of URSA, a European leader in insulation solutions. Etex secures a new business growth platform through the deal, alongside an opportunity to continue playing a pivotal role in addressing sustainability challenges. By adding insulation expertise to its plasterboard, fibre-cement, passive fire protection and modular offering, Etex will also extend its ability to provide systems and solutions. This latest acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions.
What does “deep renovation” of a building mean?
How to upgrade the buildings we have now so that they are fit for the future? Deep renovation is the best option for meeting the EU’s 2050 zero-emission target and mineral wool insulation is essential for this type of renovation if we want to achieve EU’s environmental objectives.
“Where I live, it’s never too cold so I don’t need to insulate my home.” – REALLY??
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As green as glass mineral wool
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Have you thought about what are the real challenges of energy efficiency? There are many that we need to tackle but building renovation is key as it represents 36% of CO2 emissions. But it can never be an individual effort...
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Our goal: driving innovative strength
Innovation management, basic research, and technological development: This is the foundation on which we position the Xella Group for the future and meeting societal as well as industry -specific challenges – be it climate protection, energy savings, or resource efficiency. Since 2014, we have therefore been operating our own technology and research company (Technologie - und Forschungsgesellschaft / T&F) near Berlin.
A new edition of our Sustainability Report is coming soon
ESG is not a new topic or trend for us. For decades, URSA and Xella, all together, stood for sustainable and innovative construction and insulation materials that make a significant contribution to the energy efficiency of buildings.
Our goal: Responsible leadership
As a company, we take our economic and social role very seriously and want to be a fair, reliable and trustworthy partner to our customers, business partners and employees. In order to always comply with ethical and legal standards in our business activities and in our dealings with our supply chain, we place high demands on our governance.
Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home. More than ever this sentence has become more relevant to “the whole world” in the covid19 era. We are finding the need to live in safe, efficient and comfortable homes as they have become our only place to be when times are tough. Why don´t we rethink our economic model and base it on #sustainability and research, whilst at the same time protecting the #climate?
Protect the climate and stimulate the economy with efficient support programs
At the heart of European climate and energy policy is the creation of structures for a secure, affordable and environmentally compatible energy supply. Given the consequences of the corona pandemic, Europe is also facing massive economic challenges, e.g. rising unemployment, declining economic output, a drastic slump in local business and income tax revenues, cancelled or postponed investments.
The new 55% target for energy efficiency: is it feasible?
Can we reach the new goal of 55% of energy reduction? Of course, we can but we need to set a clear path for local governments to transform goals into executive actions. At Eurima (European Insulation Manufacturers Association) we believe in three main areas key to help all actors to achieve this goal.
Our goal: Safe work
Safety in the workplace is a top priority at URSA as part of Xella Group. That's why we see it as a matter of course to promote the long-term health of our employees and ensure their safety. We want our employees to go home from work every day healthy and unharmed.
#GreenRecovery: Adaptation of Subsidy Programs is Key Now
It is great to see that the German government decided on a green recovery package. It increased the budget for #EnergeticRenovation programs for private and public buildings, and social facilities significantly by 2 billion EUR in 2020 and 2021 totaling each year 2,5 billion EUR to reduce our #CO2emissions.
Big Data and building renovation: out of sight, out of mind
If we use Big Data for almost everything, why not use it for energy efficiency? Right now, we have no real idea of what is going on in Europe´s building stock. Information is key to change things, also in energy efficiency in buildings.
Our goal: A strong team
Our employees form the basis of our long-term success. We want to be an attractive employer in all respects. High-quality training at Xella and investments in our employees' qualifications contribute to this, as do fair, performance-based remuneration, a non-discriminatory working environment, and flexible options for balancing work and family life.
Women in construction
Today, it is still unusual to find women in construction. We would like to stand out one of the exceptions at URSA. Marina explains her work and her daily challenges in an interview in which she claims: "Girls must be empowered to design their future and fight for it"
Our goal: Improving circular economy capabilities
Building materials from Xella consist mainly of natural raw materials and are almost completely recyclable. URSA insulation products are already largely made from reused materials. Therefore, the conversion of value chains to value cycles makes sense for us for ecological and economic reasons. The circular economy is thus a key aspect of our ESG strategy.
Being energy certified means up to 10% more value for your property
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Our goal: Reduce CO2 emission intensity by 30% by 2030
URSA will contribute its own efforts to help Xella, the parent group, achieve its ambitious environmental goals aligned with the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
URSA joins Xella Group in supporting UN Sustainable Development Goals
With our business model, we have a high level of positive impact opportunities. To actively leverage this, we sharpened our ESG focus as part of the review of our Sustainability Strategy 2020 and worked out how our strategy can contribute to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this core vision, URSA has joined as well to work towards progress and sustainability together and better.
Acting responsibly: Xella joined UN Global Compact
Xella Group has joined the world's largest and most important initiative for responsible corporate governance: The United Nations Global Compact. Xella is committed to the ten sustainable principles in the areas of human rights, labor standards, the environment, and corruption prevention.
Our grain of sand to a Net Zero society
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The first step towards insulation: mineral wool
Good insulation provides comfort, safety and sustainability for the home. Glass mineral wool solutions offer thermal and acoustic comfort, directly contributing to the reduction of CO2 emissions in the European Union.
Dialog with our stakeholders and our essential sustainability topics
Our mission is to enable energy-efficient and long-lasting housing – and to provide as sustainably as possible. To achieve this goal and keep improving, we are in constant exchange with our stakeholders.
Solidarity goes beyond borders
At this important time, we want to promote the value of solidarity by sharing the different initiatives carried out by the different URSA regions with the aim of preserving the basic needs of people and contributing to a decent life.
Sustainability at Xella: Best in Class in our industry
The reputable ESG rating agency Sustainalytics has given Xella a rating of 18.3, putting Xella in first place out of all 115 companies in the building materials sector assessed by Sustainalytics. Sustainalytics therefore classifies the risk of financial impact caused by ESG aspects at Xella as low.
Healthy Buildings for Unhealthy Times: Why Renovate Europe should lead the post-COVID-19 era
It has been shown that the condition of buildings can impact the health of the people who inhabit them. Good insulation or adequate ventilation not only reduces the risks of contracting diseases but is also beneficial for people’s mental health. What should Europe do about it?
Energy efficient and affordable housing – delivered sustainably
URSA, as part of Xella Group, stands for innovative, safe and sustainable building and insulation materials and is the solution provider for energy-efficient, healthy and cost-optimized construction. Thus, our product portfolio contributes to decarbonization and to a low-carbon construction sector.
Making open plan offices work – insulation, the critical ingredient
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Does the circular economy help minimize the environmental effects of the construction industry?
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