Healthy Buildings

Concrete insulates against noise, is an inherently non-emitting source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and could help shield against EM interference, creating healthier spaces for people to live and work in.

The high number of people who live and work in cities raises many challenges related to sustainability and quality of life. Concrete offers several innate properties that create healthier living spaces and improve the well-being of millions, including its qualities as an acoustic insulator and an inherently non-emitting source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), while its resilience to fire, flood, and extreme winds provides peace of mind to building occupants. Concrete also could help with protection against electro-magnetic (EM) radiation.

Acoustic performance
Acoustic insulation is the ability of a material to reduce the energy of sound waves passing through walls and is proportional to the density of material and to the thickness of the wall. Due to its high density, concrete provides excellent acoustic insulation with a simple concrete wall able to ensure good acoustic comfort at minimum cost. In high density living, this allows for easy acoustic separation between accommodation and outside noise sources (e.g. traffic), while in the workplace, employee productivity and wellbeing are also improved when noise infiltration is sufficiently limited.

A related benefit is the potential ability of special lightweight concrete to absorb or dissipate sound, thereby minimising noise reverberation in public spaces.

VOCs are chemicals found in many common building materials that can escape into the air and cause illness and allergic reactions. These emissions are one of the contributors to sick building syndrome in which the health and well-being of building occupants are negatively impacted. Concrete is an inherently non-emitting source of VOCs in contrast with other building materials that need treatments for rot, pest and fire resistance. The use of concrete can therefore benefit both those individuals installing such materials, as well as long-term building occupants.

Electromagnetic shielding
A consequent effect of urbanisation is the proliferation of radio-electronic devices in telecommunications and broadcasting, industrial equipment and domestic appliances. The sheer quantity of such devices has however created an environment in which electromagnetic interference can degrade the performance of electrical equipment. In addition, an increasing number of people are paying attention to the impact of electromagnetic radiation on health and living standards.

Current research is focusing on improving the shielding capability of buildings in order to provide protection not only for electrical and electronic devices but also for a building’s users. Typically, concrete is neither appreciably magnetic nor conductive, but its shielding properties can be improved by including smart materials, such as electro-conductive or graphene-based materials. Given its ubiquity in urban construction, enhancing concrete’s electromagnetic shielding properties would help reduce electromagnetic pollution, as well as improving social resiliency in the event of a destructive electromagnetic pulse.

Header photo by Paul Mocan on Unsplash