INTERVIEW WITH PETER BACHMANN
Sentinel Haus Institut (SHI), located in Freiburg im Breisgau, aims to prevent the harmful effects of the construction, renovation and use of buildings on human health. To achieve this, SHI uses science-based planning processes, as well as material and building quality criteria that serve as a contractual basis for property owners and building contractors. Bauwerk Parkett has also had SHI inspect and certify its products, so as to include them in the ‘Healthier Buildings’ list maintained by SHI and TÜV Rheinland. We had a conversation about this with the institute’s director, Peter Bachmann.
How did the idea to certify construction products and buildings originate?
PB: International studies show that people are becoming ill because they are spending more time inside buildings. The construction products, furniture and cleaning agents used have the greatest impact on this. We have developed a concept and standards to help designers and property owners construct healthier buildings. At the same time, the market, with its diverse construction material markings, is very confusing. We work to ensure that both professionals and end clients have a reliable and transparent basis for their decision-making.
How were the concepts and standards that you are now using for certification standards developed?
PB: In cooperation with many experts in my network, and through regular coordination with the Federal Environment Agency.
What were your personal reasons for initiating the founding of such an institute?
PB: Due to my personal experience with asthma, I’m personally well aware of the significance and impact of air quality. Air is the most important nourishment for us humans.
Was there a moment, an event, that triggered the first spark?
PB: When I became a father, in addition to my own health concerns, I became responsible for the health of my family. I wanted to make sure that neither my children nor other people in their buildings came to any harm.
What were the challenges and obstacles that you had to overcome when establishing the Sentinel Haus Institut?
PB: Most people, including professionals, assume that there are high standards for construction materials and buildings. Unfortunately, the health-related quality of products and buildings is not guaranteed or documented in a satisfactory way. Another big challenge, apart from testing technical processes and material quality, is explaining the significance of healthy living to the people who live in and use buildings.
Were there obstacles in terms of the Sentinel Haus Institut being accepted? Or did you work with well-known certification organisations, like TÜV, from the start?
PB: There is always resistance to change in general. Designers and workers need to adjust some of their professional habits, while manufacturers and traders must integrate stricter quality criteria. Eminent testing organisations were on our side from the beginning.
What are the core elements of SHI certification?
PB: Transparent contractual agreements between the parties, observing the harmful-substance levels set for ambient air, it being our most important nourishment, in the planning and construction of buildings, as well as quality control of the property to ensure that it is safe in terms of the health of its residents and users. We strictly adhere to the recommendations of the Federal Environment Office, sometimes even exceeding them.
What should I do if I, as a private individual, would like to build such a ‘healthy’ house and to ensure that it is certified by SHI?
PB:You should either find a qualified company on our ‘Bauverzeichnis Gesündere Gebäude’ (‘Healthy Building Directory’) portal or agree with your construction partner to implement Sentinel Haus’s health standards.
At SHI, you certify not only buildings, but also certain construction products. Parquet by Bauwerk is an example.What actually happens to a parquet floor at SHI before it becomes SHI-certified?
PB: Bauwerk must regularly provide measurements produced by a qualified institute, such as the Eco Institut in Cologne.Then we check and assess the results, and approve the product for listing in our directory.
Could you give us an example of the values that are checked for this and outline how it all works?
PB: The standard specifies requirements for solvents and formaldehyde. The inspection for solvents includes more than a hundred different harmful substances.The testing takes place according to a standardised procedure, in a test chamber.
And after this procedure, can I assume that a Bauwerk floor will always be ‘healthy for living’?
What should I keep in mind when laying the parquet floor?
PB: Apart from Bauwerk’s parquet, correct and low-emission adhesives and treatment agents are important. Incorrect handling and use of cleaning agents that contain harmful substances can also lead to problems.Ideally, the builder who lays the floor should be qualified to handle it in a way that is ‘healthy for living’.
If there is a building that needs renovation, can I make it ‘healthy for living’ as well?
PB: Of course. The building should first be checked by our experts for any contamination. Existing floor structures need particular attention in what materials were previously used, to see if they can be combined well with modern ones. A test surface can be very useful here.Based on this, the same measures and steps are taken as for a new building, to ensure that it is healthier according to the Sentinel Haus standard.
Are such renovations more costly than standard renovations?
PB: Analysis of existing contamination is not free, of course. However, it is cheaper to find harmful substances sooner rather than later.Doing this too late can lead to many problems for the people living in and using the building.
What additional measures can I take in my home to improve the ambient air?
PB: Ventilate regularly, either multiple times a day by opening windows, or use a good ventilation system. This lowers the CO2 content. Depending on the region, it is necessary to test for natural radon, a radioactive noble gas. When buying furniture and cleaning agents, check the corresponding harmful-substance markings, avoid unnecessary odorous substances. Cleaning is an important issue. Apart from the strong smell, too much use of strong cleaning agents can be harmful for your health and, ultimately, for your parquet.You can find useful tips about this on our website.