Building Materials and Health: A study of perceptions of the healthiness of building and furnishing materials in homes
This thesis explores people's perceptions of building and furnishing materials in domestic interiors in relation to human health. Although recently there has been an increase in discussion of the adverse impacts building and furnishing materials have on human health, it is also noted that change in removing 'risk' materials from the market is not happening fast enough. Rather than focusing on professional views or the regulative changes that have effected some improvements, this thesis focuses on popular views, as these are currently an under-researched but significant factor for change. Popular perception of the healthiness of materials directly relates to everyday choices which might influence indoor air quality in people's homes. Hence understanding these perceptions is an important element in improving this situation. The primary question of this thesis is how informed, or knowledgeable, the general population is about risks to human health associated with building and furnishing materials, and secondarily, whether any predictors of people's views can be observed. Because of the limited availability of similar studies this thesis is exploratory. It consists of two main studies: - The core survey of 247 participants from three countries (61 NZ general, 65 NZ architects, 60 US, and 61 UK) explores what people think about the healthiness of common materials and evaluates this data for any demographic or psychological predictors of knowledge; and - The follow-up trial evaluates the effectiveness of an educational intervention and provides more detailed mixed-method data on the views of 12 participants. The studies use quantitative approaches that are commonly used in psychological research. The thesis shows that there are significant limitations in the existing knowledge of risks associated with building and furnishing materials especially amongst the general population, which poorly differentiates between the health impact of similar looking materials such as vinyl and linoleum, and particleboard and MDF with and without formaldehyde. This leads to the conclusion there is need for improvement in the general level of knowledge about the healthiness of materials. In terms of predictors, gender is found to be the strongest predictor of recognition of risks with women tending to rate materials more accurately in terms of their risk to health, and males rating all materials higher. Similarly, women demonstrated greater change in their ratings and actions following the educational intervention. Experience with asthma and allergies was also a predictor of more accurate rating of materials but this trend was milder. When the five personality traits were evaluated, openness mildly but consistently correlated with more accurate health ratings of materials, while agreeableness correlated with tendency to give high ratings regardless of how healthy materials were. No clear patterns were found for extraversion, emotional stability and conscientiousness. No clear pattern for the environmental concerns was found in the core study, although these seemed to be predictors after the educational intervention. These findings show that exploring people's views about architecture using psychological instruments has produced useful results. This thesis observed a number of possible predictors of people's architectural views and choices, suggesting a possible new research field to confirm these.