Form and function
The materials you choose for your home serve a functional purpose, as well as create the style and feeling of your space. We make decisions on these materials based on their performance and maintenance requirements, as well as the aesthetic we are wanting to achieve. But it is also important to look at how these materials affect the health and wellness of the people living in our homes, as well as the health of our planet.
One of the major elements of a healthy and wellness-focused home is the indoor air quality. As construction methods advance, our homes have become much more air-tight. This is a great thing in regards to keeping our homes comfortable, protected from the elements and more and more energy efficient. But it means that we are not automatically getting regular fresh air into our homes. According to the EPA, our indoor air is often 2-5 times more hazardous that outdoor air, and in some cases, can be up to 100 times more hazardous! The air we breathe in our homes is a product of the materials and items that are in our homes. All of the building materials, furnishings, clothing, cleaning products, cosmetics etc, will off-gas into our air, creating a cesspool of chemicals. Did you know that there are currently over 80,000 man-made chemicals that exist in North America, and most haven’t been tested for their effect on human health? Of course, it is tremendously important to have a balanced ventilation system in our houses that is mechanically exchanging the air and bringing in fresh air in to our houses (you will find more information about this in the systems section). But we must also look closely at the types of materials we are using in the construction of our homes and their effect on the quality of our air.
Additionally, the materials we choose to use in the construction of our homes also have a major impact on the environment, in all of their phases: extraction, transport, processing, installation, operation and end of life & disposal. Throughout history, man has used a number of raw materials existing in nature in creating buildings – clay, stone, lime, wood and others. But over time, with advancements in technology, these materials have been transformed to improve their performance and new materials have been created – cement, aluminum, vinyl, synthetic fabrics and many more. Though material performance has been improved, it has been at the cost of negative impacts on the health of our planet.
It can be overwhelming to look at all of the materials that go into building or renovating a home. You can drive yourself crazy looking at the ingredients and life cycle analysis of every material and component of your home. Instead, start by focusing on the areas and materials that will have the most impact on your health and wellness. These would be the finishing materials that you are exposed to on a daily basis – floors, walls, ceilings, and cabinetry.