What makes a healthy space?
Health and wellness are a top concern for all of us these days. And with the amount of time that we spend indoors, it should be no surprise that our houses have a significant impact on our health and well-being. We all want the place that we retreat to at the end of each day to be a place of rest and healing, both physically and mentally. So how do we do that? What makes a healthy home?
These 8 key elements are important guidelines in designing a healthy home, whether it’s a new build or renovation. They each play an important role in making a home that supports wellness, physically, mentally and emotionally. Each of these elements is an extensive topic on its own, so this will be a broad overview of what they entail.
Air quality is a fundamental in creating a healthy home. In a typical modern home, the indoor air quality can be up to 5 times more polluted than outdoor air quality. With little air movement and home construction becoming more air-tight and efficient, the air in our homes quickly becomes stale and contaminated by a number of indoor sources. These sources can include VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and other toxins, like formaldehyde, off-gassing from furniture and finish materials, naturally occurring radon leaching through the foundation, mould spores induced caused by hidden leaks, or other pollutants produced through our cooking and cleaning products. Without proper ventilation or filtration, we are constantly breathing in these compounded toxins, which can lead to or aggravate a number of health concerns, including asthma, long-term respiratory illnesses, and even cancer. Good air quality is vital for a truly healthy home.
There are two primary methods to creating healthy indoor air – eliminating toxic sources and proper ventilation. Eliminating toxic sources means choosing building materials and finishes that are natural and non-toxic, and minimizing the toxins we bring into our homes with things like furnishings and house-hold cleaners. Just as important is incorporating a proper ventilation system that exchanges the stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air.
Water quality is another vital factor for healthy bodies and healthy homes. We need clean healthy water for both drinking and bathing. Whether your home runs on municipal water or well water, the water flowing from your taps can be contaminated with chemicals, heavy metals and bacteria, which can lead to gastrointestinal problems, reproductive issues, and neurological disorders. The way to address your home’s water quality is with a water filtration system. There is a wide range of systems available from individual filters that are installed right at the faucet to whole-home filtration systems. It’s important to have your water tested to know what contaminants you’re dealing with, and then determine what type of filtration system will work best for you.
Human beings have an internal clock that runs on a 24-hours cycle, which is referred to as your circadian rhythm. This internal clock affects physical, mental and behavioural changes in your body and needs to be in alignment with natural light from the sun for our body to function at its highest capacity. With modern conveniences, like electric light available at any time of the day or night, our bodies are more susceptible to becoming out of sync with our circadian rhythm. This creates disruptions in sleep patterns, hormone production and digestive functions, and in the long-term, can lead to sleep disorders, cardiovascular disease and other serious health concerns. Have you ever experienced jet-lag? That’s a perfect example of your circadian rhythm being out of whack! The artificial lighting in your home can have a similar impact on our body’s circadian rhythm.
There has been a lot research and advancements in this area and many innovative products available in the lighting industry. Since our bodies cannot discern between natural light or artificial light, we can use the quality, colour and brightness of the light fixtures in our home to work with our circadian rhythm, and not against it.
Comfort in our home is not a luxury, but a necessity when designing a healthy home. A comfortable environment takes in to consideration temperature, humidity, acoustics and smell. Controlling these conditions lead to a comfortable and healthy home environment, as well as protect the health of the building itself. For example, when humidity levels are too low, hardwood floors can shrink and crack, or when they are too high, mould growth can develop. When temperatures plummet, water lines can freeze, and when they’re too high, it can lead to poor sleep. Poor acoustics and strong smells impact mental health and our ability to focus. It’s important to consider all of these elements in the design phase when making decisions on the construction methods and materials and the layout of your home.
We all know that eating healthy is a key element to living a healthy lifestyle, but what does this have to do with the design of our home? The places that you store food, prepare meals, and eat together all impact your eating habits and your relationship with food. Consuming a healthy whole-foods diet of starts with having space and systems to store fresh foods, and an environment that is conducive to preparing and cooking healthy meals. A wellness-focused kitchen incorporates features like indoor gardens or urban cultivator, compost and recycling systems, effective storage solutions, non-toxic materials, and plenty of light. It needs to be an inviting space that encourages social gathering, and allows room for families to work together to prepare meals. Designing a wellness kitchen in your home is an integral part of creating and encouraging healthy eating habits.
The other key to living a healthy lifestyle is exercise. Unfortunately, a vast majority of us have inactive jobs and inactive modes of transportation. Sitting still for long periods of time, or worse, the majority of our day, can be detrimental to our health. It’s important to include exercise and simply more regular movement in our daily lives. When designing a home gym or fitness space, it’s important that it isn’t hidden in some far, dark corner of the basement that you’d rather avoid. Place it where it will be seen regularly, and make it a space you enjoy going to with plenty of natural light. Additionally, there are other design strategies that can be used to encourage more movement during your daily routine, like using a standing desk in your home office, or intentionally placing the laundry room in a spot that requires more walking.
Many of us lead busy stressful lives, which impacts both our physical and mental health. Stress is one of the most prevalent ailments in modern life, and when it becomes chronic, it can lead to many health concerns, such as cardiovascular diseases and digestive disorders and mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. At the end of the day, our home needs a place that we can retreat to, a place where we can feel calm and at peace. One way to create a calming environment is through the integration of nature in building design, an approach called biophilic design. Humans have an instinctual connection to nature. Being immersed in the natural environment has been proven to improve human health, physically, mentally and emotionally. We can create this effect in our home, by integrate elements of nature into the design of our space. This can be done literally, with things like plants, natural light, water features, and using natural materials. Or it can be done by emulating the characteristics of nature, like using colours and patterns found in nature.
8. Safety & Accessibility
Lastly, a healthy home needs to be a safe home and be accessible to everyone. This means designing our spaces to minimize the risks of accidents and to be safely used by people of all ages from children to the elderly. Even if you do not have children or elderly people living in your home, chances are that you may have some visit. Also, more and more, people are choosing to age in place and remain in their homes as long as possible with support. Universal design or inclusive design is an approach that prioritizes designing spaces that can be used by everyone. There are many design strategies and features to consider that will improve both the safety and accessibility of your home for everyone, like zero threshold showers and grab bars in bathrooms, wider doorways with lever handles and proper lighting at stairways.
At INVISION Design Solutions, we look at our projects through the lens of each of these elements to create spaces that support health and wellness. Not every project will include all of these elements, and not every element will be maximized on each project. But every step in the right direction contributes to a healthier and more sustainable home. Even small steps make a difference. When planning your next new build or renovation project, consider how you can consider each of these elements in your design to create a healthy space for you and your family.