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Architect's Guide: Crafting a Healthy Home with Expert Design Tips

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

A healthier home is one that prioritises the well-being of its occupants by creating an environment that promotes physical, mental, and emotional health. It encompasses various factors that contribute to overall well-being, such as site location, air and water quality, moisture management, EMF, lighting, low-tox building materials, finishes, furniture and other household items


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Achieving a healthier home involves multiple steps. and varies depending on the individual needs, genetics and health of each occupant. Taking steps to create a healthier home environment is crucial for our overall well-being and can lead to improved physical health, mental clarity, and a greater sense of comfort and happiness. If you would like to dive deep into these foundations, read on!


Pre-Design

  1. Site Location

    • Know your site: Understand your property's orientation and surroundings, such as, where the prevailing winds are coming from? Are you near a hazard such as an airport, mobile phone towers, high voltage transmittion lines, mining, electrical substation, TV transmittion towers, underground power lines, tips and waste collection facilities, industrial manufacturing plants and places that can cause pesticide drift such as farms and golf corses? As they significantly impact energy efficiency, comfort, and overall well-being

    • Check Council Requirements: Familiarise yourself with your local councils regulations governing setbacks, building heights, heritage requirements and sizes to ensure compliance with local laws.

    • Set a Budget: Establish a clear budget to determine the scope of your project, whether it involves building from scratch or renovating.

    • Get Clear on Goals and Priorities: Identify your specific needs and priorities, such as healthy air quality, energy efficiency, or other features, to guide your design choices.

    • Build Out Your Team: Determine the design professionals you'll need to collaborate with and select your contractor.


Design: Creating a Healthy Home


2. Air Quality, Purification and Ventilation.

  • Whole Home Ventilation. Enhance your home's ventilation with whole-house systems like energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) or heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) to preserve excellent air quality and moisture control.


  • Bathroom Ventilation: All bathrooms should have ducted, mechanical ventilation sized appropriately to the room and ducted to the outside.


  • Sensible Architectural Design: Select a simple house shape, such as a rectangular layout, to enhance passive heating and cooling advantages. Larger homes just mean more surface area to cover, more furniture to buy and more rooms to clean!


  • Health-Conscious Materials: Give preference to non-toxic building materials and finishes, including zero-VOC paint and natural flooring, while steering clear of PVC and other petroleum-based products and composite wood products like MDF and plywood; frequently used in furniture, cabinets, and doors, as this material typically contains formaldehyde, which can release harmful toxins into the air. Look for the Certifications for each material for added assurance.


  • Pollution Mitigation: Isolate or eliminate the garage to minimise the introduction of fumes and vehicle exhaust into your home, reducing indoor air pollutants. IF this is not an option, consider very carefully where you place the door that connects it to the home, and consider mechanical ventilation of the garage.


3. Water Quality: Water Filtration and Moisture Management.

  • Pre-Water Assessment: I suggest to clients to conduct a water test prior to purchase if possible. If that is not an option, I suggest as soon as you can, you test the water to know what contaminants are present and therefore what type of filter you will need. It is also advisable to conduct yearly water tests, just to ensure its quality.


  • Enhanced Filtration: Install water filtration systems as needed, not only for taste enhancement but also to promote consistent consumption of clean and healthy water. I prefer a whole home system (with additional system at the faucet if re-mineralisation is required). This ensures ALL the water in the home is clean, including bathing, washing and drinking.


  • Effective Moisture Management: When designing a home, it is crucial to consider the building envelope's role in protecting against external elements like rain, wind, and heat, while also allowing the transfer of water vapour from inside to outside. Implement permeable vapour barriers, well-planned bathroom ventilation, and other design considerations to ensure optimal moisture control within your home.



4. Lighting.

  • Optimise Natural Illumination:* Use natural light as much as possible, exposure to natural light first thing in the morning is best for our bodies, so try to avoid your phone or electric light until you have exposed your eye to natural light.


  • Brightness and colour: light should mimic the day, so the circadian lighting we used would be warm and yellow in the evening and bright and white in the middle of the day. Try to limit lighting use at night, use smaller floor/bedside lamps with warm yellow bulbs (or get specific blue blocking bulbs)


  • Strategic Room Placement: Place essential living spaces, such as the living room, dining room, kitchen, and home office, on the north side of the house, ensuring they have ample windows for continuous access to natural light throughout the day. Bedrooms should face east, so you can catch the rising sun.. This not only supports your circadian rhythms but also contributes to passive heating during the winter. Be sure to incorporate shading solutions to prevent overheating in the summer months.

5. Comfort: Thermal, Acoustic and Olfactory.

  • Balanced Temperatures: With more people working from home, the thermal environment is a key factor that significantly impacts thermal comfort, which, in turn, has a direct influence on the productivity of occupants. Effective insulation, efficient HVAC systems, and access to natural ventilation are vital in achieving this.


  • Keep the Noise Down: Designing spaces with effective sound insulation, minimising noise sources, and providing a serene acoustic environment are crucial steps in fostering a peaceful and focused atmosphere within our homes.


  • Think of the Smells. This is often overlooked but strong or noticeable odours have the potential to disrupt both physical and psychological comfort, causing symptoms like eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as nausea and headaches. By actively managing and minimising odours, we can adopt a straightforward yet effective strategy that significantly enhances occupant comfort and overall well-being. ensuring pleasant and fresh smells by implementing proper ventilation, eliminating odours and synthetic fragrances, and using non-toxic materials positively impacting our sensory experience and creating a more enjoyable home environment.


6. Electromagnetic Fields: EMF

  • Minimising EMF exposure: This can be achieved by simple measures like keeping electronic devices at a distance during sleep, using wired connections instead of wireless whenever possible, not placing wireless devices like laptops directly on laps, and positioning beds and seating areas away from sources of high EMF emissions.


  • Low-EMF Zones: Additionally, creating designated low-EMF zones in the home, implementing shielding materials, and utilising EMF-reducing devices can contribute to a healthier living environment with reduced EMF exposure.


7. Non-Toxic: Building Materials and Household Items

  • Read The Ingredients: Select materials that are low in VOCs and free from harmful substances such as formaldehyde and lead, are made from no or low-tox ingredients, that have a neutral (or pleasant) scent and that do not release toxic vapours. Do your research, reach out and contact manufactures and ASK QUESTIONS! It's OK not to know and its OK to ask!


  • Conscious Construction: You've done all the hard work and selected all the healthy materials, but there is one final step and that is construction. During the build, it is important to ensure adequate ventilation, and additionally, I highly recommend incorporating air scrubbers during painting processes and prior to occupancy to further enhance air quality and mitigate potential risks, and to run HEPA air filters 24/7 for as long as possible before and after moving in, as well as opening as many windows as possible to help release all the off-gassing vapours.


  • Clean Clean: Further, it is essential to recognise the importance of avoiding bringing toxic chemicals into our homes, especially in cleaning and personal beauty products. By opting for non-toxic alternatives, we create a safer living environment, minimise exposure to harmful substances, and prioritise the overall health of ourselves and our loved ones.


A Few Further Considerations: Sustainability and Community Alignment


When designing a healthy home, it's crucial to look beyond the core design elements and consider broader factors that align with sustainability and community well-being.


In the realm of environmental responsibility, passive design strategies are instrumental in reducing energy consumption. These approaches leverage intelligent architectural planning to make the most of natural resources and minimise the need for excessive energy use. Additionally, opting for sustainable materials in your home's construction not only contributes to its durability but also reduces its ecological footprint. Incorporating native plants into your landscaping not only enhances your property's aesthetics but also supports local biodiversity, fostering a more balanced and sustainable ecosystem. Finally, implementing effective waste management systems, such as composting and waste sorting, ensures responsible resource usage and minimises environmental impact.


Further, your home's impact extends beyond its walls and into the surrounding community. Supporting the local economy by choosing local materials and labor stimulates economic growth and fosters a sense of community resilience. Being considerate of your neighbours is paramount. Ensure that your home's design respects their privacy, preserves their views, and doesn't hinder their access to sunlight, creating a harmonious living environment for all.


Moreover, the materials you source should prioritise not only your well-being but also that of your community. Opt for clean and healthy materials from production to disposal, contributing to a healthier environment for everyone.


By integrating these planet and community considerations into your home's design, you can create a living space that benefits not only you but also the world around you.


FINAL WORDS:

Creating a healthy home is a multifaceted endeavour that encompasses a multitude of factors. However, with a meticulously crafted plan and the expertise of the right team, you can transform your vision of a healthy living space into a tangible reality that not only enhances your well-being but also contributes positively to the environment.

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