Home Architecture and Design Can Improve Our Well-BeingNov 27, 2020 ● By Nathan Kipnis
Photo courtesy of Kipnis Architecture + Planning
Living healthy often begins where we are actually living. As people spend more time at home this winter, they can focus on their surroundings to help keep them healthy and well. Beyond stocking up on thermometers, tissues and electrolyte drinks, and regularly cleaning surfaces, healthy home features that are part of a home’s architecture can protect those that live there and provide peace of mind during periods of concern, and also in blue-sky times.
Homes designed for health and wellness also align with the growing interest in sustainability, sharing many of the same concepts. For example, passive home features such as natural sunlight and ventilation are low-carbon elements that are also inherently good for human health. A healthy, sustainable and resilient home encompasses many elements with these core considerations.
A “tight” home with controlled, filtered air is both healthy and sustainable. An all-electric home—the gold standard in low-carbon living—has healthier air quality, given the fact that these homes do not have any combustion emissions within the space.
If they do not have an all-electric residence, homeowners can take other steps to boost indoor air quality, such as investing in a high-efficiency, air-to-air heat exchanger with high-performance air filters. For example, a HEPA-grade air filter removes at least 99.97 percent of particles exceeding 0.3 microns. There are many smart home technologies systems available that are actually on a par with hospitals in the capacity to monitor and regulate indoor air quality.
Operable architectural skylights are a smaller-scale solution, allowing for natural ventilation and offering benefits such as natural light and better regulation of human circadian rhythms that positively impact sleep cycles.
Those looking to improve air quality in their homes can also embrace the use of non-toxic materials including finish and construction materials, as well as furniture, clothing and personal products such as fragrances and hair care items that are brought inside. There are several air-quality standards, such as WELL certification, that can be referenced when specifying products and details.
Water quality and availability
Staying hydrated by drinking recommended amounts of water is a key part of healthy living. To help ensure safe and healthy drinking water, water filters are now available that are designed to meet the specific requirements of the exact water coming into a home.
Homeowners can also leverage other sources of water for non-drinking (non-potable) purposes, as a way to conserve that precious resource. A rainwater capture system that channels water into a barrel can be used for irrigation in the warmer months. Depending on the municipality, homeowners can also investigate gray-water systems that reuse water from sinks, baths, washing machines and dishwashers for non-potable uses such as irrigation.
Power and lighting
Especially at a time of year with shorter days, light is important in sustaining health. Lighting directly impacts circadian rhythms that are linked to health, mood, sleep and cognition. Circadian lighting systems that are based on the natural progression of light through the day—bright blue in the morning, shifting to soft, red hues at night—have been shown to bolster well-being.
The home’s power source is also linked to health and security. Electricity generated by solar photovoltaic panels and a battery backup system reduces reliance on the electric grid and can keep a home running smoothly in the event of a power outage.
In addition to these architectural and design features, other elements play a role in a healthy surrounding such as one-piece countertops that can be quickly and easily sanitized, touchless faucets that minimize shared surfaces and bulk food storage areas. Over the past year, people that work and/or study at home have also come to realize the value of dedicated, well-designed and ideally, acoustically isolated, office spaces.
Looking ahead, the parallel shifts toward healthier, lower-carbon living will likely continue. If nothing else, this past year has underscored the importance of preparation and mindfulness.
Nathan Kipnis, FAIA, LEED BD+C, is founder and principal of Kipnis Architecture + Planning, in Evanston and Boulder, CO. and co-founder of NextHaus Alliance. For more information, visit KipnisArch.com and NextHausAlliance.com.
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In-Print, Green Living Feature well-being natural light December 2020 Kipnis Architecture + Planning NextHaus Alliance Nathan Kipnis low carbon living healthy home acoustics office space architectural features design elements solar power lighting high efficiency clean space air quality HEPA filter indoor air quality skylights circadian rhythms sleep cycle ventilation green home rainwater capture system