December 7, 2020
As we begin to lockdown for a second time here in Colorado, I think about all the ways in which we could improve our environment in our homes for better health. Staying indoors for days on end is rare for my family, as it is for Coloradans, Americans and everyone else around the world.
Improving the conditions in which we live indoors is not new. Toxins have revealed themselves throughout history, from Victorian-era wallpaper colored with arsenic dyes to the mid-20th century use of asbestos. What exactly will the 21st century hold?
As architects, our homeowner’s well being is part of the design, how the home fits and functions with your lifestyle. Now the COVID-19 pandemic brings to light the importance of our health in our homes – an area that we actually have some control.
How can we improve the safety of our homes? Here are just a few categories to take into consideration:
Fact: Indoor air pollution is one of the top environmental and health concerns in the country as we spend 90% of our time indoors. And that time indoors has only increased this year.
Building codes require our homes to be airtight and to seal out any exterior contaminants or moisture. But what about the contaminants within our homes? Building materials, fabrics, furnishings and cleaning supplies all emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds.) Additionally, candles, furnaces, stoves and fireplaces all release chemicals into the indoor environment.
The World Health Organization estimated that, globally, air pollution contributed to approximately seven million premature deaths in 2012. Around 600,000 of those were children under 5 years old. So what is the most effective way to address indoor air pollution? Ventilate with clean outdoor air by opening windows and doors. With the start of colder temperatures in Colorado, that is not always a viable option. Good mechanical and ventilation/filtration systems are a great way to ensure constant cleaning of the air. To find the best option for your household, this is a great place to start: The EPA’s Guide to Air Cleaners in the Home.
All tap water is required to meet legal limits, but did you know that the legal limits for contaminants in your tap water have not been updated in almost 20 years? Many water utilities contain several contaminants that exceed the levels outlined within the Environmental Working Group’s Health Guidelines. In Denver, for example, water is treated with aluminum sulfate and fluoride. Recent groundwater tests in the Denver metro area found that in addition to the fluoride used in the water treatment process, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAs) were detected at higher levels than previously known/thought. So how can we improve the drinking water in our homes? Consider installing a water filter at your main sink or for the entire house. Check out what’s in the water you’re drinking in the EWG’s Tap water Database.
We are lucky enough in Colorado to enjoy sunshine year-round, 300 days on average if you’re wondering. But how do you gain those benefits from the indoors? (Some ideas here.) As architects, we conduct solar studies to optimize site placement and program the rooms accordingly. You can do this as well. For example, your ‘work from home’ space could be setup in an area that receives ample, indirect sunlight during the times of day that you might feel most tired (afternoon slump ring any bells?) It could even improve the lighting for that next video call. This also works with your sleep environment, but with keeping light out to ensure you get a deep night’s sleep.
There is no avoiding noise in the home, it can range from screens, music, people chatting or outdoor noise. Interior noises such as your home’s HVAC system and outdoor noises like construction, helicopters, leaf blowers and traffic all work to wear you down. Noise has been shown to hinder productivity, focus and your memory retention. To reduce the amount of noise pollution in your home, we create sound barriers.
Sound mitigation can range from installing materials with sound absorbing qualities and even layering those materials to ensure that those late-night video games in the rec room don’t find a way into your bedroom. Using cork in a floor or simply a large heavy rug can help soften sound. Dual-glazed windows paired together with fiberglass insulation are also helpful. For more ways to reduce noise pollution in your home read this: https://www.ppsthane.com/blog/how-to-reduce-noise-pollution
The opportunities to improve the health of your home are ever extensive and evolving. A great place to start is to prioritize what is most important to you.
For additional resources, visit https://resources.wellcertified.com/articles/
A band trip to Europe & a drafting class in high school is what started it all for Sydney’s architectural career. Sydney shined at the Univ. of Colorado & won the 2014 Newman Award. Sydney’s architectural experience is in high end custom residential, including historic renovation.