Health and wellness have become top of mind with many homeowners over the past two years, as the pandemic and lockdowns crystallized the need for taking care of our own mental and physical health. This emerging trend has given rise to the health and wellbeing design movement, transforming the way modern custom homes and remodelling projects are conceived and constructed.
From the inclusion of nature-inspired elements to optimizing indoor air quality or integrating smart technologies, the health and wellness home design trend is redefining the concept of home as a sanctuary of holistic well-being.
Indoor air quality
Improving the indoor air quality in your home can offer easier breathing, improved sleep, and reduced risk of airborne diseases and allergies. Empirical evidence furnished by many health studies has shown that bringing more fresh air into a building and filtering it more effectively delivers better health outcomes.
Incorporating a high-quality Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation (MVHR) system in your home design should be considered essential. HRV or ERV systems remove stale, humid air, replacing it with fresh, filtered air. These ingenious mechanical devices can separate the different “types” of air in your home, and during the winter months, they will capture the warm air from the exiting stream, transferring it back into the fresh air stream, thereby recovering the warm air that would have otherwise been lost.
Using low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) or VOC-free materials during construction and in the interior furnishings will minimize the release of harmful chemicals into your indoor air. Investing in indoor plants can also contribute to cleaner air by naturally filtering out pollutants.
Regularly maintaining and cleaning your HVAC systems, air filters, and ductwork is also important to prevent the accumulation of dust, allergens, and other contaminants.
Consistent temperatures and draft-free spaces
Evidence that cold indoor temperatures have adverse consequences for health is growing. Today’s high-performance homes are designed with a focus on energy efficiency and comfort, utilizing a combination of strategies to create a draft-free environment without any cold spots.
A key element in performance home designs, such as Net Zero and Passive House, is a sealed building envelope. By minimizing air leakage through gaps, cracks, and joints, a sealed building envelope prevents the infiltration of outside air, eliminating drafts and maintaining consistent indoor temperatures.
Whether you’re building a new home or remodelling, superior insulation is another vital component, providing a thermal barrier that minimizes heat transfer and prevents cold areas. High-efficiency windows and doors with low U-values and multiple panes help further minimize heat loss, eliminating cold spots near windows to maintain a comfortable indoor environment.
Avoiding fossil fuels
Traditional heating systems that rely on heating oil or natural gas combustion emit pollutants, including carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Similarly, cooking with natural gas can produce nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in your kitchen and adjoining spaces. Not all of these pollutants are removed by exhaust fans, and they can contribute to respiratory problems, aggravate allergies, and pose health risks, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.
Green materials and sustainability
Choosing green building materials is of paramount importance for both sustainability and promoting a healthier indoor environment. Green building materials are sourced and manufactured using sustainable practices that minimize environmental impact. Usually, they are made from renewable or recycled materials, reducing the depletion of natural resources and diverting waste from landfills. By going with green materials, we can contribute to the conservation of ecosystems, reduce carbon emissions, and support a more circular economy.
In addition to environmental benefits, green building materials can also promote a healthier indoor environment. Conventional building materials, such as paints, carpets, and adhesives, can emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic substances into the air, leading to indoor air pollution and potentially causing respiratory issues, allergies, and other health problems. Green materials, on the other hand, are generally low in VOCs and have minimal off-gassing, ensuring better indoor air quality and creating a safer living environment for you and your loved ones.
Green building materials often prioritize thermal comfort, acoustic performance, and moisture control. They are designed to enhance insulation, reduce energy consumption, and minimize the risk of mould growth or moisture-related issues. These properties contribute to improved comfort, health, and a feeling of overall well-being.
Biophilia: connecting with nature
Biophilia is a term coined by German social psychologist Erich Fromm in 1964. In the 1980s E.O. Wilson conducted more research on Fromm’s concepts, and the biophilia hypothesis took shape, stressing the innate need for human connection with nature.
Around the same time, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries coined the term Shinrin-yoku. Their studies showed that forest environments promoted lowered concentrations of cortisol, pulse rate and blood pressure, increased parasympathetic nerve activity, and lowered sympathetic nerve activity when compared with the participants’ results in city environments. The Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi is another adopted biophilic design principle in which the acceptance of the imperfect is embraced, both in ourselves and in the objects that surround us.
Long-term studies have shown that exposure to natural elements such as sunlight, greenery, and natural materials can indeed lower blood pressure, heart rate, and cortisol levels. “The integration of biophilic elements, whether they’re environmental features, shapes and forms, light or space, tends to reduce stress and create a calming force over a person,” according to Sean Quinn, sustainable design leader of HOK, San Francisco.
Research suggests that exposure to nature can improve our focus, attention span, and creativity, so including natural elements in our built environment can stimulate our brains. Flooding our spaces with natural light, while including organic patterns and textures, and nature-inspired artwork can create a conducive environment for work, study, relaxation or creative pursuits.
Installing large windows or skylights that provide views of outdoor green spaces, while integrating indoor plants, and using natural colour palettes and materials like wood and stone can create a calming environment that supports stress reduction and relaxation. Exposure to natural light is also essential for regulating our bodies’ circadian rhythm, which influences sleep patterns, hormone production, and overall well-being. By optimizing daylighting strategies in your home design, you can enhance your sleep quality, energy levels, and overall health.
The power of ultraviolet light
New UVC lighting fixtures combine the energy savings and brilliance of LED with the germ-killing power of UVC, for eco-friendly lighting that also helps protect your family’s health. Built-in fans pull air into the lighting unit, across the enclosed UV-C/Far-UVC light bulb. Some of the UVC light enclosures also include a HEPA filter.
The bulbs are designed with a wavelength of between 200nm and 280nm, so they emit photons in the UV-C range. UVC bulbs are rated as germicidal and can be used effectively as a disinfectant to kill microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses. “Far-UVC rapidly reduces the number of active microbes in the indoor air to almost zero, making indoor air essentially as safe as outdoor air,” says David Brenner, PhD, director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University Vagelos College.
UVC light has been used for decades in dental clinics to cure adhesives, in hand sanitizers and in water purifiers to rapidly kill microbes, including bacteria and viruses. UVC lighting can be combined with conventional LED lighting, or managed by smart technology to sanitize the room whenever people leave the space. HEPA filters are highly effective in capturing and removing 99.97% of airborne particles such as dust, pollen, pet dander, and even microorganisms like bacteria and viruses from the air in your room.
The same sealed building envelope, superior insulation, and high-efficiency windows that deliver unsurpassed comfort and energy efficiency also contribute to minimizing external noise infiltration, creating a quiet, peaceful indoor atmosphere.
By creating a serene and noise-free interior, your high-performance home will give you an opportunity to relax, focus, and rejuvenate, supporting your mental well-being, productivity, and overall quality of life.
Smart home technology
Having more technological gadgets may sound more detrimental than beneficial to your health and well-being. However, by seamlessly integrating various devices and systems, smart homes offer convenience, automation, and control at our fingertips.
With smart home technology, you can effortlessly manage and automate tasks that were once time-consuming and burdensome. From remotely controlling lights, thermostats, and security systems to scheduling and automating household chores, smart home technology simplifies daily routines, allowing you to focus on more important aspects of your life.
The ability to monitor and control your home from anywhere using a smartphone or voice assistant enhances your flexibility and peace of mind. For instance, being able to adjust the temperature or check security cameras remotely provides a sense of control and security even when you’re away.
An active lifestyle is an essential component of overall health, and home design is adapting to support physical fitness. Custom homes are frequently designed with dedicated exercise spaces, such as home gyms or workout studios, equipped with state-of-the-art fitness equipment, showers and saunas. Remodelling projects often involve converting underutilized spaces into fitness areas to encourage regular physical activity.
Adequate ventilation and lighting are crucial for a comfortable and energizing atmosphere. Natural light and proper airflow can enhance your workout experience. The flooring should be durable, shock-absorbent, and easy to clean, considering the activities involved. Mirrors can be strategically placed to monitor form and technique during exercises. Incorporating sound systems or entertainment options like TVs or speakers can provide motivation or entertainment while you work out.
Organizing your workout space with storage solutions for equipment and accessories will help keep the area tidy and accessible.
Mindful space planning: promoting calm and tranquillity
To feel refreshed and well, your home’s design should prioritize creating calm zones, spaces that promote relaxation, mindfulness, and emotional well-being. Mindful space planning aims to optimize the flow and functionality of the different areas within your home while considering each occupant’s needs and mental health.
Open floor plans with designated zones for different activities, such as meditation rooms, yoga studios, or reading nooks, have become very popular. If you’re designing a new custom home you’ll want to imagine these spaces as the initial layouts are conceived. Remodelling projects often involve reimagining spaces to accommodate wellness-oriented features that provide a sense of serenity and calmness.
Sustainable design: nurturing the environment
The health and wellness design trend powerfully aligns with the growing focus on sustainability and environmental consciousness. As a homeowner, you may want to prioritize eco-friendly materials and energy-efficient systems that reduce your carbon footprint.
Custom net zero homes often feature solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, and energy-efficient appliances to minimize the family’s environmental impact. Remodelling projects will are typically including upgrading the insulation and windows, installing smart thermostats, and integrating sustainable building practices to create energy-efficient and eco-conscious spaces.
The health and wellness home design trend has transformed the way we approach the design of custom homes and remodelling projects. It encompasses various aspects, from layouts, biophilic design and mindful space planning, to optimizing indoor air quality and integrating smart technologies.
By prioritizing physical and mental well-being, you can create a retreat that nurtures your health and enhances your overall quality of life. As this trend continues to evolve, it will undoubtedly shape the future of residential design, promoting homes that go beyond aesthetics to prioritize the well-being of each occupant.
Health benefits of evidence-based biophilic-designed environments
Interaction with indoor plants may reduce psychological and physiological stress by suppressing autonomic nervous system activity in young adults
The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature
Creating a Seamless Indoor/Outdoor Living Space: Blending the Boundaries