We’re often asked as consultants and renovators what it means to be Green or sustainability focused. We would like to take this next post to discuss what we share with our clients and how we encourage them to take a holistic approach to green home design.
Being Green is not a product fad. Often, our client’s find marketing material regarding low VOC paints, non-toxic finishes, and sustainable/organic labels and believe that simply using these products creates a sustainable home. Sure, this is a good start to a home wellness program, but ultimately there are many more concerns that we should address for health in the process of designing or remodeling a home and creating a green lifestyle.
At Vigeo Construction and Consulting, we follow the WELL Building Standard* to produce a holistic approach to being green. We believe that this should incorporate health, sustainability, and productivity, not simply green labeled products. Here are the 10 principles of the WELL Building Standard we incorporate into our designs and solutions for a sustainable and green home:
Air: People spend approximately 90% of their time in enclosed spaces, breathing more than 15k liters of air a day. Exposure to air pollutants, chemicals, and toxins has been show to increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and household air pollution was rated as the third most important cause of ill health for the World’s population (Well Standard 2.1, pg. 6). Providing proper ventilation in the right locations, leveraging filtration systems, and balancing re-use/outside air is paramount in this effort. Often, our clients believe that energy efficiency is the key to being green. However, not providing enough clean air into your home will not allow toxins to exit the four walls of your home.
Water: Water is the medium for the transport of nutrients and waste throughout the body and it helps regulate body temperature. Chlorine and chloramine are often used to kill pathogenic organisms but can lead to the formation of THMs and HAAs, which are risk factors for cancer and other adverse health effects (pg. 39). The presence of heavy metals can also be consumed through contaminated water and transport systems. Removing contaminants, sediment, micro-organisms, and reusing/properly managing waste water is paramount to good health. Additionally, proper water-management is important in drought susceptible regions like Colorado, creating additional opportunities for conservation using rainwater and sprinkler management systems.
Nourishment: Often overlooked within the design, remodeling, and construction space, nutrition is a top contributor to the global burden of noncommunicable diseases and is also a modifiable risk factor for numerous preventable, chronic diseases (pg 53). Creating access to healthier food, particularly fresh vegetables, fruit, and meat, is instrumental in promoting good health and wellness. For this reason, when we design outdoor spaces with our clients, we encourage them to consider growing their own fruit trees and vegetable gardens, supplementing their family’s diet and drawing a closer connection to their environment in the process.
Movement: Physical inactivity is a primary focus of public health due to a rise in premature mortality and chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, stroke, dementia and some forms of cancer (pg. 99). Movement goes beyond a home gym and a yard for your kids to play around in. Movement takes into account daily habits and productivity principles to create an environment where you’re encouraged to get up and move around.
Thermal Comfort: The indoor thermal environment in developed countries accounts for approximately half of a building’s energy consumption and is closely linked to our health, well-being, and productivity (pg. 133). Reducing energy usage, optimizing for natural circadian rhythm, and using renewable energy creates a tremendous opportunity for cost reduction and a boost in productivity, especially for those families that work from home.
Sound: Sound and noise pollution have been linked to sleep disturbance, hypertension, and the reduction of mental arithmetic in children. Other studies suggest that noisy environments is a chief complaint among homeowners and leads to occupant dissatisfaction (pg. 154). Using sound proof materials in your green home design, insulating properly and with the right materials, and locating HVAC and other utilities in the proper places within homes can reduce noise and promote mental well-being. Creating a relaxing space where you can unwind after a long-day at work is crucial for wellness.
Lighting: Often touted as the single-most important upgrade to a home to increase value, lighting has also been shown to affect circadian rhythm; high light levels from bright screens at night, or from outside light pollution, can disrupt the body’s natural clock and has been linked with obesity, diabetes, depression, and metabolic disorders. Further, light exposure has an impact on mood and can reduce depression in individuals (pg. 80). Proper lighting while leveraging the sun’s natural light as much as possible allows our bodies to follow its natural rhythm. Also, supplementing with accent lighting of the right brightness and color helps supplement for cloudy days and dark nights.
Mind: Mental health and substance use conditions are a widespread global health concern. Collectively, they account for 13% of the global burden of disease and an estimated 32% of years lived with disability. Approximately 18% of adults will experience a common mental health condition, such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse, over a 12-month period, and over 30% of adults will experience a mental health condition during their lifetime (pg. 198). Combating mental health begins with promoting a safe, relaxing, comfortable, and productive home environment. Research suggests that mood disorders can be lifted by spending more time outdoors (source: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature). This can be accomplished by creating indoor/outdoor transition spaces, private sanctuaries/gardens on the property, or even bringing nature into the home to improve mood and productivity.
Community: Humans are very social creatures. We love to share experiences, perspectives, and ideas with each other and having a shared location for this discourse is instrumental in proper health. Developing a design strategy to create both gathering and intimate spaces for these conversations can assist in promoting positive mental health while fostering a community mindset with neighbors, family, and friends.
Material Origin and Sustainability: This concept aims to reduce human exposure to hazardous building ingredients by restricting or eliminating compounds or products in exchange for safer replacements. Due to the nature of chemical exposure, it’s important to avoid hazardous compounds wherever possible and to minimize exposure to necessary chemicals and products to reduce negative health implications.
Here at Vigeo, we also include recycling and reusing materials in this category to reduce the environmental impact of new production for our products. We encourage our clients to reuse furniture and materials whenever possible (giving that old table and chairs a facelift) to reduce renovation expense and the burden on landfills. We also encourage our clients to use sustainable certified materials when possible, verifying sourcing information before installation begins.
LEED, another green standard in the industry, also introduced the concept of Environmental and Health Product Declarations as a means to determine the origin and chemical makeup of products. Often, these are superficial at best, but it’s a good starting point to promote product accountability until firmer controls can be put into place.
Alternative Energy: Alternative energy is all the rage these days, from solar and wind power, to geothermal and heat recovery systems. Ultimately, offsetting energy costs each month and reducing environmental impact of heavy energy usage is important to every family. At Vigeo, we design solutions that best fit our clients.
Waste and Disposal: Before construction or remodeling your home begins, every homeowner and remodeler needs to take the time to understand the waste implications of a project and the how much waste a lifestyle will produce over time. For instance, a remodel of a bathroom may produce a couple thousand pounds of waste, from new plumbing, fixtures, and walls. We encourage our clients to consider recycling every re-useable waste by-product by sorting through the waste and donating reusable components to the less-fortunate. Often, our updates to high-efficiency plumbing (toilets, fixtures, shower-heads, etc.) leave behind completely healthy products that another family can use, without generating the waste and energy required to create a new version in the store.
For ongoing property management, homeowners can leverage recycling programs, composting, and design to reduce their landfill burden as well. We work with our clients to create an expected waste generation plan that can help them reduce the impact to the environment and save money on waste disposal.
Benefits of a Green and Sustainable Mindset — The last major point we’d like to address in this introduction is the benefits you can expect employing these principles and having a green mindset.
Firstly, improved health. We design, remodel, and build with health implications in mind. As an example, a client we worked with a few years ago kept getting sick and doctors couldn’t determine a cause outside of prolong influenza like symptoms. After performing our air quality testing, we located the presence of black mold on the top of the kitchen cabinets. With proper abatement, our client’s health improved overnight. In fact, the International Well Building Institute(IWBI) states that more than 47% of homeowners experienced healthcare cost reduction from 1–5% by leveraging these principles.
Second, reduction in maintenance costs and utilities is the number one benefit our clients almost always see when incorporating these principles into their green home design. Although designing green spaces requires upfront capital, proper ventilation and airflow, increased durability of materials, and renewable energy often reduces long-term home ownership costs.
And, finally, most of our clients appreciate the sustainability portion of a green home design, knowing that our individual impact on the Earth is minimized for future generations. We have clients that prefer to use tree-fall wood floors to prevent deforestation, renewable/alternative energy to reduce carbon emissions, and Environmental/Health Product Declaration certified materials to minimize potential health impacts for themselves and their children for this very reason.
Being Green is a lifestyle choice and one that many view to be outside of their reach. We encourage our clients to take a holistic approach to green home design to increase health, productivity, and have a positive impact on the planet for future generations.
*Citations: All references to health research and studies can be found within the Well Building Standard v2.1 at wellcertified.com. Page numbers in this post reference the page number where citations may be found in the standard. /J