Building Healthier Homes: A Holistic Guide to Sustainable Living Environments
Did you know according to the EPA, studies show Americans spend about 90 percent of their lives indoors? It’s no secret our indoor environments are making us very, very sick. These unhealthy environments have been labeled by the EPA and diagnosed as Sick Building Syndrome referred to as SBS. Let’s not settle for these toxic, poorly ventilated, artificially illuminated, mold boxes. We deserve better. The best new and remodeled homes embrace eco-friendly, non-toxic and environmentally safe building designs and principles that enhance the health and well-being of their occupants. Achieving a greener and healthier home is a collaborative process between homeowners and municipal planners, developers, architects, and builders.
Eco-Safe Building and Planning
A green home begins with thoughtful planning that prioritizes sustainability, safety, and health.
Site Selection: Planning starts with due diligence. Urban and municipal planners and developers need to know the history of the land to identify potential environmental hazards before the shovel goes in the ground. Previous industrial activity, legal and illegal dumping of waste material, and even farming that relied on pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in its operations, need to be addressed. Due diligence extends to surrounding properties as well, the developer might need to evaluate the sources of ground water or locate hazards like electric substations and high-tension electrical lines including nearby radio and cellular towers. Site evaluation includes soil and ground water testing to look for hidden hazards or to determine the extent of remediation of known issues. Naturally occurring toxins such as radon should also be considered before developing a site.
Healthy Construction: Building to code is not a guarantee of sustainability and health. Building codes, enforced by local building departments, primarily focus on public safety. Healthy home building goes beyond meeting codes; it not only ensures safety but also prioritizes health and wellness.
Imagine a world where developers and contractors design and construct dwellings that provide protection from unhealthy air, soil, water, noise and electromagnetic pollution. Simultaneously, they could integrate sustainable materials, advanced technologies, and eco-friendly practices to create homes that harmonize with both the environment and the well-being of their occupants. This is the vision embraced by the most innovative and forward-thinking builders and contractors.
Comfort and Well-Being
The well-being of occupants and the environment is at the heart of sustainable home building.
Ventilation and Climate: Climate control in today’s homes goes beyond simply installing energy efficient heating and cooling equipment. Homes must be airtight to ensure efficient temperature regulation, prevent pests, and withstand varying weather conditions. However, it’s equally important to allow for proper ventilation, ensuring occupants and the structure itself breathe easily. This can be achieved by incorporating passive airflow techniques to draw in filtered air from the outside, rather than relying on recirculating air without proper air exchange.
Neutralizing Ionic Charges. Indoor air is overpowered by positively charged ions emitted from common household items such as computers, air conditioning, fluorescent lighting and various electronic devices. Pollution, molds, and toxic chemicals in the air also carry positive ions. In contrast, outdoor environments such as oceans, mountains, forests, and waterfalls are abundant with the desirable negatively charged ions. Green homes incorporate the outdoor elements by using natural materials like stone, clay, and bamboo to negate the positively charged indoor ions. Good ventilation also assists in clearing out positively charged ions.
Moisture Control: Toxic molds are a common issue in homes, thriving in environments with excess moisture and temperatures ranging from 77 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. Sensitivity to molds varies among individuals, leading to minor reactions like a stuffy nose or itchy eyes, while those with mold allergies and asthma may experience more severe symptoms. Building practices should incorporate techniques to minimize moisture content during the construction process. Additionally, it is essential to conduct inspections and tests for mold before installing insulation and closing walls. Both natural and synthetic materials, when exposed to moisture vapor, can create favorable conditions for the growth of harmful molds. To minimize the risk of mold growth, it is crucial to ensure adequate ventilation and the proper installation of equipment that may contribute to condensation, as these measures play a vital role in minimizing the likelihood of mold growth.
Noise Control: Acoustic protection from noise and vibration adds to the overall quality for optimal living spaces. Our nervous systems need peace and quiet for times of resting. Noise can come from various sources, such as traffic, neighbors, or appliances. Vibration might be caused by machinery or external forces. Consider using building practices, design and building materials that help block and absorb, mitigate or reduce noise. This includes additional soundproofing materials, insulated walls, Low-E dual-glazed windows filled with gas and other solutions designed to minimize the impact of external or internal noise such as location if possible.
Environment consciousness is the common thread from concept to completion of a green build. This includes conservation, socially responsible materials and energy-efficient practices.
Safe, Sustainable Materials: Choosing materials that prioritize both environmental sustainability and human well-being, from the extraction phase to end-of-life disposal, is crucial. Do the research. Identify the best renewable materials, where they come from and how they are manufactured. For example, sourcing materials like clay, lime-based mortars and plasters, and natural stone locally contributes to reducing a home’s carbon footprint by minimizing the need for extensive transportation. Avoid materials that introduce harmful toxins into the home over time. Many forms of engineered wood, plastic, metal, glues and adhesives products produced with harmful polymers and formaldehyde may off-gas toxic chemicals. Additionally, concrete fly ash, which contains naturally occurring uranium and thorium, has the potential to release radiation.
Energy Efficiency: Minimizing energy consumption throughout a building’s life cycle is possible through energy-efficient design, the incorporation of energy smart technology and appliances, and the utilization of renewable energy sources like solar power. Responsible building also involves consideration of environmental life cycle costs when selecting construction materials and appliances. Some examples of sustainably sourced and renewable building materials include Cradle to Cradle Certified Products, recycled steel and sustainably harvested timber. This holistic approach considers the long-term impact of a material or appliance throughout its entire life cycle, from raw material extraction and manufacturing to transportation, installation, use, and eventual disposal or recycling.
Choosing materials and appliances with lower environmental life cycle costs means prioritizing options that are not only environmentally friendly in their production and use but also have minimal negative effects when reaching the end of their life. This holistic approach ensures that the overall environmental impact of the building process is minimized, contributing to sustainable and responsible construction practices.
Water Conservation and Safety. Protecting shrinking water resources and minimizing contaminants in a home’s drinking water are essential to planetary and human health. Green homes include water-saving technologies such as low-flow toilets and shower heads. They also include water purification systems to reduce the occupant’s exposure to lead, heavy metals, chlorine, and other chemicals and pollutants.
EMF and Electrical Systems
In today’s digital age, we are consistently exposed to elevated levels of what is known as EMFs, or electromagnetic fields. EMFs are invisible areas of energy that are associated with the use of electrical power and various natural and manmade forms of light. EMF exposures take various forms, originating from electrical fields generated by moving electrons through wiring, AC magnetic fields pulsing and emitting potentially threatening frequencies, radio frequencies from devices like cellular and wireless devices producing non-ionizing radiation, and micro-electrical surge pollution (MEP), also known as dirty electricity. This pollution arises from incoming power into the building, including transformers, motors, power supplies, and solar equipment.
Accounting for these factors is crucial when building, or identifying areas to address for mitigation, in any environment. Scientific studies over the last two decades have raised questions about the potential health effects of EMFs, as highlighted by the Building Biology Institute and the BioInitiative report. Additionally lighting is part of the electromagnetic spectrum which is another form of EMFs. Considerations should be taken when selecting types of light spectrum, color frequencies, intensities, and understanding how lighting affects our circadian rhythm. Another factor to consider is where to place lighting to minimize EMF exposures.
Natural Light: Prioritizing natural light and using colors in harmony with nature not only promotes sustainability, but also creates aesthetically pleasing spaces. Low emissivity (Low-E) windows allow natural light to enter the home while deflecting harmful ultraviolet rays and infrared light back into the environment. Low-E also saves money on energy bills and blocks radio frequencies.
Indoor Lighting: Eco Green healthy homes include advancements in lighting that go beyond the LED light bulb. Newer circadian lighting mimics the sun indoors by automatically changing in color, intensity and frequency throughout the day and night to support our natural body clock.
Electric Design and Installation: The design and installation of the electrical system can have a significant effect on EMFs in the home. The electrical panel and high-EMF emitting appliances like the refrigerator are not placed against bedroom walls. Wires are run in single, continuous circuits without junctions and extensions to reduce the system’s EMF profile. Bedrooms may incorporate electric kill switches to provide a risk-free sleep environment and force occupants to charge their cell phone in another room.
Wireless Considerations: As the world goes wireless with advances like 5G, green homes take a different approach to reduce EMF exposure. The home’s internet connections, including those for computers, printers, televisions, and game systems, are hard-wired, which also increases connectivity and speed. Additionally, reconnecting the landline phone not only improves call clarity but also contributes to reducing overall exposure.
Brian Johnson is CEO of SENERGY360, where he is a certified building biologist and general contractor working to bring optimized living solutions and approaches to modern living, creating safe, sustainable home environments.
What is SENERGY360 and the mission?
SENERGY360: Pioneering the Green, Non-Toxic Future of Building
SENERGY360 is a licensed construction firm on a mission to build a healthier, non-toxic future today. SENERGY360 is committed to raising awareness among clients about the profound impact that living environments have on both the planet and their health and well-being. Brian Johnson, SENERGY360’s CEO, has three building biologist certifications from the Building Biology Institute.
The approach is holistic, encompassing a wide range of factors that influence physical and mental well-being. SENERGY360 uses non-toxic building materials and prioritizes design and construction strategies to maximize air and water quality, and energy efficient temperature, humidity and lighting control, and a lower EMF profile.
Creating safe and healthy home environments demands a multifaceted approach. SENERGY360 considers energy efficiency, sustainability, and the health and well-being of occupants, as its fundamental pillars. They incorporate biophilic design principles into projects, aiming to seamlessly connect people with nature by incorporating natural elements into the build.
SENERGY360’s mission is clear: plan, build and renovate homes and neighborhoods with a vision to enhance the lives of their inhabitants. The aim is to ensure that these dwellings not only promote well-being, but also leave a minimal footprint on the environment.
SENERGY360 empowers clients with the knowledge and solutions they need to enjoy healthier, safer and more environmentally friendly living spaces today and for generations to come.
Connect at SENERGY360.com