Home building, renovations and wellness. What could they possibly have in common? It turns out, A LOT. Your house has a HUGE impact on your health and well-being. Everything from the materials you choose to build your house with, to the way you lay out your rooms, to the placement of your windows, and even the lighting you install plays a factor in your family's health, happiness and longevity. Crazy right?
Well, scientists and doctors have determined that it's not crazy. We now have proof that buildings, especially our homes since we spend so much time in them, play a major role in how we feel on a daily basis, how we sleep at night, how we eat, how we exercise, what illnesses we get, and how long we live.
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The Well Building Standard has provided the science-backed data showing us that we need to up our game on building design. Architects, designers, contractors and especially homeowners need to be aware that buildings can either hinder or enhance our healthy lives.
Now, since you are planning to build a new home, renovate or transform your current home, you have this amazing opportunity to create a home for your family that will make you THRIVE on a daily basis.
As an architect that specializes in wellness design, I am going to show you how to do just that. Here are my favorite tips for incorporating wellness design strategies into your new home or renovation project.
But before you dive into these strategies, I want you to read the guide I created on WHY health and wellness designed homes are so important, how your current home is probably hindering your family's health, and some really easy things you can do to your house right now to start protecting your family's health and wellness.
OK, let's dive in.
7 ways to design your house for wellness
1) Kitchen Layout
We're starting with the kitchen because it's one of the most frequently visited rooms in the house, and often one of the worst designed. A kitchen should encourage healthy eating and make it easy to prepare healthy meals. As a super busy parent, my favorite way to prepare healthy meals is to make them ahead of time. i.e. batch prepping meals!
I know this may not sound very fun. And I feel you. Before renovating my kitchen, I had a cramped, poorly laid out space, and the idea of cooking any meal was stressful, never mind cooking multiple meals at once. But once I renovated, and adjusted the layout of the kitchen, making a whole bunch of food at one time ins't a hassle. (I actually kind of enjoy it!) See my kitchen renovation pics below!
The trick to designing a kitchen that encourages healthy eating and meal prep is making sure you have multiple work zones. This means that there are multiple long expanses of counter space. And I don't mean that you need 20 feet of counter space. If you have a small kitchen, like I do, I would shoot for at least two areas of three feet to four feet length of counter space.
You also want to be strategic in where you place the counter space. It is best to have a large area of counter between the sink and the cooktop. This allows you to easily wash, chop, and cook veggies without having to move too much. Now, place your second work zone area at least 10 steps away from this area. You want the second work area to be available for a second person that is helping you cook or for organizing all of your prepared food. The further you space these two work zones, the less likely you will be in someone else's (or your own) way.
If you want a deeper look at Wellness Kitchen Design, find out more here.
2) Entryway Seating
Your entryway is your first line of defense against keeping toxins out of your home. This is really important because as soon as toxins (brought in by the dirt on your shoes) gets past the entryway, it is going to end up all over your house.
Do your kids like to play on the floor? Probably, right? The dirt from your shoes is carrying bacteria from animal waste, and chemicals and heavy metals from roads and pesticides. You do not want that dirt to be where your kids are playing!
So how do you stop the dirt? Encourage people to take off their shoes the moment they walk into your house. Provide room in your entryway for a built-in or free-standing bench or some chairs. A seating area makes an inviting place for someone to sit down and take their shoes off.
Also keep in mind that if you have little ones, you may want to provide a shorter seat for them so they don't have to sit on the floor to take their shoes off and on. (This will also help prevent them from becoming a trip hazard.)
Another benefit to having a bench in the entryway is that you can pair it with storage. You will always need plenty of storage in your entryway. Provide a bench with storage below so you can get two uses out of one piece of furniture.
3) Living Room Windows
If you aren't hanging out in your kitchen, then you're probably hanging out in your living room. Since we tend to spend a lot of time in the living room, we want to make sure we have good air quality. The easiest way to bring fresh air into your home is to open up the windows!
Unless you live in a highly polluted area, the air in your home is probably going to be more polluted than the air outside your home. The EPA estimates that indoor air is about 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Nice, huh?
I see more and more fixed picture windows going into modern home designs. Fixed means that windows cannot open. While it's fine to have some fixed windows, especially if you are trying to capture a beautiful view, you definitely need to have operable windows in your living room as well. Operable windows bring in fresh air, replacing the stale, toxic air. This reduces your family's exposure to toxins but also improves your cognitive function by adding oxygen to your air.
4) Bedroom Flooring
Bedrooms are where your body recovers from the day while you sleep. Your brain is processing all your experiences from the day while your body is rebuilding health and strength. That is why the bedroom is the most important room in the house to ensure that you have healthy indoor air quality.
And that is why I encourage homeowners to install hardwood or linoleum floors in their bedrooms. These are the healthiest flooring options for good air quality. Both flooring choices are easy to clean and made of natural materials. Linoleum is naturally anti-microbial and anti-static, making it even easier to clean than hardwood.
If you are going to install a hardwood floor, make sure it is solid hardwood rather than engineered wood. Most engineered wood floors are glued together with formaldehyde, a known carcinogen and major contributor to poor air quality.
Linoleum is a natural product made from linseed oil and other natural materials. Linoleum can be fun for kids rooms because it comes in a lot of colors and patterns.
You want to avoid carpet because the material is full of chemicals that will release toxins for years after the carpet is installed. You might have noticed the smell new carpet has. Well that is the smell of harmful chemicals releasing into the air and entering your body. But the harm does not go away once the smell vanishes. Even though you can't smell carpet after a few weeks, the chemicals are still being released.
Carpet is also harmful for air quality because it is a perfect trap for toxin-carrying dust. Dust is basically just a vehicle for toxins to attach to and travel all over your home. The dust gets embedded in the carpet and vacuuming does not sufficiently remove it. But every time you walk through your bedroom, your feet stir up the toxic dust and spew it into the air.
5) Bathroom Safety
Bathrooms are known for their injury potential. Wet feet, hard surfaces and tripping hazards don't mix well. If you plan to install a shower opposed to a bathtub, choose a zero threshold shower. This means that there is no lip to step over when you get into or out of the shower. This may seem minor, but tripping over the shower threshold is a very common accident.
Bathroom design is often neglected and left to the end of a project, and I don't want that to happen to your bathroom! So I can't leave you with only one bathroom tip.
A big part of a healthy home is creating a calm atmosphere. Think about your bathroom layout early in the process and make sure you can fit all the pieces you want in there. A great way to bring calm into your home is to create a spa-like bathroom. Consider adding elements like a soaking tub (bonus points if soaking in it gives you a view to the outdoors), a small sauna, or even a shelf where you can add plenty of calming and mood boosting plants.
6) Home Office Desks
You might have heard that sitting for 8 plus hours a day is terrible for your body. The health impacts have been equated to chain smoking and obesity. So with that said, if you work from home on a part-time or full-time basis, make sure you incorporate a standing desk in your office. Since I am here to give you design pointers and not just tell you about furniture, here are a few ideas for laying out your home office to include a standing desk.
When you include a standing desk in your office, plan to have another table that can hold the typical desk necessities like a pencil holder, paper organizer etc. This is because most standing desks move up and down, and with all that movement, you want to keep your standing desk free of loose objects. This means that when you are sizing your home office, figure at least 7 feet of desk length, with each desk being about 2 or 2.5 feet deep.
If you like the idea of permanence, opt for a built-in counter (either standing or sitting height) that runs the full length of one wall. If you go for a counter at sitting height you can add a desktop standing desk to the counter. I love built-in counters for desks because they give a clean, streamlined feel to the office.
7) Where's the Fitness Room?!
All homes should incorporate a space for movement. You could include a playful design and have ladders and climbing walls throughout the home. Or you could be more formal and include a fitness room. Or, better yet, you could include both! Whatever route you choose for encouraging movement at home, make sure it is prominent.
The biggest mistake I see people make when including a fitness area in their home is putting it somewhere that never gets seen. This is a problem because anything that is out of sight is often out of mind. So don't hide your fitness room in the basement or the bedroom. You might never go down to the basement, and you are only in your bedroom when waking up in the morning or preparing for bed, not when you have fitness on your mind.
This means that you want your fitness area (or your spaces that encourage movement) on a common path of travel. If you have a two story house, place it on the first level, unless you know you have other reasons to frequently go upstairs besides bedtime. If you work from home, put the fitness area between the kitchen and the office so that you walk by it multiple times a day.
Incorporating movement into your day is so important for your health and wellness. The more you move around, the more energized you will feel. You'll also ward off illnesses.
This list is just a glimpse of what goes into designing a home for wellness, but it is the perfect place to begin. Incorporating these design strategies into your new home or renovation will start building the framework for home health and vitality.
You are doing what you can to live a healthy lifestyle and keep your family healthy, happy and safe. Let your home be a vessel that propels your family's health and well-being to the next level.
Ready for more? Enroll in the Designed For Wellness online course. Through the course, I will guide you room-by-room to show you exactly how to create your home for health and wellness. FIND OUT MORE HERE!