‘The Camp’ Part 2 – Healthy Home Design and Aging in Place

By: Kate HambletJune 5, 2023

This is part 2 of my recap on The Camp High Performance healthy home.  In Part 1, I discussed the sustainability aspects of the design.  And today I’m going to dig into the health and wellness aspects of the design.

For a little background, The Camp is a small home for a family of 4 on a quiet lake in New Hampshire.  The clients wanted to maximize views of the lake while creating a comfortable, cozy, healthy home that protects the planet.

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Let’s look at the health, wellness, and aging-in-place design strategies for the home.

(Note: These are in-progress pictures as the house wraps up and the owners move in.  Final pictures coming soon.)

Healthy Home Features:

Materials:

The right material selection is a crucial part of creating a healthy home.  Sadly most commonly used building materials are full of toxins and either bad for us, bad for the planet, or both.

When picking healthy materials, it’s important to focus on the materials that have the highest surface area in the house, since they will usually contribute to the most off-gassing of toxins.

This means flooring, paint, countertops, and cabinetry are the big items to focus on.

Overwhelmed by material choices?!  Grab my 68 page non-toxic building materials guide for a list of my favorite vetted healthy and eco-friendly building and finish materials for your renovation or new home build.

Healthy Home Tip:

The best way to simplify your material decisions for your project is to reduce the amount of materials you need!  This sounds obvious, but it’s really easy to get carried away with different material choices and to think you need a lot of different looks or styles. Keep it simple and you’ll save money and a lot of headache trying to make decisions.

For example, at The Camp, we kept the flooring choices really simple.  The first floor is all concrete and the second floor is all carpet except for the bathroom, which is tile.

If you’re doing a slab-on-grade foundation (meaning you don’t have a basement and the first floor of your house is concrete) it’s easy to let that concrete slab become your finished floor.  By doing so, you’re eliminating the need for another layer of flooring on top.  It saves money, is better for the planet, and concrete is a healthy, inert material that doesn’t off-gas.  Plus it’s an amazingly durable flooring choice if you have pets or are tough on floors.

Finished concrete floors

The second floor of the house uses wool carpet.  Normally I don’t recommend carpet in healthy homes because they are most commonly synthetic and full of toxins (both the carpet and the pad below are toxin culprits), but it was important to the clients to have a soft floor in the bedrooms for comfort and for sound quality (since they help absorb sound and make a room feel less echo-y).

We chose a natural wool carpet for the house to avoid the toxin issues.  Carpets need to be vacuumed a lot because it’s very easy for dust and allergens to get trapped in them.  If you have concerns with dust and allergies, I’d avoid carpet and use a softer resilient material like natural linoleum.  Check out marmoleum by Forbo.

Wool carpet in bedrooms

For the upstairs bathroom, we used a porcelain tile for the flooring, which is another great durable, inert healthy flooring option.

Sun Light:

Natural daylight is a key component to happiness and general well-being.  In a healthy home, we want to maximize natural daylight without overdoing it or creating uncomfortable glare.

At The Camp, we located all living spaces and bedrooms on the south side of the house to get the most amount of daylight throughout the day.  We then added overhangs to the outside of the south windows to keep the harsh summer sun out of the house to avoid discomfort with glare and overheating in the summertime.  

(If you haven’t yet, check out Part 1 of this review to learn more about daylighting, windows and overhangs for passive solar design.)

Not only is access to natural daylight a great way to avoid turning lights on (thus reducing your energy bill) it also exposes you to the right light levels throughout the day, helping to align your circadian rhythms. 

Kitchen Layout:

Kitchen design is super important when creating a home that enhances health and well-being.  I’ve written a lot about wellness kitchen design.  This article’s a great place to start if you’re curious about wellness kitchens.

'The Camp' kitchen utilizes many wellness kitchen strategies and has a layout the improves efficiency in the kitchen.  Here's a link to a video I did all about designing your kitchen layout.

I typically don't recommend having the sink in the island.  (But for this project, it was important for the owners to have a view out to the lake while being at the sink.) It’s not the most efficient place for a sink, and it makes a lot of mess when you’re moving back and forth between a sink and a stove.

I like having the sink and the cooktop on the same counter, about 3.5’ to 4’ apart.  It provides a good amount of prep space and you can easily move between the sink, the prep area, and the stove without dripping water and dropping food onto the floor.

Kitchen (The real fridge is finally in, but wasn't here for this photo.) 

Induction Cooktop:

An induction cooktop is an electric cooktop that uses magnet to transfer heat from the appliance to the cooking pan.  It’s very energy efficient and can boil water really fast.  

It also avoids the use of gas.  Gas stoves are known to be very bad for human health.  It’s recently been equated with living with a smoker.  It increases risk of asthma in kids and exposes everyone to toxins that.

 Here’s an article on the dangers of cooking with gas.

If you'd prefer to avoid induction cooktops due to EMF exposure concerns, then traditional electric is the way to go.  Gas stoves should always be avoided.

Connection To Nature:

Biophilic design is another important strategy when creating a home that enhances well-being.  This basically means that we’re bringing nature into and visibly accessible around the home for improved well-being.  

Learn more about biophilic design benefits here.

An easy way to connect to nature is to provide views out of every frequently occupied room in the house.  If you’re planning a home gym, include this room as well!  Looking out to nature is an easy way to get biophilic benefits. It’s much easier to have nature on the outside and look out at it, than it is trying to bring nature into the home and have to take care of it, water it, keep bugs from it etc.

For The Camp, it was really important to have views out of all rooms (even the bathrooms).

One of my favorite strategies is placing windows in a stairwell.  I love being able to look out to the sky or trees as I climb the stairs.  It almost feels as if I am outside climbing through nature.


Separate Garage From House:

This one is a really important air quality design strategy.

I urge everyone to separate their house from their garage.  This means that there is no door that goes directly from the garage into the house.  (I urge and I urge, but this is a hard sell, I know).

For this project, the home owners walk out the garage door and onto a covered porch.  From there, they enter the main entry of the house.

Why do this?  Garages are notorious for dangerous air quality levels.  Everything from oil spills to toxic chemical storage, to vehicles running inside the garage, contribute to the unhealthy air.  And it’s really hard to fully seal a door that’s connecting the house to the garage.  Plus the door is being opened on a regular basis so garage air is traveling right into the house.

A detached, free-standing garage is the best option because then you don’t have to worry about how well the contractor sealed the shared wall between the house and the garage to mitigate air leakage.  

But if you can’t do a free-standing one, the next best option is to have the garage door exit to the exterior of the house before entering into the main house.  It sounds a bit silly, I know, but it’s incredibly valuable for the air quality inside your home.

Separate garage from house by going outside before going into the house.

No Basement:

This design strategy is another hard sell.  A basement is great ‘extra space’ in your house.  It’s good for utilities, storage, and maybe a game room or workout area someday.  

But if the foundation assembly isn't designed and built to keep water and moisture out, then you could be compromising the air quality of your whole house.  (I just did a podcast episode about basements and durable home design.  You can check it out here.)

Air moves quite freely through a house.  Basement air never stays in the basement.  It works its way up through every level of the house.  So if you have mold issues due to moisture or water in the basement, those spores will be traveling through the whole house.

Same goes for any chemicals being stored in the basement.  If those chemical fumes are escaping their containers (which they often are if they’ve already been opened) the fumes are traveling all over the house.  If you don't have a basement, you don’t have the opportunity to store dangerous chemicals down there 🙂

Not having a basement means that some of the first floor area will need to be used for utilities and storage.  This ends up increasing the overall size of the house.  So there are definitely compromises, but for this project it made sense to avoid the basement and make the floor plan a little bit bigger.

Aging in Place:

It was very important to the homeowners to be able to age in place in their home.  Here are a few considerations we made to make sure that could happen.

First Floor Bedroom:

The house is designed with 2 bedrooms and a loft upstairs to be used for the owners and their children.  And rather than designing the house to have a first floor primary bedroom, we designed a library room (that’s really going to be used as an office on a daily basis), that can someday be converted to a bedroom.

The owners didn’t want their current bedroom to be on the first floor because it was going to make the house too big, and the views of the lake are better on the second floor!

So we were able to create a room that has a purpose now (the office), that can convert to a bedroom later if need be.  

The library is located right next to the first floor bathroom, which is designed as a full bath in case it ever becomes the primary bathroom for the owners.

Zero- Threshold Shower:

The first floor bathroom is designed with a zero threshold shower, so there is no lip to get into the shower.  This is ideal for reducing trip hazards and for the ability to roll in with a wheelchair.

First floor zero-threshold shower.

Wide Doors:

All exterior doors are 3’ wide (which is typical for exterior doors) and all first floor interior doors are 2’-10” wide.  This is larger than typical interior doors, which are usually around 2’-6” wide.  

By installing wide doors now, they won’t have to make any conversions in the future if anyone is in a wheelchair.  Plus, wider doors make moving furniture so much easier.

No Step At entry From Garage:

It’s so much easier to walk into a building that doesn’t have 1 or multiple steps to get to the front door.  This house was designed to have no step between the garage and the covered porch that leads to the main entry. 

The front door does have one step due to a grading mishap, but that can be mitigated rather easily in the future if a step needs to be avoided.

Having no steps to get to your main entry makes your house welcoming for everyone, and that’s a fun thing to be able to create.

Kitchen clearances:

The kitchen was designed to have accessible clearances around the appliances for wheelchair access.  And the width between the main counter and the island is at 4’ for ample room for all mobilities.  Most storage is base cabinet storage, designed with drawers that pull out for easy access and no bending to retrieve things.

Final Thoughts

There's a lot to consider when designing a home for health, well-being and planetary health.  But there is nothing overly complicated about it.  Everyone can incorporate sustainable and healthy design strategies into their homes.  It's really just about knowing what the strategies are!

And that's why it's so important to get as prepared as possible before starting on a renovation or new build project.  The more prepared you are, the more healthy and sustainable design strategies you'll be able to incorporate into your home!  

If you're ready to get started, but are feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed about where to start, watch my free workshop, Building Your Ideal Home: Key Design Elements For A Healthy And Eco-Friendly Home.


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