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Green-HomeDesign Tips

Green Living

Green-HomeDesign Tips

Green-Home Design Tips

Healthy Options for a Sustainable Sanctuary 

by Brian Johnson, BBEC, EMRS, BBNC

Americans spend about 90 percent of their lives indoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Building and remodeling our homes to be eco-friendly, non-toxic and environmentally safe is more important than ever. Here are a few considerations.

Eco-Safe Planning

Previous industrial activity, legal and illegal dumping of waste material, and even past farming that relied on pesticides, herbicides and fungicides need to be identified before selecting a building site. Developers also need to look at surrounding properties to evaluate the sources of groundwater and locate hazards like electric substations, high-tension power lines and cellular towers. Naturally occurring toxins such as radon should also be considered before developing a site.

Ambient Quality

Homes must be as airtight as possible to ensure efficient temperature regulation, prevent pests, keep out pollutants and withstand varying weather conditions, while also having breathable systems and allowing for proper ventilation. This is achieved by incorporating passive airflow through vents and windows, as well as active systems like air-handling systems that draw in filtered, fresh air and circulate it throughout the home. 

Natural building materials such as wood, bamboo, clay, concrete and earth are breathable and produce negative ions that are found in outdoor environments like oceans, forests and waterfalls. A research review in Environmental Science and Pollution Research found that exposure to negative air ions may have a positive effect on amino acid metabolism, which manifests as reduced inflammation and anti-oxidation. Further, an International Journal of Molecular Sciences article noted that negative air ions are widely used in air cleaning and may relieve dust and mold spore allergies. Good ventilation assists in clearing out positively charged ions.

Toxic mold is a common issue in homes. It is essential to inspect and test for mold during construction and before installing insulation and closing walls. To minimize the likelihood of mold growth, ensure adequate ventilation and properly install equipment, such as air conditioning units, which may contribute to condensation.

Acoustic protection from noise and vibration adds to the overall quality of living spaces. Thoughtful building practices incorporate materials that help block, absorb, mitigate or reduce noise and vibration. These include soundproofing, insulated walls, low emissivity (Low-E) dual-glazed windows, and plaster- and clay-based paint systems.

Environmental Responsibility 

Locally sourced materials like clay, lime-based mortars and natural stone reduce a home’s carbon footprint by minimizing the need for extensive transportation. Avoid engineered wood, plastic, spray foams, metal, glues and adhesives that contain polymers and formaldehyde, which off-gas toxic chemicals. Some concrete fly ash contains naturally occurring uranium and thorium that have the potential to release radiation. 

Incorporate energy-smart technology and appliances, and utilize renewable energy sources like solar power and geothermal climate systems. Select sustainably harvested timber, recycled steel, and products and appliances certified by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Choose materials and appliances with lower environmental life-cycle costs, prioritizing options that are environmentally friendly in their production and have minimal negative effects when reaching the end of their useful life. 

Green homes include water-saving technologies such as rainwater harvesting systems and low-flow toilets and showerheads. They also include water purification systems to reduce the occupant’s exposure to lead, heavy metals, chlorine, and other chemicals and pollutants.

Electrical Systems 

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible areas of energy associated with the use of electrical power, as well as natural and manmade types of light. EMF exposure can originate from electrical fields generated by wiring, radio frequencies from cellular and wireless devices, and micro-electrical surge pollution from transformers, motors, power supplies or solar equipment. The International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated cancer risks from radiofrequency radiation (RFR) and classified it as a possible human carcinogen. A paper in Environmental Research concluded that “there is substantial scientific evidence that RFR causes cancer, endocrinological, neurological and other adverse health effects.” Accounting for these factors in a green build identifies areas to address for mitigation.

Prioritizing natural light and using colors in harmony with nature not only promote sustainability, but also create aesthetically pleasing spaces. Low-E windows allow natural light to enter the home while deflecting harmful ultraviolet rays and infrared light, reducing energy bills and blocking radio frequencies. 

Home lighting considerations include light spectrums and intensities, color frequencies and placement decisions, all of which can affect our circadian rhythm and reduce EMF exposure. Newer indoor fixtures mimic the sun by automatically changing color, intensity and frequency throughout the day and night to support our natural body clock. 

In a green 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. Internet connections for computers, printers, televisions and game systems are hardwired, which also increase connectivity and speed. A green home’s phone is a landline that improves call clarity and reduces RFR exposure.

Brian Johnson is the 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 efficient and sustainable home environments. Check out his monthly “Healthy Homes Show” at KnoWEwell.com.

Photo Credit: Boy Wirat from Getty Images/Fabián Montaño from Fabian Montaño/CanvaPro

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