A Healthy Home, Part 1

The act of designing a healthy home, or making an existing home healthy, usually requires several (or even many) actions and tasks, not all of them immediately obvious. Because of this, the process of making a home healthy actually requires that you first develop a strategy for getting the specific results you want. Focus on the higher-order issues first (the need to breathe more easily, or the desire for a clutter-free environment), and the list of those issues then becomes a strategy pointing the rest of the way.
A healthy home actually can mean very different things. For some people, it may require the elimination of items that aggravate asthma, such as off-gassing older carpets and other fabrics. For others, it may focus on reducing obstacles and barriers for visually-impaired folks. For someone with pollen allergies, a healthy home means a space with clean, filtered, pollen-free air, and for a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a healthy home may require careful introduction of daylighting and specific forms of artificial light.

Sometimes a healthy home simply means an easy to clean house, built, finished and furnished with natural materials containing the minimum toxins possible, and with plenty of daylight and storage space to avoid clutter.

Think about your own, specific goals. If you think carefully about your own specific notion of what makes a healthy home, you can then focus on the actions needed to accomplish the goal.

Keep in mind that when several people are living together their individual needs may differ. In this case it is necessary to assemble a combined list of goals that works for everyone. For example, one person might seek a natural, peaceful and restful environment, and another may need a well-lit, barrier-free space. From a design viewpoint, these are easily compatible and can be merged into a single overall strategy. If combinations of goals appear to be incompatible, that’s where the services of an architect can be especially helpful.

Goals identified, pinpoint the necessary tasks. Once you’ve identified the core goals of your project, you can organize a collection of activities to accomplish them. In my residential design work, I help clients pinpoint the vital components of a healthy home with a series of carefully focused interview conversations, followed by a to-do checklist. The conversations result in a strategy, and the to-do checklist itemizes the actions that follow. Checklists are customized to the clients’ needs, so they vary according to the information developed in the conversations. And once a checklist has been reviewed and approved, the information is incorporated into a project’s specifications.

I’ll have more specifics in Part 2. The main thing to keep in mind for now is that–as in many design and construction-related activities–making a healthy home means approaching the task in an organized way. This means identifying the higher-order goals first, and the specific actions to accomplish those goals–later.