Stone benchtop or healthy air & light?

Could healthy home specs become premium real estate marketing features of the future? A UK Grand Designs new build showcases the future to healthy homes.

Recently I moved to a typical brick and block unit built in 1970.

It’s tastefully renovated and is welcoming. And yes, it has stone kitchen bench tops.

I feel safe. 

This wasn’t the case at my last place…but that’s a story for another time.

Lurking in the back of my mind is a question. Am I as “safe” as I think I am?

It’s indoor air quality score is poorer. This winter the air monitor hovers in the red zone around 48-55 out of 100.

The three main indicators I know driving this are; 

  1. High humidity
  2. Low temperatures inside. 
  3. High levels of dust…constantly

Like so many people I have a dust allergy that triggers my hay fever and sinus. Whilst I vacuum weekly, it seems it’s not enough. 

With air gaps, heat loss through windows, and no reverse air, it’s hard to heat and keep to the ideal 21 degrees. Combined with too high humidity, this leads to potentially unsafe health conditions.

Mould breeds in these conditions. Dust mites love humidity and in turn breed on mould.

These conditions can trigger asthma and allergies. Or health responses like a running or blocked nose, irritation of the eyes and skin and sometimes wheezing.

UK Grand Designs Hypoallergenic House shows the future to healthier homes 

Born and Elinor are busy parents in London running their own businesses but were also experiencing the anguish of frequent hospital visits with their young children having 1-2 health episodes every other week.

They have not one, but two, asthmatic children with several severe life-threatening allergies, ranging from nuts, chemicals and dust.

The couple felt their duty was to build a healthy home for their kids. 

It was their dream their two boys would be on less medication and having less allergic reactions and thereby improving their quality of life and lifestyle.

The result? After 6 months of living in the new healthy home, the boys only had 1-2 allergic episodes in that entire time, compared to 1-2 every other week! And, even reported improved mood.

So how did they achieve that?

Here’s three strategies from this home build that differ from the norm. 

1. Create healthier air with and an air tight and controlled home (while using less energy at the same time)

Traditional timber houses are framed with insulation pumped or fitted between the timber. This method results in air gaps and provides natural ventilation. However, this is what makes most Australasian homes hard – and expensive – to heat.

Whereas, Born and Elinor’s healthy and passive house was built using pre-fabricated Structured Insulated Panels (SIPs). SIP panel walls are tightly pre-insulated and slot smartly together. Before closing the new build up, tiny air gaps were found and sealed.

An airtight home then needs air for the occupants to breathe.

A Heat Recovery Ventilation (HRV) system was installed. HRVs replace indoor air with filtered fresh air from outside. 

Air filters were installed in the utility room to capture dust, dirt, and spores from the outside air which you could visibly see.

So with airtightness you can control the indoor air, with the added benefit of using less energy for heating and cooling.

Keeping the air temperature inside to 21 degrees helps to keep healthy air, and prevent mould and dust mite growth.

2. Low VOC air was achieved with careful material selection

You’ve probably heard the term VOC before.

But if not, VOC stands for Volitile organic compound. 

These are off-gasses from chemicals such as from glues and solvents, affecting the human body. 

Thousands of products emit VOCs and a home could have them coming out of kitchen cabinets, carpets, flooring, furniture and walls. 

A new home would have higher levels of VOCs since they diminish over time.

The University of York installed a VOC monitor in this UK family’s new home and found the air the family was breathing was 70% better than a new build.

How did they achieve that? It turns out they researched everything that went into building and finishing the home e.g.

  • Using low solvent paint and varnishes
  • Low or no VOC building glues, tape, spray foam, timber, composite board and insultation with no petro-chemicals.
  • Bamboo carpet with non-toxic glue in the backing
  • Kitchen made from formeldehyde-free MDF
  • Buying a second hand sofa and knotted rugs to furnish the living area, instead of new
  • Adding purifying plants

3. Lighting often overlooked can make a huge impact on health and wellbeing

It’s been long understood that lighting has a huge effect on our mood. Ask any Finlander.

Our human bodies are naturally designed to respond to the spectrums of natural daylight, changing from blue in the morning to red in the evening.

Blue screens are prevalent in our digital lives. Using these at night alter the natural order on us as humans.

This couple hired a lighting designer being conscious of the home’s excavated bedroom basement they were forced to design in to keep the house to one level within council regulations for the garden plot land.

Large floor to ceiling windows in underground bedroom levels were used to bring in a lot more natural light creating a very welcoming interior.

Circadian rhythm lighting was installed throughout.

They found the children’s mood softened in the evening, resulting in an easier going to bed routine.

Many parents I know would welcome that alone!

This couple has indeed created a safe haven for their children.

Passive and healthy homes like this family’s can cost 10%+ more than a traditional home in Australia and NZ today. 

But for the improved physical and emotional wellbeing for you and your family, what would you be prepared to pay?



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