Once We had ‘Sick Building Syndrome’—Now We Have Homes that Soothe, Heal and Repair

The indoor-outdoor home
Photo courtesy of Architecture Journal

By CRISTIAN DAVID | Special to the Palisadian-Post

Wellness has become one of the newest buzzwords in housing. In fact, architects and developers have taken a closer look at wellness and how a home plays a role in health and wellness.

Wellness is the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal. Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute, developed a model called Six Dimensions of Wellness: occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual and emotional.

I have no intention to describe each of these dimensions, I am merely making a point: Applying a wellness approach can be useful in nearly every human endeavor as a pathway to optimal living. Hettler’s holistic model explains how a person contributes to his or her environment and community, and how to build indoor environments that promote physical and emotional well-being. It’s about creating a space to help our bodies rejuvenate.

The bamboo “superplant”
Photo courtesy of Eastern Leaf

Not just another feel-good fad, wellness has been codified with a Well Building Standard, which addresses air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Researchers and physicians from leading medical institutions, along with construction experts and architects, spent six years developing the standard. Pilot projects range from offices, restaurants, student housing, schools and healthcare to wellness-themed rooms at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

Wellness has only recently gained traction among many homeowners, but the concept of a healthy home dates back to the 1930s, when the American Public Health Association published “Basic Principles of Healthful Houses.” Since then, the concept has been refined to center on a home that is dry, clean, pest-free, safe, contaminant-free, well ventilated and thermally controlled. Now, a new vision of wellness at home is evolving to also include holistic outcomes such as well-being.

There is a natural affinity between green and wellness, but for most consumers, wellness is more compelling. New homes today are apt to include other features and floorplans that promote a sense of well-being.

Consumers are placing more value on health and wellness than on material objects these days, and the definition of health and wellness has evolved. The phrase no longer refers simply to a lack of illness and disease, but to a more holistic state of being, where one’s mental, physical and emotional health are in sync. And in an era in which so many catalog their lives on social media, looking great, feeling good and sleeping well are the new luxuries that consumers want to enjoy and flaunt.

Indoor Air Quality. Wellness in homes begins with air quality. We can live without food and water for seven days, but we can only live without air for about seven minutes. Air is the foundation for total wellness.

People in the United States spend about 70 percent of their time in their home. Today, indoor air quality (IAQ) is central to the vision of a healthy home and recent concerns center around air quality and the presence of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are released from building products, furniture, flooring, fabrics and glues. In addition to being built tighter and more energy efficient, new homes today are becoming much healthier too and a big focus is on IAQ.

Manufacturers are also working to develop building products that promote good air quality with flooring, paints and even drywall that improve air quality. For example, CertainTeed Gypsum’s AirRenew Essential IAQ wall board cleans the air by capturing VOCs and converting them into inert compounds.

Additional new products protect against moisture and mold. Lauzon introduced hardwood floors with a titanium dioxide finish that breaks down toxic contaminants in the environment. Sherwin Williams introduced a line of zero-VOC interior paint that also incorporates a new technology to reduce VOC levels in the air and to also eliminate indoor odors from pets, cooking and smoke.

Researchers in Japan have developed a method for keeping walls and windows clean without human intervention. The key to these self-cleaning surfaces are photocatalysts—substances that mediate chemical reactions and are activated by light energy.

When organic matter comes into contact with a photocatalyst, it is oxidized at an increased rate and decomposes into water and carbon dioxide. This property enables photocatalyst-coated walls and windows to break down any organic dirt that sticks to them.

Outdoor Living Spaces. Citing the biophysical response to the environment, a connection with the outdoors has become one of the strongest trends in home design. Over 90 percent of our clients here at Sotheby’s International Realty have expressed their “connection to the outdoors” as a priority. Being able to be outside and bring the outside in has a clear wellness aspect to it.

Equally important is the amount of natural light new home designs bring to interiors. Naturally simple solutions like deploying plants that are proven superheroes at absorbing dangerous chemicals (like mold spores, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde), including bamboo plant, spider plant, areca palm, golden pothos and Spathiphyllum are among the most sought-after ways to remove deadly air toxins in our newly reevaluated and reengineered environment.

Water Quality. Concerns about water quality among Americans have increased over the past two years, according to a new national study that showed a significant jump in the number of homeowners who expressed concern about possible health risks associated with tap water (29 percent) compared with just two years ago (12 percent).

Water has become as critical as air quality for many. Interest in filtration systems that remove chlorine, heavy metals ­— even trace pharmaceuticals — as well as systems that balance the pH in the water is on the rise. When asked why my skin and hair look so healthy, my response is: “vitamin C-infused showerhead.”

The healing showerhead
Photo courtesy of Stay Well

People are spending on a holistic approach to health and wellness that includes nearly every aspect of life. Consumers are increasingly participating in fitness classes and activities that improve well-being. The popularity of the health and wellness trend is visible across consumer groups, and it differs significantly from the various food and exercise trends that took hold in previous decades.

Eating healthily, exercising regularly and monitoring one’s health have become a lifestyle choice. According to Euromonitor International, the global market for health and wellness offerings reached $686 billion in 2016 and it is expected to grow at a 3.5 percent compound annual growth rate to $815 billion by 2021.

Looking ahead, expect to see even great concerns for wellness in homes as homebuyers become more aware of environmental concerns and look for a natural, holistic approach to their family’s health. Today’s customers want to be healthy and happy, no matter who they are.

Owning the most expensive or the latest goods has taken a back seat to looking good and feeling good, and consumers are showing an increasing preference for participating in activities and indulging in experiences that promote their well-being—and sharing those experiences with their friends.

Cristian E. David is the vice president/brokerage manager of Sotheby’s International Realty and can be emailed at cristian.david@sothebyshomes.com.