How to build a healthy house

Seattle’s International Living Future Institute asks a thought-provoking question as part of its Living Building Challenge: ‘What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?’

Fulfilling this utopian ideal can start at home, by avoiding harmful chemicals and embracing natural materials. Not only will this kind of home improve your wellbeing, it has appeal for future buyers. Here’s how to build a healthy house, from the foundations up.

South Africa - A healthy house is beneficial for you and the environment. Here's how to build one.

Build with organic and sustainable materials

Solid wood is the preferred building material for a healthy home, as it’s non-allergenic, breathable and organic. Consider dowel-laminated Brettstapel, a method of creating a solid timber construction without using nails or glue, which can contain harmful chemicals. Inside, choose materials that are free from toxic halogenated flame retardants, such as wool carpeting. Architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Alvar Aalto were also early adopters of eco-friendly cork, favoured for being lightweight and sustainable.

Use natural insulation solutions

Spray foam is often used to insulate buildings, but this type of plastic insulation may contain flame retardants that can exacerbate asthma and cause symptoms ranging from watery eyes to headaches. Choose a natural alternative, like chemical-free rock wool, which also generates less waste during manufacture. Another option is to take inspiration from famed architect Le Corbusier and construct your home on stilts, at once improving air circulation, eliminating the need for a concrete foundation and enabling underfloor rock wool insulation.

Build to a Passive House standard

The International Passive House Association lays out a certification standard that centres on both sustainability and comfort and provides a step-by-step solution for how to build a healthy house. Minimising the need for heating or cooling systems by focusing on building an airtight space is at the core of the Passive House certification criteria. Triple-glazed windows, insulated frames and a consistent supply of fresh air filtered through ventilation systems are designed to maximise comfort and ensure a uniform year-round temperature.

Keep your home well ventilated and seek alternatives to VOCs

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs), like benzene and methylene chloride, are commonly found in interior finishes, while formaldehyde lurks in engineered wood products such as particleboard or plywood. Exposure occurs through breathing in particles or vapour and can cause an array of health problems, from kidney damage to cancer. Consider setting building materials aside for several weeks before use so that they can discharge harmful gases, and seek out zero-VOC paints and varnishes. Keep your home well ventilated throughout the building process to dispel lingering vapours.

Incorporate natural elements into the design

Construct your home from natural materials and seek out interior furnishings made from the same. For example, mid-century modern furniture not only lends timeless appeal to your home but is often constructed from high-quality hardwoods. In our earlier blog offering remodelling tips, we’ve noted the appeal of natural lighting, and a light, airy home is also healthy for mind and body. Adhere to the modernist principles of open design, abundant sunlight and fresh air to encourage a hygienic, microbe-free environment.

When considering how to build a healthy house, investing in organic, sustainable and chemical-free materials, and taking good interior design into account, is indisputably a wise move. Healthy homes benefit both the environment and their inhabitants, boosting wellbeing now and in the long term.

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