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Garcia Architects: Five Tips for a Healthy Home

Implementation can cost more upfront, but it's worth it for a better quality of life

The more we find out about the harm buildings are having on our health and our planet, the more I feel like trading in my business suit for some Birkenstocks, moving into a yurt and living off the land. Alas, I was probably born a decade too late, and am simply too fond of technology and cleanliness to do so — although I do have a fondness for comfortable shoes.

A good-quality, whole-house filter can eliminate toxic chemicals such as chlorine and lead out of water.
A good-quality, whole-house filter can eliminate toxic chemicals such as chlorine and lead out of water.

At least as an architect it’s possible to do something about this problem. Let’s take a look at just a few factors for a healthy building.

1. Water

When it comes to keeping our families healthy, water and air are the two most important things. Clean water is so important to every aspect of our health. We’re lucky to live in a country with good water quality, but even in the United States, water treatment leaves many toxins in the water supply. A good-quality, whole-house water filter eliminates toxic chemicals such as chlorine and lead out of water.

Most people simply buy a small filter for their kitchen faucet, but in just one shower, we absorb about eight cups of water through our skin, so filters aren’t just for drinking water. And while we’re on the subject, filling up on filtered water instead of buying bottled water is a good idea because the transportation of water from a South Pacific island or the Swiss Alps is extremely wasteful, and the plastic bottles must be recycled (hopefully) or, worse, put in a landfill.

In order to conserve our precious and limited water supply, older faucets and toilets should be replaced with newer water-saving fixtures. It’s also fairly easy to use gray water — the water used from sinks, showers and washers — as well as rain water for landscaping. A single solar panel on the roof can heat all of a home’s water, and is relatively inexpensive to install.

2. Interior Materials

The products we put in our interiors greatly affect our air quality. Hard finishes and particle board on and in furniture and cabinets can outgas life-threatening fumes for years and years. Additionally, soft surfaces such as sofas, chairs, pillows and draperies hold toxic chemicals. Hemp and organic linen, wool and cotton are natural fabrics that don’t have any chlorine bleach or pesticides, and are nontoxic. Organic materials for bedding is especially important.

Utilizing used or refurbished furniture whenever possible not only avoids toxins but reduces the energy used in producing new furniture. Older furniture pieces can even be used for bathroom vanities.  When refurbishing furniture, it’s important for organic lacquer to be utilized. High-quality pieces, although more expensive, will last much longer than cheap, nonsustainable pieces.

Carpets and throw rugs are a big source of toxic fumes as well as dirt and dust mites. It’s important to choose a truly green carpet or rug, or better yet, a durable hard flooring material that is easy to clean. Taking off your shoes at the front door avoids tracking dirt and chemicals into your home. Nontoxic (no-VOC) paint is also paramount for good air quality.

3. Lighting

Daylighting is important not only for energy-efficiency, but for our physical and psychological well-being. Windows are the most significant source of daylighting. Window placement and type are as important as quantity. Solar tubes are inexpensive to install and provide good quality daylighting while utilizing no electricity. Skylights and light shelves are other viable options.

Unless you’ve been living in the dark ages, you know that incandescent light bulbs should be replaced with compact fluorescent bulbs. Compact fluorescents use about a quarter of the power as incandescent bulbs, but give the same output. They also last much longer than incandescent, and don’t need to be changed nearly as often. But one complaint about compact fluorescents is that they don’t dim well. Where dimming and a higher quality of light are needed, halogens can be used.

4. Cleaning Products

It’s no use building a clean environment, and then bringing all sorts of poisonous chemicals into it. All of the old, familiar cleaning products are toxic and certainly not biodegradable. They should be thrown away now. Keep in mind that touching or breathing something is similar to eating it. And we wonder why cancer has become so widespread. Choosing some of the many options in natural cleaning products is the healthy way to go.

5. Landscaping

Fertilizers and pesticides from gardens can be tracked into our buildings and into our air, so it’s important to use only organic fertilizers and pesticides. Planting fruit trees and vegetables not only provides more delicious produce, it is also healthier and less expensive than what can be purchased at the store.

It’s true that implementing some of these healthy lifestyle tips can cost a bit more, but any upfront cost is certainly offset by the amount of money — not to mention woe — saved through better health.

— Elisa Garcia is the owner of Garcia Architects, 122 E. Arrellaga St. She can be reached at 805.856.9118 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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