Healthy Homes are increasingly in demand as homebuyers and homeowners learn more about the impact that our homes can have on our health. During the Covid-19 pandemic, this consciousness has only been amplified, as we spend more time at home due to quarantines and lockdown measures. We spend around 90% of our time indoors, with most of this time currently being spent at home. Before the pandemic, we split our time between our homes, offices, gyms, and venues like restaurants and movie theaters.
Today, people are retrofitting their homes to serve a variety of these functions. A recent survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) shows that around 70% of architects have received more requests for home offices in 2020 than they did in 2019. In addition, 23% of architects cited a rise in demand for exercise rooms, and 43% indicated a rise in demand for multi-function rooms. It’s no wonder that so many people are looking to transform their homes to serve their current and post-pandemic needs!
The increased amount of time we’re spending at home, in tandem with increased awareness around health and well-being during the pandemic, has prompted people to explore ways in which to make their homes healthier places to be. This is accelerating the already growing awareness that our homes have an impact on our overall health and well-being. Even before the pandemic, one in four homeowners expressed concern about the health hazards within their homes: and they were right to be concerned. In a survey conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard Studies (JCHS), indoor air quality (cited by 44% of concerned households) and water quality (38%) were two of the most commonly cited sources of concern, while concern over harmful materials and chemicals was cited by over 20% of the households. As our society becomes more aware of the health impact of indoor environments, making our homes healthier is an obvious solution.
At Delos, we believe that a home should not only provide shelter and safety, but also serve as a tool to support the holistic health of its residents. A healthy home should take into consideration the environmental factors that impact people’s comfort, well-being, and long-term health. Healthy homes improve occupant health and well-being by targeting the health and wellness pitfalls of conventional homes. While the fundamental features of a healthy home include improved air quality, controlled humidity, and optimized water quality, a healthy home should also account for our need for adequate light, improved comfort, and enhanced safety and security. Given that healthy homes are designed for long-term resilience, it is also important to ensure that the home is designed with environmental impact in mind.
The number of homeowners looking for healthy homes is ever-expanding. A recent survey revealed a strong interest among younger demographics, with nearly 40% of Millennials and 35% of Gen X home shoppers expressing their desire for in-home health and wellness features. In fact, the wellness real estate market is growing at more than nine percent every year — a significantly higher rate than the real estate industry is growing as a whole. As the market grows, one in three consumers is willing to pay at least five percent more for a healthier home. This demand is projected to increase even further as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. More than ever, people want to invest in their health and well-being — and there is no better place to start than our homes.
Indoor Air Quality
Research suggests that the concentration of toxins, allergens and other pollutants can be up to five times higher indoors than it is outside. Extremely small particulate matter (PM2.5) is one of the most dangerous air pollutants and 75% of our exposure to it happens within our own homes. Exposure to allergens, for example, can lead to allergy-induced asthma. In the U.S. alone, asthma results in 7 million missed school days per year. Covid-19 has only increased concern about indoor air quality, as the virus is known to spread through indoor air. 39% of architects responding to the AIA survey indicated a growing demand among their clients for products that improve indoor air quality. According to Sara Gutterman of Green Builders, “[Indoor Air Quality] is now as important as location to some homebuyers. Indoor air quality has shifted quickly from ‘nice to have’ to a necessity. It’s the belle of the ball.” As people look to improve the quality of their air, they are looking into more sophisticated air purification systems to help ensure healthier and easier breathing.
The materials used in our homes can also be detrimental to our long-term health. Many building materials and finishes, furniture, and cleaning products emit VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, into the air. VOCs can lead to a range of health implications, such as neurological symptoms, liver toxicity, and even cancer. These harmful chemicals are now appearing regularly in blood and urine samples according to the CDC, indicating just how prevalent they are in our surrounding environments. In response to this, industry leaders like the AIA are advocating for transparency about building materials, and putting forth alternative solutions. Dedicating our time and attention to selecting low-VOC and non-toxic materials, furniture, and even everyday objects like toys, is crucial to helping protect our health.
Microorganisms such as mold and other fungi can grow rapidly on indoor surfaces when humidity levels are high over long periods of time. In fact, dampness and mold affect almost half of U.S. homes, with causes ranging from rain, snow, leaking plumbing systems and flooding, to indoor activities such as cooking or showering. Moldy and damp homes are believed to increase the risk of health outcomes such as bronchitis, asthma development or exacerbation, respiratory infections, coughing, and wheezing by an estimated 30-70%. The JCHS survey found that over 40% of both owners and renters cited dampness, mold, and moisture as their most pressing concern when asked to identify specific indoor problems. Furthermore, emerging research suggests that maintaining humidity levels between 40 to 60% can help defend against Covid-19, while also reducing growth of microbial organisms such as mold. Dry air not only promotes the movement of viruses in the air, allowing virus-carrying particles to remain in the air for longer and travel further, but also impacts our immune defenses, thereby increasing our susceptibility to airborne infections such as the flu, common cold, and Covid-19. For more information on the impact humidity can have on your health, please check out our previous articles Can Indoor Humidity Impact Covid-19 Transmission? and Relative Humidity & the Health of Your Home.
Water in our homes can seem deceptively clean, but many Americans have contaminants in their drinking water. In 2015, drinking water did not meet the health standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act for almost 21 million Americans. The various pollutants found in drinking water can lead to negative health impacts ranging from gastrointestinal symptoms to neurological disorders. Installing water treatment systems that filter out pollutants is a highly effective way to mitigate this problem. The market for water treatment systems is projected to grow by over 4% every year, with one of the primary drivers in the increase in demand being the healthy housing market and the increased education about the health implications of bad water. Learn more about water quality factors and filtration in our recent blog article.
Light is one of the most important factors that can influence our sleep quality, which in turn can impact our health and productivity. Artificial lighting, while an essential part of our lives, can negatively affect our circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle and a whole host of bodily processes like appetite, body temperature, and hormone production. Light is one of the most important factors guiding our circadian rhythm, helping to keep it aligned with the solar day. Disruption of the circadian rhythm can occur with inappropriately timed exposure to light (especially common for shift workers) and has been associated with a range of negative health impacts, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Installing tunable lighting throughout our homes allows us to change the brightness and color of light throughout the day, which can help us maintain a healthy and robust circadian rhythm. The Global Wellness Summit predicts that managing our circadian rhythms will become a major wellness trend in the coming years.
All in all, our home environments are fundamental determinants of our health. The health implications of poor water and air quality, harmful material composition, and harsh lighting can amount to a decreased quality of life and poorer health. That’s why homebuyers are seeking out healthy homes — to ensure their home is working for, not against them.
Stay tuned for our next article, on easy home improvement tips to make your home a healthier place to be.
Edited by: Bing Bing Guo, MPH, Regina Vaicekonyte, MS and Radhika Singh