Health and Wellness Design

Creating Healthier Homes and Communities

Designing in concert with the land minimizes environmental impact and improves occupants’ well-being

By Jillian Pritchard Cooke

Taking a holistic approach to home and community design through a strategic vision that focuses on reflection, education and regenerative practices working in concert with the natural environment results in healthier homes and communities. With high-interest rates, inflation and a limited workforce negatively impacting the bottom line, residential builders cannot afford to get it wrong.

Reflect on how architecture impacts society. Studying the built environment’s effects on society from the past, combined with modern-day research on how designing in concert with the land can influence humans, is paramount to healthier outcomes. Build upon history with education on present-day design practices that incorporate vital disciplines, including function, efficiency, sustainability, security and systems integration. Regenerative design practices examine how buildings and products can be designed to minimize their environmental impact and improve the health of homes and communities.

Designing homes that are high-performing, efficient and aesthetically pleasing is elemental, but more importantly, buildings should be designed in concert with the land. Achieving healthier outcomes results from the subtle creation and combination – the alchemy – of design through a connection between nature and modern architecture. Today’s designers and builders are the caretakers of the living environment, designing for generations to come.

Throughout the design/build process, addressing effects on the environment can start with supporting a circular economy when specifying all materials for the home. For instance, create a spreadsheet that tracks energy reduction, as well as health and wellness benefits. This makes the decision-making process easier. Small decisions can make a difference.

Putting your team together is key to a successful project. Make sure the appropriate consultants have a seat at the table. Start with land planning. Your land plan should reflect the core concept of negotiating with nature. Making mindful decisions concerning the existing land, using available materials from the land and preserving regional plant life should be part of the project scope. Creating and highlighting natural trails within the land plan will connect residents with nature. Another important factor is starting with a passive approach and understanding the path of the sun, relative to the home site. 

Next, engage an architectural firm that embraces the concept of creating a relationship between the home and nature, which can provide healthy pathways for the occupant. It’s no longer simply a matter of designing a high-performing, energy-efficient and beautiful home. Commencing the home design phase with wellness modeling is essential for thoughtful, holistic designs now in demand. For example, architectural design should reflect the poetics of space and how it can be used to influence everyday living more healthily.

Although lessons can be learned from iconic homes of the past, it is the architect’s responsibility to design the home to function well into the future. Considering the advances being made in technology and safety, creating a place of being and a sense of home can change how occupants interact. Designing a home with the consideration of family connection can influence the occupants in positive ways, even outside of the home. 

Living in harmony with the sun requires understanding new technologies, such as smart windows that use artificial intelligence to control heat and glare. Solar film can be added to windows to generate energy within the home. In addition, specifying bird-friendly glass prevents unnecessary collisions.

When considering the challenges of workforce development, builders must decide if they will build with traditional wood framing or newer systems, such as structural insulated panels (SIPs), which can drastically impact your bottom line. Building a prototype in the field will result in accurate building costs and assist with scaling budgets. When making the selection between various types of SIPs, it is important to be educated on the pros and cons of petroleum-based panels versus those constructed with recycled cellulose. Other selections, such as the proper windows for energy efficiency and potential tax incentives, may also affect the bottom line.

Small steps working together as a team, over time, create healthier homes built in concert with the land. Taking a systematic, holistic approach makes sure that the building performs in accordance with the initial intent, including the contract documents and the owner’s operational, energy-efficiency and healthy-home protocols. Proper commissioning is fundamental to the success of the building design process, from start to finish.

Jillian Pritchard Cooke is the founder and CEO of Wellness Within Your Walls, and chair of the National Association of Home Builders’ Healthy Homes & Communities Subcommittee.