Healthy Eco Homes of the Future – How We Get There
With developers under unprecedented pressure to build sustainably, and many working towards net-zero targets, it can be tempting to prioritise this above all else.
The risk of focussing solely on the health of the environment is that it may come at the cost of the health of those within the buildings.
This clash of ideals could very plausibly be brought about by the carbon footprint used to improve health-centric aspects of domestic life, throwing developers into a catch-22 scenario, whereby the temptation could be to gloss over one to improve the other. With sustainability currently at the forefront of developers’ thinking, as it should be, it is likely that this will top the podium, with residents’ health settling for silver.
This is problematic for a number of reasons – beyond the obvious comment that businesses should always do everything they can to ensure the health and safety of their customers, sustainability and health are both integral to developers improving their ESG (energy, social and governance) credentials.
In short, they can’t simply put one on the backbench.
Furthermore, homebuyers and tenants are becoming increasingly mindful – especially in a post-pandemic environment – of their own health and wellbeing, and therefore expect developers to be taking this into account.
So, what should be done?
The immediate solution is to look at natural alternatives to the energy-consuming systems within the home.
Lighting is one of the more obvious examples. It is essential that adequate lighting is installed in homes. High contrast between bright screens and dark surroundings can cause eyestrain, fatigue and headaches. Developers should therefore carefully plan the lighting in areas likely to be used for TV screens or computer monitors.
Maximising natural light within home designs should also be a priority during planning, as a way of improving the health of residents without running carbon emissions. The health benefits of natural lighting are well established – it helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which helps prevent bone loss, and reduces risk of heart disease, weight gain and various cancers, while improving sleep and mental wellbeing. It’s important to note that natural light is as affective indoors as outdoors, so rooflights, large windows and conservatories can all help improve the health of your homeowners. Conversely, fluorescent lamps can increase migraines, eye strain and stress.
It may not always be practical to install floor to ceiling windows or rooflights. In these instances, developers should consider the type of lighting they are installing. Artificial lighting has been proven to disrupt the circadian clock, which in turn can contribute towards depression, metabolic disorders, immune and cardiovascular diseases and cancer. While LEDs are more attuned to our circadian clocks than incandescent and fluorescent lights, they also often emit blue wavelengths that disrupt sleep.
As such, when installing lighting, developer should prioritise A+++ rated LEDs. As reported by Nature, scientists are also recommending that bright light and blue light should be prominent during the day, while exposure to these should be minimised at night. This could be accomplished by having separate lighting layouts for daytime use in living areas, and nighttime use in bedrooms. From an energy-saving standpoint, smart lighting systems that enable home users to set timers and control lighting remotely help ensure lights are not left on unnecessarily.
Interestingly, lighting set-ups trialled on the International Space Station could shape the future of smart lighting, with installations offering three settings – a bright, white light for work hours, a dim light with fewer blue wavelengths to prepare for sleep, and more intense lights with blue wavelengths to boost alertness and reset the circadian clock after disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Developers should pay close attention to such experiments in order to pioneer healthy lighting systems in their homes.
As people are spending more time at home, with remote working becoming more commonplace, there can be a reluctance to run the heating system to keep bills low.
This can potentially lead to increased blood pressure, common colds, heart attacks and pneumonia, while damp homes can lead to mould and the associated health risks of allergic reactions and lung conditions.
Developers should therefore ensure home users can make efficient use of the heating system installed in their home.
Heating is an area that is at the forefront of the industry’s push towards net zero carbon. With gas, oil and LPG boilers being banned in new builds from 2025, developers are already exploring alternative methods of heating.
Heat pumps are an especially efficient alternative, with the potential to produce three units of heat for every one unit of electricity, according to Strutt & Parker. They are effective in both houses and apartments, with air source being best suited to small houses, and ground source being more cost-effective in apartments and large houses.
Electric heating still has a bit of a stigma around running costs, but they are more efficient these days and are a suitable option for small homes.
Heating networks in apartment blocks are moving away from combined heat and power boilers to green fuel, such as energy from waste treatment plants or excess heat from the surrounding area.
Biomass, biogas and hydrogen systems are also being explored as an efficient alternative.
The effectiveness of each of these systems is also reliant on the property being well-insulated. Developers should therefore be mindful of the insulation they are providing in their homes to ensure it is as effective as possible. This could involve installing triple glazed windows, instead of double glazed, for example.
Beyond the design of the home, developers can help their customers stay warm responsibly by giving due care to the energy suppliers they use. Although home users can switch to a supplier of their choice after moving in, this can find itself quite low on the priority list. Developers can help their customers by choosing a green tariff from the get-go. Uswitch has a useful comparison tool for green energy suppliers.
It is similarly important that developers educate their customers on how to efficiently use the systems in their home. After all, energy efficient systems and appliances are only effective if they are being used to their full potential. At Classic Folios, we have spent over 20 years helping developers accomplish this through our bespoke Completion Manuals, Sustainability Guides and award-winning online portal, Spaciable. For more information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 023 8062 6280.
When it comes to the health of home users, air quality is a tricky one for developers to navigate. Following the pandemic, people are much more conscious of Internal Air Quality (IAQ) and adequate ventilation. For developers, however, this may involve making concessions on energy-saving targets.
This is a particular sticking point for communal buildings, such as apartment blocks or offices, where developers and management companies may decide to ventilate the building through open windows. This would be an energy efficient solution; however, if the outside air is heavily polluted, especially in city centres, the residents will be inhaling a poor quality of air. An article on Demand Logic points to Harvard research that links IAQ to the cognitive function of occupants.
Demand Logic suggests the solution can be found through the installation of smart building systems to monitor IAQ and energy consumption data to efficiently flag areas that require adjustments.
Developers may feel as though they are caught in the middle of considerable pressure from the Government to achieve ambitious sustainability targets and increasingly discerning home users for their health to be prioritised. At times, these may seem to be opposing ideals; however, with pioneering adoption of the right PropTech and due consideration to such factors at the planning stage, they can appease all parties while establishing healthier homes for the future.