The start of a new year means New Year’s resolutions! For many, personal resolutions focus around health. At TBA, designing homes to uplift our homeowners’ lives is at the forefront of our work every year. In 2020, we established “TBA-U” (Tim Barber Architects University) — where each staff member researched and presented a sustainability topic of their choosing. In 2021, we continued the TBA-U format and expanded our knowledge with the principles of healthy housing. We finished up the year with a wealth of new insights to improve our projects and our client’s lives. In the spirit of the new year, we’ve chosen to share with you a sampling from our presentations.
WHAT IS HEALTHY HOUSING?
“Healthy housing” is a century-old concept that promotes safe, decent, and sanitary housing as a means for preventing disease and injury. In recent years, the increase in scientific research – and evidence – has linked health outcomes such as asthma, lead poisoning and unintentional injuries to substandard housing. Today, organizations like The National Center for Healthy Housing, the US Department of Housing & Urban Development, the Building Performance Institute, the International WELL Building Institute and local coalitions or consultants like the California Healthy Housing Coalition advance policies and practices to improve unhealthy housing conditions. But what goes into this concept? There are eight basic principles:
Throughout the design process, we carefully consider each of these elements: from the scale and functionality of each room to how it functions for years to come.
INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Eric Romero, Design Associate
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air can often be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. Indoor air pollution occurs when certain air pollutants from particles and gasses contaminate the air of indoor areas:
Understanding and controlling common pollutants indoors can help architects reduce the risk of indoor health concerns. There are several ways to address these:
- Source control: One of the most effective ways to curb indoor air pollution is to eliminate individual sources of pollution or to reduce their emissions. Strategies include non-toxic extermination methods to get rid of pests, minimizing carpeting to reduce dust mites, washing linens in hot water, vacuuming rugs and carpets and using non-toxic, fragrance-free household cleaners.
- Improved ventilation: Ventilation helps remove or dilute indoor airborne pollutants, reducing the level of contaminants. Design features we employ include natural ventilation via operable windows and doors and mechanical ventilation through heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems, exhaust fans and whole-house ventilation systems.
- Air cleaners: Using portable air cleaners or upgrading the air filters in furnaces or HVAC systems can improve indoor air quality. Before doing so, we consider the difference between air purifiers, which work to sanitize the air, versus air cleaners that aim to filter the air by collecting larger particles.
Celina Minas, AIA, NCARB, Job Captain & BIM Manager
Protecting children at home, now and as they grow, is an important consideration for any family and the homes we design. Most childhood injuries occur at home, with falls, poisoning and burns as the three most common. In addition to mitigating risk for these and other injuries, we evaluate our designs with children in mind:
- Secure and safe environments: Safety can be achieved by consciously choosing soft materials, especially for infants; and enabling options for adult supervision through a functional floor plan.
- Non-toxic environments: Brands are increasingly honoring parents’ concerns and producing eco-friendly non-toxic furnishing, bedding and paint.
- Encourage play: In addition to being safe and accessible, spaces for kids should be stimulating so they can play freely without jeopardizing physical safety.
- Green spaces: The outdoors are not only convenient places for play, but also provide platforms to socialize, explore and interact with nature.
- Daylight and color: Light and pastel tones inspire a calm and peaceful atmosphere, while warm, strong colors inspire energy. Incorporating ample natural light, along with artificial lighting, keeps children active and focused.
Priya Dhairyawan, Design Associate
While the physical structure of a house provides shelter, it also provides much more – comfort, privacy, security, psychology and community. According to the World Health Organization, the built environment accounts for 19% of the factors that affect our health and well-being. This has become even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when homes became the only place where we slept, ate, worked and socialized. Now more than ever, parameters we consider include:
- View: There is a strong connection between green spaces, blue spaces and lower psychological distress: having access to these views from the indoors provides a sense of calmness. Furthermore, studies even show that people express more love for each other when they are in more attractive spaces.
- Daylight: Ensuring adequate levels of light benefit alertness, mood, productivity, sleep pattern and many aspects of our physiology. For this reason, considering light control in each room is key: the living room and kitchen should have the most natural light, while the bedroom should offer light control and shading for our body clock.
- Noise: The brain is always monitoring sounds for signs of danger, even during sleep. Sound control, through strategic room placement or sound-absorbing materials, reduces distraction, and prevents anxiety or stress due to frequent or loud noises.
- Air quality: Temporary air pollution exposure may be linked to increased risk for mental disorders, including depression. See Eric’s indoor air quality research above!
- Green space & outdoor access: Our indoor environment should stimulate our senses through windows with views and daylight, with opportunities for greenery.
DANGERS OF LEAD IN HISTORIC HOMES
Jim Coyle, NCARB, Project Manager
In 1978, the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of lead in residential buildings – a big step forward in healthy housing. However, many homes built before this still contain lead materials, as the element was widely used due to its malleability, low melting point, weather resistance and more. But where is lead hiding? It is most commonly found in peeled or cracked paint on windows, doors, floors, porches, stairs and millwork, where friction creates lead chips and dust; water main lines and plumbing materials; cable sheathing and more. Soil can also be a source of lead, as it doesn’t biodegrade. Most at risk for health problems from lead exposure are children under six, who are rapidly developing and tend to put hands and objects in their mouths.
California has more houses built before 1978 than any other state, so our restoration and renovation projects often involve careful lead inspection. Certified inspectors or risk assessors determine the presence, type severity and location of lead and then design a solution:
- Maintenance or interim controls to mitigate risk: These can include blocking children’s access via temporary barriers; regular washing of hands, bottles, pacifiers and toys; regular mopping and dusting; paint stabilization and repainting.
- Abatement to eliminate the hazard entirely: Methods include chemicals, heat guns, controlled sanding, removal, enclosure and replacement. Lead-safe contractors and specialists can be potentially costly (and timely), but this long-term solution can be achieved without destroying character-defining features of historic buildings.
We are committed to the health and safety of our homeowners, and our planet. Our dedication to providing healthy housing and our continued learning define our firm. This year, our TBA-U focus is architectural styles. Stay tuned for more on that! In the meantime, take a moment to learn more about our team.