According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93% of his or her life indoors (87% indoors; 6% in automobiles).
This means that only 7% of your entire life is spent outdoors—one half of one day per week outdoors. Ouch!
But even if your outdoors time ranks higher, the statistic highlights the importance of understanding the quality of your indoor environment.
The majority of indoor air studies indicate the air in a home, in general, is much poorer quality than the average outdoor air. This is a serious concern for health.
The good news is that you’re in control! You can create a healthy lifestyle in any type of home.
Whether you’re looking to buy a new home or improve an existing one to live in or upgrade to sell, begin by developing a strategy for action. Improving a home’s quality is an incremental journey, not a destination; doing something is better than doing nothing.
So, what makes a home healthy? A healthy home is one that’s not only good for the occupants, but good for the planet, as well, through its focus on healthy materials, energy efficiency, indoor environmental air and water quality, respect for its site, and conservation of resources.
Begin by evaluating the home’s placement on its site—does it blend kindly with its surroundings, physically and aesthetically? Preserve natural habitats? Allow water to drain away from the house and encourage onsite absorption of water, which prevents runoff and erosion and recharges the water table? Is it positioned to capture the sun’s free energy with south-facing windows for natural indoor lighting and/or roof exposure for solar panels? Did you know that Anacortes receives 30% more sunlight than Germany, the world’s leading solar user?
Next, consider existing mechanical systems and the envelope of the home—its four walls, floor, and ceiling. The soundness of the envelope determines temperature control and how air filters in and out of the home through the envelope.
An energy assessment, such as the regional Community Energy Challenge program, is a comprehensive way to evaluate your whole home and develop a road map for improvement.
Consider the benefits of solar—light, air, water heating, photosynthesis—even income. Can you power all or part of the home with natural sources of power—active and/or passive solar, wind, or water? Alternatively, consider efficiency in choosing the size and type of temperature control systems.
Drilling down, double- or triple-paned windows, window coverings, doors, and ventilation placement are key elements in an energy-efficient, healthy home. In our temperate Pacific Northwest climate, even modest changes can produce big results.
How about the car you drive—does it minimize its impact on outdoor air quality?
Consider also what you bring into your home for creature comfort. Do furniture and household supplies contain toxins, toxic fire-resistant chemicals, or, heaven forbid, bed bugs, moisture, and mold? Is ventilation adequate to prevent mold and mildew?
Water—it’s essential to all life. Quality, reliability, and resource conservation are the issues to explore. What’s the source of your water, its safety, reliability, and taste? How about the condition of the home’s pipe distribution system? Would it be wise to filter water used for household consumption?
How are your appliances rated? Do they minimize water use and operate efficiently? Choosing detergents and household cleaners without harmful chemicals not only protects your health and indoor air, it results in cleaner waste water that makes its way back into the natural environment. It may sound radical, but some waste water is totally appropriate for landscape or outdoor cleaning projects.
Consider also moisture in the air, which is both beneficial—for skin, comfort—and detrimental, when too much causes mold and mildew. From simple to system-wide, features such as windows that open, whole-house fans, humidifiers, and dehumidifiers help control indoor moisture.
Outside, water for landscaping and gardening can be a huge drain on water resources—and bank accounts—but it doesn’t have to be. Native and low-maintenance plantings are adapted to existing rainfall and soil nutrients, minimizing the need for additional water or nutrients. Drip irrigation puts water only where it’s needed, while rainwater catchment systems conserve resources and minimize water bills. A rain garden collects rain and runoff, preventing it from eroding soil and washing pollutants into the storm drain . . . and eventually into surrounding bodies of water. Porous paving materials allow water to soak into the ground for plants and to recharge aquifers.
What food nourishes your body? Locally and regionally grown and distributed food is fresher (think, more nutritious) and may be bred for flavor and nutrition, rather than durability during shipment. As a bonus, income to farmers and producers may find its way back into the local economy.
The good news is that Bellingham and surrounding communities celebrate healthy eating with farmers markets, locally grown produce in grocery stores and organic food co-ops, gardening lectures and tours, a community of hands-on gardeners, health classes, and more.
So, not only is it time to get off the couch, as the health experts urge, and spend more time outdoors, it’s also time to pay attention to the quality of the environment we’re creating inside our homes. The challenge is not only fun . . . you’re doing something for yourself!