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Size, space and proportions

Category: Healthy House June 28th, 2007 by mbc

Here we concern ourselves with the volume of space we live in and through consideration of proportion aim to create harmony and reason within that space.

Architectural practice since ancient times has constrained itself by the use of proportional systems that guide the selection of forms for inclusion within a building. Systems of proportion are often relatively straight-forward based on mathematical ratios or geometric shapes. These concepts when applied beyond the sphere of architecture, to music, art & cosmology lead to sacred geometry and other related belief systems – we will constrain ourselves here to consideration of proportions in architecture. One such system of proportion is the golden ratio. Two quantities fall within the golden ratio if the ratio between the sum of the two quantities and the larger one is the same as the ratio between the larger quantity and the smaller one.

The golden ratio is 1.618033… and is also known as Phi and can be used to form the Golden Rectangle.

Beyond such esoteric considerations, the question of what size is the right size for your home arises. The answer to this question can be found through consideration of factors such as the number of inhabitants and the stages of life they are at, their entertainment needs, lifestyle and health & mobility requirements. Our options will be constrained by financial restrictions and building and planning regulations. This is a complex and dynamic web of factors each of which is of varying weight and priority in each individual situation and each of which must be considered to derive an optimal solution.

Very often we buy or build the largest home we can afford ignoring considerations of good design and fitness for purpose. As we seek increasingly healthy, green solutions to our housing requirements so good design becomes of increasingly significance.

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Category: Healthy House June 27th, 2007 by mbc

Whilst a superficial consideration of modern house design often may lead to the conclusion that external sound is simply something to be shut out, minimised and in a perfect world eradicated, in reality this is a more complex design consideration. Sound can tie us to our surroundings, sooth us or excite us, an absence of sound can be as unsettling as a surfeit of it. There is a balance that we must strike.

The soothing sounds of rain-fall or bird song are of now value if drowned out by the constant hum of a nearby motorway or over-flying aircraft.

The major sources of sound pollution are road traffic, aircraft and industrial noise. Where sound is elevated above acceptable levels (and what is acceptable varies by individuals) then stress, increased accident rates, and higher levels of aggressive and anti-social behaviour are the consequences.

How can we reduce sound pollution?
There are two main ways to reduce sound pollution: mass of material and effective insulation. Simply put thick walls and floor will dampen sound and reduce the levels of pollution whilst modern technology brings us soundproofing and sound insulation products from which to construct walls and floors. Double and triple glazing is effective in reducing not only the egress of heat, but also the ingress of unwanted sound.

But let’s not forget the positive aspects of noise. Music provides a person with a happy euphoria. Natural sounds such as those of running water and wind in trees have been demonstrated to improve mood and enhance relationships.

The balance between positive and negative aspects of the total noise picture within, and especially around a building must be correctly struck to maximise any positive influences whilst minimising noise pollution.

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Category: Healthy House June 25th, 2007 by mbc

Moulds are a type of fungi, the group of very common organisms that includes mushrooms and yeasts. Moulds are most likely to grow in wet or damp conditions. In the home, places at threat from mould growth include wall, ceiling and floor coverings, insulation material and wooden constructions that have become dampened by water ingress. Water may find its way into the structure through poor maintenance or design.

Whilst mould and its spores (moulds spread by releasing millions of tiny spores into the air) are not harmful to healthy individuals, the elderly, very young, people who are ill or who have chemical sensitivities or allergies may be at risk. Exposure to mould can cause, eye, nose and throat irritation, sinus congestion and common cold like symptoms as well as increase the occurrence of asthma attacks and allergic reactions. With an increasing volume of research identifying the detrimental effect on health of moulds this is an area of increasing concern to healthy house builders.

So how do we avoid this risk?

  • Protect against humidity & moisture in the building through adequate provision & maintenance of damp proofing.
  • Make sure that water is successfully conveyed away from the building by correctly functioning guttering, down pipes and drains.
  • Ensure that the building is well ventilated; that air flows through the building and that areas of humidity and moisture are not allowed to build up.
  • Maintain all internal plumbing to avoid leakage.
  • Where possible & appropriate, use natural materials in construction that enhance the breath-ability of the structure. For example, lime in mortar, render and even lime-crete for floor construction or sheep wool insulation.

NOTE: This last point is a complex and intricate one. Approaches to damp control vary greatly between traditional and modern buildings. A misguided combination of traditional and modern may lead to a poor meshing of technologies & materials and an exasperation of damp related issues. In general traditional building techniques promote the breath-ability of the building to manage damp, whilst modern buildings seek to use impervious materials as a barrier to damp.

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Category: Healthy House June 19th, 2007 by mbc

At the heart of our lighting design we should place the central concept of the relationship between day and night, light and dark that lies within our most natural rhythms.

This is a complex discipline in that the direction of the sun at given times of the day & the year, the orientation of a building, weather conditions, the quality of glazing and many other variables will all influence the quality and amount of light that reaches the subject. I hope to touch on some of the factors of importance when starting your consideration of lighting in the healthy house.

Although little conclusive evidence is as yet available, studies suggest that the negative health consequences of improper lighting may include; stress, headaches, fatigue, as well as decreases in sexual function and increases in anxiety levels.

In considering light, we are not only interested in the effects of over or under illumination, but also the spectral composition of light. Research indicates that full spectrum lighting may, in the same way as natural sunlight act to boost the immune system and perhaps provide a positive health benefit.

What is full spectrum lighting?
The sun is a huge emitter of electromagnetic radiation (EM). This EM radiation has many wavelengths each of which has differing properties. Visible sunlight occupies a range of wavelengths that our brains interpret as the primary colours and that when combined make up white light or daylight. Full spectrum lighting includes the full range of visible sunlight. Tungsten bulbs, for example are stronger in the red part of the spectrum and weaker in the blue so can tend to make distinctions between dark blues and black difficult.

So what do we need to avoid and what should we look to include in our healthy house lighting design?


  • Glare caused by light sources (including the sun) striking reflective surfaces.
  • Flickering light sources.
  • The inability to vary light levels to provide adequate levels of lighting for tasks, for example, over-lit relaxation areas or under-lit work areas.


  • Daylight wherever possible – our sight has evolved to use it so works best with it! There are other health benefits to direct sunlight such as the production of vitamin D.
  • Where daylight is not available, full spectrum lighting options should be considered.
  • For occasional or zonal lighting consider low energy LED lighting options.

Bear in mind that windows of one of the greatest sources of heat loss, so glazing systems need to be as energy efficient as possible and excessive provision of glazing avoided. Glare and over-heating of rooms are also a potential risk on sunny days.

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Category: Healthy House June 17th, 2007 by mbc

One end of the heating — cooling continuum, heating is one of the hottest (sorry about the pun!) topics when it comes to healthy and green building.

The optimum temperature within our healthy home, lies somewhere between 15 & 25 Degrees Celsius. The exact temperature will vary dependant upon a number of variables. These variables include surface temperatures, air moisture levels, circulation of the air and the nature of any heat emitted in the environment.

The provision of warm surface temperatures is a key to providing healthy green heat. If we are able to heat surfaces rather than the volume of air, then we are able to maintain achieve comfortable levels of heating with a lower and healthier air temperature. So what is so bad about air heating as opposed to surface heating?

  • Warmer air temperatures reduce concentration, whilst increasing skin moisture levels and tiredness.
  • Warm air heating systems have been linked with transmission of common viruses, increased occurrence of headaches and reduced circulation.
  • Warm air heating is inefficient in that as warm air rises, the whole volume of air in a room needs to be warmed, including that above the heads of the occupants to ensure that the warm air reaches down to the occupants.

Lower air temperatures also make essential ventilation less of an issue. The energy loss when ventilating is lessened as the difference between the warmed internal & cooler external air temperatures is likely to be less.

Methods of surface temperature heating include pervasive systems such as underfloor heating as well as more focussed & targeted systems such as wood or multi-fuel burning fires. Some degree of air heating is inevitable in all heating systems, but these systems can provide efficient, effective and green methods to increase surface temperature.

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Autumn 2013

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