Creating a Safe Haven During the Coronavirus Part 2: Is Your Space Healthy?
Now that “social distancing” and “shelter in place” have become essential parts of our vocabulary and actions, we have more time to pay attention to our homes and workspaces. Many of our clients – both residential and commercial – are using this opportunity to take on new projects since both design help and materials can be delivered virtually from firms like Sensory Six.
With staying healthy the critical issue on people’s minds, one question we are being asked is -- How can I make the space I work, play and live in safer and healthier? The answers to this question are not always simple. Sometimes what seems intuitive like using more antimicrobial materials to ward off contaminants is actually harmful to your health.
One major component of healthy design is enhancing indoor air quality by smart selection of furnishings, floors, and wall treatment. This often means carefully examining the chemicals used in materials, finishes, and installation.
The difficulty with many furnishings is that they contain too many chemicals, which can emit toxic indoor gases that may harm your immune and respiratory systems. Here are some examples of the problem and solutions:
- Stain-resistant upholstery for chairs and couches often is treated with chemicals. These chemicals come in contact with your skin on a regular basis as well as contribute to poor indoor air quality. One design approach is to select materials and colors that are less likely to show dirt and stains.
- Carpets often contain high levels of toxic materials. We recommend area carpets with natural fibers like sisal, wool, or sea grasses.
- Mattresses and bedding are also heavily treated. Try to go for 100% natural materials like wool, cotton, hemp or bamboo.
- Our favorite material to use is linen. It is breathable, lightweight and antimicrobial and not to mention it is a versatile fabric so it can be used for everything from upholstery to window treatments to bedding!
We like wood as a healthy flooring option, although you need to pay attention to how it is installed and finished because toxic chemicals are often used during these processes. Wood is also more porous than some materials so it can potentially harbor mold. Make sure the wood materials are dry and have been kiln dried. There are pros and cons to other flooring materials:
- Polished concrete flooring can be quite attractive, in addition to being healthy since the sodium silicate or potassium silicate that is used is safe and benign. You can finish with acid stains, add natural pigments, or use white sand to get unique looks and textures.
- Many ceramic tiles have high lead levels in the glaze. You should get a lead test analysis from the company who is supplying these materials, even if they are advertised as lead-free.
- Natural stone options like travertine, granite, soapstone, and limestone are often good choices for healthy floors. If you are using a sealer, select a natural one that works on your stone selection. Very dense stones like many granite types and some slate do not require a sealer.
- You can find carpets that have a minimal chemical load, but remember that they tend to collect dust, mold spores and other contaminants and allergens.
- At Sensory Six we look to use flooring materials that are environmentally friendly. Whether that is a cork flooring option or a carpet that is carbon neutral across their whole lifespan. We also love the look and feel of natural stone such as a limestone to create an organic aesthetic.
The most common wall treatment is paint, and there have been many advances to reduce VOC (volatile organic compounds) levels to zero. This is critical because studies show that toxins in paint can be released for multiple years after application.
Paints that are advertised as low VOC can have as little as a 25 percent reduction in VOCs. Low or zero VOC paints can also have ingredients such as formaldehyde, ammonia, acetone and odor-masking agents that cause indoor air pollution. So ask for expert help in selecting paints. Additionally, there are other healthy wall treatments to explore:
- Natural fibers or grass wall coverings lend an organic feel to a room and are healthy alternatives. Because they are delicate, installation can be tricky.
- Bamboo applied to a paper backing provides beautiful color and texture, and is a safe and highly renewable material.
- Cork, another highly renewable material, is known for its resistance to mold and mildew. This makes it a hypoallergenic option with the added benefit that its natural insulating properties help with temperature and sound control.
- Green living walls are vertical gardens mounted upright to walls. They offer all the health benefits of having indoor plants.
- We are huge advocates of plants everywhere! We believe that the littlest bit of green goes a long way. Whether it is a single plant in a space or a green wall your space is helping improve your environment.
At Sensory Six, our design goal is always to create healthy and functional spaces with high aesthetic appeal. In addition to the topics we just talked about, we factor in healthy lighting, space use, climate control and many other variables to provide you with the healthiest home or office possible. We would love to help you today. Contact us at 518-306-1099.