A glance at American culture will tell anyone that we are becoming more aware of health and fitness. The home exercise equipment industry is booming, as are health clubs, health and fitness magazines, and diet and weight-loss programs. People want to live longer, happier, healthier lives. Thus it should be no surprise that Americans are becoming more interested in making their homes healthier and happier places to live.
Like any trend in luxury and custom housing, healthy-house aspects are mostly client-driven. The more technically advanced or aware clients are, the more likely they are to request or even demand natural and chemical-free materials. With some clients, however, the issues of price, convenience and a ôthatÆs the way itÆs always been doneö attitude sometimes make it tougher to convince them of the benefits of some of the newer materials and technologies that go into a healthy home.
ôIt is sometimes hard to convince the clients of such things as the ill effects of carpet adhesives because thatÆs what was used in their previous homes and they had no problems with it,ö Michael Marx says. ôBut natural materials are almost always more beautiful than the artificial alternatives, so many clients are very willing to use them.ö
Marx says that many healthy-home principles have always been in vogue, even before they were categorized as such. Day lighting, open and airy floor plans, and a connection to outdoor living spaces have been popular for years because they convey a healthy attitude toward nature and day-to-day living.
Jonathan LipmanÆs company specializes in an ancient architectural system called Sthapatya Veda that designs buildings according to principles of site orientation, room placement and proportion to capture and maximize the positive effects of the sun and other natural elements. The system originated in ancient India, and its principles have been adopted by and adapted to nearly every other form of architecture since. Lipman says his company practices the original and pure version of Vedic architecture with one addition ù the specifying of natural and healthy materials. Lipman explains that previously this was not necessary because until the last several years there were no alternatives to natural materials.
Lipman points to several scientific studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals that validate the positive effects of not only Vedic design principles, but also the use of healthy materials in general. Some technologically advanced materials, while intended to use fewer natural resources as well as make life easier for both builder and homeowner, have actually been so toxic as to give rise to the term ôsick building syndrome.ö
ôWeÆve come to that same gradual awakening that I think many architects and designers have over the last decade or so, and that is that despite our best intentions, we have been poisoning some of our clients,ö Lipman says.
Healthy Buyers = Healthy Profits
While Lipman and his company are committed to Vedic design, he says that any architect and any builder can employ similar principles with any client and any design.
ôSpecifying a healthy house is a process of optimization that every client goes through with input from architects and builders,ö says Lipman. ôTo take it to a 100% level is quite an undertaking. Every client chooses where they fall within that spectrum.ö
Kevin Davis echoes that sentiment when he discusses his experiences with designing healthy houses. The process is pretty much the same as it has always been for successful architects: Design toward the clientÆs needs, and then go into such details as which materials to use and where to use them. While the process hasnÆt changed much over the years for Davis, he has noticed a change in the clientÆs point of view.
ôHealthy materials are definitely a growing trend and concern with the home buying public ù a significant percentage are now demanding a healthy house,ö says Davis.
Kevin Akey says that many of his clients are not that aware of ôhealthy housesö and arenÆt really demanding them, but the features they are requesting produce the same effects ù even though they might not be aware of it. His design featured in this magazine is nestled in a very natural setting, and his clients demanded natural materials to achieve a specific aesthetic.
ôThese clients are very educated about Frank Lloyd WrightÆs design principles and used them as inspiration when discussing site orientation and the extensive use of natural materials,ö Akey says. ôThe extensive use of glass and running water features of this home not only achieve the look they wanted, but they also have a very soothing effect for anyone who spends any time in the home.ö
Akey says this trend toward natural materials, whether a result of health concerns or aesthetic principles, represents a potential health boost to buildersÆ bottom lines as well. Many of the hot new materials such as stained and stamped concrete or exposed steel beams and joists are simply less expensive to use.
ôBuilders are just as willing to get into these new things as the customers are because they allow the builders to build less expensively,ö Akey says. ôEven though the architectural fees may be a little higher, it saves money in the big picture.ö
Even beyond the simple use of natural and healthy materials, builders and developers alike are willing to try new or different philosophies if the public accepts and desires them. Lipman says contractors and developers have been very open to Vedic design principles because their buyers respond to them.
ôThey want an edge in the market, and this is definitely an expanding niche,ö Lipman says about designs for healthier living. Builders and developers always accept ideas that sell more homes, says Lipman, and customers are naturally drawn to homes that make them feel healthier and happier.
ôWeÆre all in the business of improving the quality of our clientsÆ lives,ö Lipman says. ôThatÆs why they buy houses in the first place.ö
New Ideas Rooted in Old Tastes
Davis says traditional design has a strong hold in his area of North Carolina and customers are always looking for new and better ways to make their homes appear to have been in the neighborhood for a hundred years.
ôThe really hot items are historically accurate architectural elements, from trim detailing and accents to actual floor plans and design principles,ö Davis says. ôPeople seem to be searching for a connection to the past.ö
He detects a strong European influence in his region as many new home buyers seek that oft- mentioned but somewhat ambiguous ôOld World feel.ö The desire is so strong in that area that people are demanding EIFS (exterior insulating and finishing systems) to replicate European stucco designs, in spite of all the negative press about moisture intrusion problems and faulty applications in the area.
Marx is noticing the same thing in the Pacific Northwest as buyers seek out European designs and urban areas look at European models of dealing with sprawl. In fact, he knew this was happening when he moved to the area almost five years ago.
ôI moved to the Northwest partly because of the similarities to urban areas of Europe,ö Marx says. ôI researched different cities, and Portland topped the list because of the vibrant urban core and the nice little neighborhoods surrounding it. Plus, it is much like Stuttgart, Germany, in their light-rail transportation system, which is still gaining acceptance here.ö
Marx is excited about the prospect of more clientsÆ acceptance of long-established European design principles.
ôThe housing in Switzerland and Sweden relies on time-tested and proven philosophies that have so many benefits to them, but theyÆre just different than what weÆre used to in the States,ö Marx says. ôI would love to see even more clients become open to something that is new to them; it makes living in a house so much more exciting and enjoyable.ö
Convincing Yourself and Your Clients
If other builders and architects want to carve out another niche for themselves by marketing healthy houses, Marx recommends just jumping in and giving it a try. With the proper research and input from those who have tried it, planning a healthy design and building with natural materials are not that arduous or risky.
ôWe learned our lessons after the first try,ö Marx says. ôIt becomes easier with each successive home.ö
Akey says that when he and partner Frank Zychowski started in the architectural business in 1990, they went more by what ôlooked niceö when designing homes in a series of steps. They now take a more intelligent approach, and their clients have been receptive to their beliefs regarding natural materials and sound design.
ôNow that weÆve learned more and more about construction, new materials and land concerns, weÆve gone back to more established and sound architectural philosophies, and we look at the whole house as a concept,ö Akey says. ôWe look at the clientsÆ needs and lifestyle and then design the home they want according to those philosophies.ö
Of course, the final decisions on a custom homeÆs design and construction rest with the client, but the builders and architects are expected to guide those decisions. No matter how savvy the client might be regarding architecture and construction, he or she hires builders and architects for their expertise and advice.
And that is where suggesting new ideas and materials combined with age-old architectural principles can create a healthy and happy home for the buyer. How can that be bad for your business?
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