The types of places that humanity has called ‘home’ throughout the ages may have changed over time, but generally, the basics have remained the same. People usually want a comfortable environment with enough space to house their family. A healthy environment should also be a given, but sadly, that hasn’t, and sometimes still isn’t, the case.
Imagine living in the 1700s in a home that let in very little natural light. Imagine waking up in a dim room, unaware of the sunshine outside or, if it was even daytime at all. The reason for the lack of light, was that in 1697 William III introduced window tax. People were taxed based on the number of windows in the house to cover revenue lost by the clipping of coinage. Needless to say, not long after the introduction of the tax, people started bricking up their windows.
Doctors eventually managed to pressure the government into repealing the tax, arguing that a lack of light caused ill health. They weren’t wrong! Light triggers many chemical, biological and physiological changes in living beings. A humans’ skin, when exposed to sunlight, absorbs Vitamin D which prevents bone loss and reduces the risk of heart disease. Vitamin D is also effective whether we are indoors or out, hence the need for bright, light windows!
During the Victorian era, land and factory owners often built homes for their workers. Unfortunately, the houses were often cheap and too small for the burgeoning Victorian families of the day. The homes normally consisted of one or two rooms downstairs and one or two upstairs. There was no water or toilet in the house; neighbourhoods shared a few toilets and a water pump. The water was often polluted which led to illness and the spread of disease. Some of the worst houses were ‘back-to-back’ with windows only at the front, which meant the house was dark, there was no garden and a sewer would often run down the middle of the street.
One of the impacts of poor housing conditions was that it affected the general health and well-being of the people living there. This would have had a knock-on effect, making it more challenging to earn a steady, decent wage. Without a steady income, it would have been extremely difficult to improve living standards let alone move from the unhealthy environment. A vicious cycle.
A Good Night’s Sleep
We all know that sleep is vital and a lack of it affects the way the brain functions. In fact, research shows that sleep deprivation has a direct impact on the economy. It is estimated that billions are lost each year from poor performance and lost work due to lack of sleep. Those who have ever volunteered to raise funds by sleeping rough for the YMCA’s Sleep Easy (which before the COVID outbreak was held outdoors) will know how difficult it is to perform a normal day’s duties after having slept rough for the night. It goes without saying, that in the 21st Century everyone should have a safe space to lay their head at night.
What About New Homes Today?
Constructing homes that are healthy places to live, as well as beneficial for the environment is a vital factor in the current era. Building biology plays a part and can be defined as the relationship between people and their constructed environment.
The city of Exeter is a pioneer in the development of homes built to the exacting standards of Passivhaus design and are now in the seventh generation of low carbon, low-energy house design. The council’s initial aim was looking for ways to manage fuel poverty, wanting council-owned homes to be comfortable for the occupants.
Passivhaus design focuses on reducing heat losses through the fabric of the building. The ventilation system captures the heat as it’s escaping, which means that the building is adequately ventilated all year and has good levels of fresh filtered air. This makes for healthier, comfortable living for occupants, some of whom have not felt the need to switch the heating on yet (in years!). Homes are designed to allow in plenty of light through large beautiful windows. Care is taken on the finishes, with natural sustainable products taking preference, helping both occupants and the planet to breathe easier.
Let’s hope as we move further into the 21st century that more people can lay their hat in a comfy home that not only boosts their health and well-being but is great for the environment too.