healthy design

5 tips for improving indoor air quality at home


indoor air quality and biophilic design

Indoor air quality is a key component of the healthy building / healthy design movement and forms a central part in all the big certification programs such as WELL, Fitwel and the International Living Future Institute.

It is also a component of biophilic design as it is returns the indoor built environment to a more natural state, similar to the type of air we were breathing for millions of years while evolving on the planet, i.e. fresh, clean and pollution-free.

This in turn opens the door to several bio-hacks designed to improve overall health, sleep and mental acuity.

top 5 tips for maintaining healthy indoor air at home:

1.take your shoes off!

Remove outdoor shoes at the entrance religiously, switching to dedicated indoor only shoes such as slippers, sandals or simply go barefoot, depending on the climate. This is non negotiable and half the world’s population think nothing of doing it so adopt the habit or you’ll face an uphill struggle from the start. Your shoes drag in toxins and all manner of dirt from the streets outside, just look at the soles of a well-worn pair of white trains to remind yourself of what is out there. Leave them at the door. Invest in a shoe rack and place it by your entrance. Set your feet free and breathe deep.

2. air purifying fans


Invest in an air purifying fan such as the Dyson Pure. Not only does it have the trademark Dyson aesthetic, meaning it will happily sit in the corner of your bedroom or living area without being a visual eyesore, it also comes with an impressive smartphone app that allows you to set on/off timers, view air quality data in real time and generally get the most out of the hardware. All you’d need do is set the fan to turn on automatically around 5pm each evening and then switch it to night mode when you go to sleep. This would ensure you have clean indoor air in your bedroom for +/-8 hours while sleeping. If you then set up something similar in your office, where you likely spend another +/-8 hours every day, you’re winning.

3. air purifying plants

air purifying plants

Go big on air purifying indoor plants, yes they have been over-hyped since Instagram gave us plant-stylists but there is plenty of substance to work with here so stick with it. NASA famously did a seminal study on the top air-purifying plants (see below) but the key is not just the species, but the quantity too. Research has shown that between 6-8 such plants are needed per person per room to have any meaningful impact. In any case, plants look and perform best when carefully clustered in groups, like mini forests or jungles, so this is a win-win. Pick up a selection of different height Palms, Ficus, Chinese Evergreens, Garden Ivy, Boston Ferns and a Pothos or two and you’ll be ready to breath clean once you’ve spread them around your home.

4. eco-friendly cleaning


Adopt an eco-friendly cleaning protocol in the house; rather than lining up endless plastic bottles of chemical-heavy products, step back a minute to consider the alternatives. Recent years have seen a proliferation of environmentally-friendly cleaning products with names like Ecover, GreenWorks and so on. They are not hard to find even in mainstream supermarkets as consumer consciousness slowly edges in this direction. Buy in bulk and decant into a smaller, re-usable bottle to reduce plastic waste. Consider the most basic of options such as using diluted white wine vinegar as a kitchen or window cleaner. Source eco sponges made from sustainable materials as you’ll likely burn through one a fortnight, once it discolours, it is time for a new one.

5. use natural ventilation

Use natural ventilation wisely. If you live on a quiet street, in a small town near a park, forest or sea, you will likely have enviably good air quality, one would hope. Open the windows and let the fresh air in whenever you can, especially in the early mornings. This is a natural instinct in many of us anyway, especially in certain cultures where open windows are a way of life.

The issue clearly is when the outside air is of conspicuously poor quality in a dense urban environment; in such instances the best solution may be to open windows at the rear of the home away from the street, or to open them at times of day when there is less traffic outside.

By consciously taking stock of the air quality outside in other words, one can take steps to protect and improve the quality of the air inside your home as well.

sitting vs standing: an active design perspective

active design & ‘the sitting problem’

active design sitting standing workplace wellness healthy office

A ‘nature knows best’ health philosophy gives a clear set of guidelines when addressing lifestyle issues such as whether sitting is truly the new smoking, as the media have dubbed it.

Here we combine evolution-based thinking with active design principles to explore the topic of 21st century sedentary living.

how did we get here?

In the last half-century, the nature of work has fundamentally shifted. No longer are the majority of people toiling in fields, or doing manual labour in factories, the new normal is to be in an office all day, at a desk, in front of a screen, with or without a natural light source nearby.

From a meta history perspective, this is a long way from an evolutionary correct norm that our bodies were built for. ‘Active design’ is a way to incorporate activity prompts and hacks into the built environment as a way to combat the risk of endless hours of sitting.

less physical activity at work

Physical activity, once so intimately connected with our daily lives going all the way back to hunter gatherer times, is no longer a fundamental part of work for many of us, let alone home life.

One recent study shows that this equates to a reduction in calorie consumption of around 100 calories / day in the US and can therefore be linked to a ‘significant portion’ of the increase in mean body mass across the US population in the past 50 years. In other words, the US population is getting more obese because it spends less time moving.

Physical inactivity in the home

The dominance of televisions and computers during free time in the home is another contributing factor to the total amount of time the average person spends sitting down, not expending any energy each day.

Overall this equates to a massive problem of physical inactivity in both junior and adult populations in the western world and that, put simply, is bad news for obesity levels, diabetes and heart disease.

lower back pain in office workers

Prolonger periods of sitting have a direct impact on hip mobility while also being a major cause of lower back pain. Even sitting for shorter stretches of time is an improvement, which is where ‘active design’ tactics that encourage small movement snacks during the day can provide a solution.

lifestyle exercise at work

Lifestyle exercise encourages office workers to integrate short periods of low to moderate activity into their day, the idea being to cumulatively piece together a meaningful amount of movement through a combination of trips to the water cooler, up and down stairs, for a walk around the block, and so on over the course of the day. Think of the often quoted “10,000 steps” concept.

humanscale quickstand standing desk healthy office design

sit-stand desks in healthy offices

Products such as the Human Scale desk converter shown above help encourage a combination of sitting and standing at work, giving the desk owner the option to adjust desk height at will throughout the day.

Most people will find the afternoons tiring after a full morning on their feet, so a mobility ball under the desk can help, as can the option to move elsewhere in the office to change position for a while. It is all about mixing things up according to the type of work taking place.

A Cochrane review of existing research showed that the main benefit of investing in one of these desks, or an extension for an existing desk, is to reduce the total amount of time an office worker spends sitting down during their work day as well as to reduce the number of sitting bouts over 30 minutes in duration.

Our own anecdotal evidence of using them for the past six years or so is that they make a massive difference for lower back pain sufferers, quite literally removing the issue from the equation for as long as one can stay off the chair. Mix that with a program of core strength and mobility exercises and it is a winning formula. We’ve tried it, changed our habits and will never go back!

signage prompts in office design

Simple signage prompts are a seemingly obvious yet remarkably effective way of encouraging office workers to stay active, use the stairs and say no to the elevator, assuming a reasonable number of floors are required..!

If you would like to know more about how we can help you design a healthier, more active office, contact us via email on design