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Wellness by Design

Let’s Roam: The Maine Coastline

For those who like to meditate or simply take a minute to savor the wonderful creation that is our planet.

Sitting by the ocean, relaxing to the sound of a running stream, or looking into the horizon from a mountain cliff can transform the experience of meditating or relaxing from ordinary to extraordinary.

This is an experience we would like to share with anyone who is interested in mediation, yoga, relaxation, mindfulness or any other type of spiritual practice.

As we develop our new Meditation Room concept, one aspect we were struggling with is the media content. Sure, we can source media content containing great scenery from around the world on YouTube, but what would be the fun in that? Besides, the video quality will not be 4K, and overall, we felt it will not be very authentic. So, the only solution was to source our own media content. And the only way to source our own content was to send someone out into the wild to gather it.

Our owner, Alon, jumped on the opportunity, and he set out to find some beautiful serene places one would like to sit for a bit and connect with the universe. Since we live in Covid times, travelling to just about anywhere is not feasible.

So, the decision was made, we are exploring the Maine coastline.

Maine, dubbed Vacation Land, is known for its picturesque coast and its natural splendor with Acadia National Park, its crown jewel. In addition, Maine is on the travel safelist for residents of the NY Tristate area, which makes it an ideal destination for his family of four.

This is Alon’s travel journal, with some behind the scenes of the spots he gathered inspiration from.

In late August, a window of opportunity opened to travel up to Maine to collect some content for our Meditation Rooms concept and have some family fun while we’re at it. We decided to start in Southern Maine to avoid having to drive for ten hours or more in one shot. For the first three nights, we stayed in a beach town called Old Orchard Beach, mainly since it has a water park, we figured we would satisfy the twins’ hunger for water slides first. Old Orchard Beach reminded me very much of the Jersey Shore, albeit less crowded and a wider shore, and the water is about 10°F colder. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the water park was closed during the week due to Covid, and with temperatures not suitable for tanning we were forced to explore what else the area had to offer.

First stop: Portland Head

On the advice of friends, we headed towards Portland Head, the famous Lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth at the entry to the Portland Harbor. New England is dotted with lighthouses and this one is among the more impressive. This is a great place for scenic photography, and family photos galore. The shore itself, as we found is typical to Maine, is made of jagged cliffs, providing ample opportunities to over-active kids or any other adventurers to test their cliff climbing skills. We also enjoyed some overpriced lobster rolls from a local track, and the view from the picnic table was so worth it. Besides the lighthouse itself and the museum at its base there is also a short scenic trail along the cliffs and even a small beach. There are plenty of parking spots, though I can imagine that the place gets crowded during the main summer season. Please note that Portland Head closes at 2 pm. So, make sure to arrive there no later than noon.

The Lighthouse at Portland Head

Feeling Motivated in Harpswell

On day 2 we opted to venture a little further. After reading some reviews online, we decided to head to Harpswell and Bailey Island primarily to explore the Giant’s Stairs. We read this was one of the most scenic walks in Maine. Well, we weren’t disappointed.

The Giant’s Stairs – Bailey Island

The trail along the jagged cliffs is breathtaking and we wished the trail was longer than a mile. The trail is extremely easy to walk with some offshoots leading down to the cliffs and various spots to stop and savor the majesty of this natural beauty. You can sit at the edge of a cliff and enjoy the sights and sounds as wave after wave are crushing on the cliffs. What an ideal corner to disconnect.

The Giant’s Stairs – Bailey Island

In our quest to extend the Giant’s Stairs trail, we reached the end of the road and with it a charming cabins hotel named Driftwood Inn. We fell in love. Driftwood Inn is at the end of a peninsula and thus is surrounded by the beautiful shoreline on three sides overlooking an island at the other side of the cove. It has plenty of vistas to take in the natural beauty and the cottages are lovely. It all makes Driftwood Inn a perfect spot to sit and quite down. We knew right away we had to spend a night or two there and since we left a couple of nights at the tail end of our trip for the unexpected, a cottage was shortly booked for two nights – spoiler alert, the plans are going to change. One thing was for certain though, this spot had to make it into our meditation library and now we needed the opportunity to capture and share this experience. Will we get it?

Our appetite for cliff trails was not satisfied and we decided to head to another trail called plainly the Cliff Trail. The Cliff Trail also offers some beautiful scenic views of fjord like bays decorated with evergreens. It is a short and easy loop trail that takes about an hour. I’d recommend it if you have the time.

The Cliff Trail – Bailey Island

From Old Orchard Beach to Blissful Bar Harbor

On the third day of our trip the forecast was calling for a warmer sunny day, perfect opportunity to spend some time on the beach to satisfy the Misses’ affection for sun, sand, and waves. Well, the weather had some other ideas and stayed somewhat cool and cloudy.

TheAutom8Group founder

The cloudy sky deterred the crowds, and that along with the pleasant temperature created a perfect backdrop for some quiet time and relaxation on the beach. For me it was also an excellent opportunity to create a relaxation video that celebrates the way the clouds interact with the water to create a perfect atmosphere.

And so, my first relaxation video was created.

By noon we realized the sun wasn’t going to show itself and decided to head up to Bar Harbor where we had accommodations for the next two nights. But before embarking on the three-hour drive, we had to savor the marsh views at Pine Brook the adjacent town to Old Orchard Beach. We had lunch at Bayley’s Lobster Pound. The quality of the fresh seafood matched that of the beautiful scenery. Overall if you intend to stay in that area, I would highly recommend staying in one of the seaside hotels/motels at Pine Brook over Old Orchard Beach.

Driving up the Maine Turnpike is a pleasant experience in and of itself. The road was rather open and the scenery intriguing. From water canals to open bays and the diversity of the trees and vegetation made the drive so much more interesting than your usual highway transit.

Exploring Bar Harbor

I must admit I hadn’t heard of Bar Harbor until a week before our trip. I was happy my wife did the research though and booked us for a couple of nights there, even though these plans were about to change. Apparently, many of America’s most influential people owned or own a home in the town or its immediate vicinity and for good reason. This town is absolutely beautiful! From its waterline to Acadia National Park at its backyard, there’s no shortage of great views and great adventures.

We arrived at Bar Harbor towards dinner time and wasted no time in exploring its streets. Situated on Desert Mountain Island and practically serving as the gateway to Acadia, the streets are humming with tourists and hikers. The downtown itself is incredibly charming, and there are plenty of restaurants and souvenir stores. Unfortunately for us it started raining as soon as we left the hotel and we were restricted to a quick restaurant search, though still managed to enjoy a beautiful sunset over Cadillac Mountain.

Rainy Sunset over Bar Harbor


Immersed in the Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain

With an elevation of 1,530 feet (466 meters) Cadillac Mountain’s summit is the highest point within 25 miles (40 km) of the Atlantic shoreline of the North American continent and is known as the first place in the U.S. to see the sunrise (although that is only true for a portion of the year). I paused for a second when our hotel concierge told me I should leave the hotel by 4:30 in the morning if I wanted to get parking at the summit and view the famous sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in its entirety. But I was on a mission to source content and surely the first sunrise in the US will be a spiritual experience that should be captured and shared.

So, I rolled out of bed at around 4:15 in the morning and snuck out quietly not to wake the sleeping bunch. The 15-minute drive in the dark up the winding road to the summit was a mystical experience in and of itself, though more, much more was yet to come.

Upon arriving at the summit, I noticed quite a few silhouettes heading in one direction. Since my objective was to create a video documenting the sunrise from first light until the big ball of fire is fully exposed, along with the natural sounds, I figured I’d head in a different direction, climbing over rocks on a less traveled path to try to find some solitude. To my fortune, the full moon was still at full force shining its light from the west, and I could see the obstacles in front of me. Before long I was able to situate myself in an optimal location surrounded by beautiful boulders and low evergreens. A red sliver was appearing on the horizon and the reflection of the moonlight on a water runoff contributed to the mystic atmosphere.

full moon was still at full force shining its light

This was ideal I thought; the amazing view along with the whistle of the wind will make for the perfect meditation scenery. I set up my camera, got comfortable, and started filming. Indeed, the sunrise did not disappoint. As the first rays broke over a ring of red and orange clouds, the full view of Desert Island, Bar Harbor and the bay gradually became visible in all its glory.

sunrise, the beginning of a new day with all its promise

I personally love the energy that comes with the sunrise, the beginning of a new day with all its promise. It’s also my favorite time to meditate, usually the world is still quiet before the wheels of life start humming.

As I sat there on the cliff, with the sky becoming brighter and redder by the minute, my mind became quieter and uplifted.


As I was diving deeper, some voices and conversations behind me pulled me out of the sun’s rays and the whistling wind. I stood up, looked back, and saw what must have been about a hundred people on the cliff right above me. All taking selfies and posing with the grand view. The first sunrise in the US is quite popular as one can expect and might not be the perfect place for total solitude. Looks like this video will require a nice soundtrack after all.

Once the sun became fully visible over the ring of clouds, the crowds started to dissipate and the howling of the high-altitude wind returned to dominate the soundtrack. Since, the camera’s battery (and memory card) ran out, I could now truly relax and enjoy the breathtaking view that was exposed right below me. I found a rock that resembled a lounge chair and lounged with the sun’s orange rays warming my face. The relaxing scene was completed by a private show from a local squirrel who was rejoicing on a rock about three feet in front of me. This must be the beginning of a great day. A day we got to hike a trail which took the lives of more than 60 hikers.

relaxing scene was completed by a private show from a local squirrel who was rejoicing on a rock

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The Unique Experience of The Precipice Trail

High from my sunrise experience and the fact I was able to capture a full one-hour video of this beautiful experience in 4K, I headed back to the hotel to wake up the sleepy heads. Fortunately, they were already raring to go and after breakfast we headed back to Acadia.

We were debating which trail to hit first and while reviewing trails on All Trails I came across one called The Precipice, which consisted of walking across some narrow cliffs and climbing ladders. The pictures didn’t seem intimidating and I must admit that neither me, nor my wife knew the meaning of the word precipice and that turned out to be a good thing (Precipice: noun, a very steep rock face or cliff, especially a tall one). From that point, the thrill-seeking twins wouldn’t hear of anything else. The Precipice it had to be. We arrived at the head trail at around 10 am and not too many parking spots were available. Apparently, this trail is very popular, and it’s recommended to arrive in the earlier morning hours. The initial ascent, although steep, seemed peaceful and not unusual. And then we reached the ‘challenge’: A decently tall boulder with just a couple of metal rails.

This is a test, if you can muster the strength, flexibility and courage to get to the top of it, you may go on.

There were several hikers ahead of us and we had to wait for our turn patiently while maintaining social distancing. A couple of these hikers were struggling and that had sewn doubt in me, will I be able to make it? After all, my legs aren’t in full strength after sustaining a back injury several years ago. The twins hopped over the boulder as if it was nothing but a small rock. As for my wife and I, the less said the better. We did make it eventually and there was no turning back. There were numerous points along the trail when I thought, why didn’t I turn back when I could?

The ’Challenge Rock’ at The Precipice Trail


From here, The Precipice lived up to its name and didn’t disappoint. This trail has everything: challenging – check, amazing views – check, heart pumping adrenalin rush – check. Some of the sections which included climbing metal stakes imbedded into rocks or traversing over narrow cliffs were darn right scary and as close as one can get to rock-climbing. When we finally made it to the top with our quads burning and our shirts soaked with sweat – well, the sense of accomplishment is difficult to describe. It was well worth every challenge we endured.

Narrow cliffs at The Precipice

After some rest we started descending back through a trail that loops around the mountain. Some hikers take The Precipice back down, although we deemed it a bit too scary for our taste. If you are a real thrill seeker, it might be a good option. It was hard convincing our mountain goat-like twins to take the easy way back with us. All in all, The Precipice might be one of the hardest trails I’ve ever hiked, but at the same time one of the most exciting and fulfilling. So much so that the twins complained that every subsequent trail we hiked wasn’t exciting enough. We now know to keep the best for last the next time.

The view from Schooner Head at the top of The Precipice

Acadia Cliffs, Jordan Pond and The Bubbles

We dedicated the second day of our Acadia adventure and the sixth of our trip to some easier hikes. We started the day with an easy stroll around Jordan Pond which provided for a beautiful backdrop for another meditation video. One of the most striking things about Jordan Pond is how exceptionally clear the water is with an average visibility depth of 46 feet. I can also attest the water tastes great.

Jordan Pond


After an easy stroll and a light lunch we headed towards Ocean Path which winds along the cliffs which adorn the shoreline. This path is rather crowded, though it’s easy to go off the trail and find some beautiful vistas to stop, relax, and take in the amazing views. The boys also stole an opportunity to go rock climbing along the cliffs (good thing their mom didn’t see). As late afternoon approached, it also made for a great opportunity to record another meditation video celebrating the beautiful cliffs and the sound of the breaking waves.

Ocean Path, Acadia

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When we were visiting around Jordan Pond, I was very curious about the two bubble-looking mountains at the backdrop of Jordan Pond. Turned out their name reflected their shape, The Bubbles. So, as sunset was approaching, we decided to hit one more trail and climb up The Bubbles. As it turned out, there is a North Bubble and a South Bubble. We chose the North Bubble as it was a shorter trail and sunset was fast approaching. The North Bubble trail is relatively short yet steep trail that makes for a good workout.

The view from The North Bubble

Upon reaching the top, the sun was already dipping behind the horizon. The beautiful view, the sound of the wind and distant waves, as well as the fact it was the first time during our Acadia adventure we were truly on our own, called for another meditation video. After a short meditation as the shadows were growing longer, we packed up and hurried down the mountain while we could still see the path. Another amazing day at Acadia came to an end. We were supposed to head back south the next day, however this felt like unfinished business. We were having too much fun and couldn’t find it in our hearts to leave just yet. So, another night was booked at Bar Harbor with a night scratched at Bailey Island. Sometimes hard decisions had to be made.

Some Places Are Just Worth Repeating

On our last day at Acadia after watching the sunrise again, this time with the entire family, we were itching for one last trail to go out with a bang – something challenging (to compete with The Precipice), and with great views. We’ve got all that and more with the Cannon Brook, Cadillac South Ridge and Ladder Trail. This trail ascends almost 1,300 ft mostly by climbing over stairs and ladders in less than a mile to the top of Dore Mountain. You then descend for around 300 ft to a ravine and ascend another 500 ft to the top of Cadillac mountain. Of course, every muscle in our legs was screaming from exhaustion. The amazing views made it all worth it though. From Cadillac Mountain we then descended to Cannon Brook which offers a completely different scenery with its running streams and beautiful vegetation. When all was said and done, the sun was already high in the sky and it was time to head south towards Bailey Island.

We arrived at The Driftwood Inn on Bailey Island in the late afternoon and settled in our cabin. As I mentioned earlier, The Driftwood Inn is at the end of a peninsula (and just steps from The Giant Stairs). The place is so peaceful and relaxing with low light pollution at night. To add to the peaceful atmosphere, there’s absolutely no cell reception and the Wi-Fi was spotty as well (anyone know an AV company that can help with that?). So, out of other options, we fortunately were forced to sit on the porch, listen to the crushing waves and watch the stars which were gleaming in their millions.

On our last day in Maine we enjoyed the peacefulness of The Driftwood Inn with its magnificent ocean views all morning. It was also an opportunity to film one last meditation video to capture the absolutely calming atmosphere.

The view from The North Bubble

At last it was time to head south, back home. But not before we have one last real Maine Lobster Roll. Since it was Labor Day, we couldn’t find a decent table at any of the local restaurants and we ‘settled’ for lobster rolls from the local general store which we took to an oceanfront picnic area. I must admit these were the best, freshest lobster rolls I had the entire trip. That was a fitting way to bow out. We vowed to come back to this magnificent part of the world as soon as we could.

Can Architects Save The World?

It is safe to say the most important steps toward achieving a sustainable building project within established cost constraints are performed during the project’s feasibility and design stages. The construction industry, by its very nature, is a big user of natural resources. But with growing concerns over climate change and the finite nature of these resources, there is increasing pressure on construction firms to reduce their environmental impact.

Greener practices from all businesses are now top concerns for consumers. They want to ensure that they’re leaving the smallest environmental footprint possible. Contractors and construction companies have picked up on this interest as more and more are now offering ‘green building’ in their construction.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, construction spending in 2019 topped $1.3 trillion. During the first seven months of this year – 2020, construction spending amounted to $792.6 billion, 4.0 percent (±1.2 percent) above the $761.9 billion for the same period in 2019. 

Industry at this scale comes with incredible costs. The construction industry has a massive impact on the environment because energy use is high. Building requires heavy machinery which relies heavily on fossil fuels, and sometimes inefficient electricity can result in the burning of fossil fuels further down the energy supply line. The construction industry accounts for approximately 36% of worldwide energy usage and 40% of C02 emissions.

Earth’s resources are not unlimited

Especially with the growth of the population, the need for sustainable construction becomes more pronounced. Sustainable building materials are essential for creating greener buildings—and a healthier world. Construction and demolition waste makes up about 40% of the total solid waste stream in the U.S. and about 25% of the total waste stream in the European Union, according to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC).

One has to look at the big picture when considering the impact of a building—the building’s life cycle. The American Institute of Architects’ Guide to Building Life Cycle Assessment in Practice discusses how to evaluate the potential environmental impacts for every stage of a building’s life. One important factor in the building’s life cycle is selecting sustainable building materials. Architects need to consider how building materials are sourced, manufactured, transported, used, and discarded during construction. Every detail matters.

Modern Sustainable Technology

The role of sustainable infrastructure not only benefits the planet but also the investor’s profit margin too. The primary financial goal of businesses is to make a profit. That being said, investing in sustainable technologies is a great start to creating profit. Builders who invest in modern sustainable technology can recoup those costs over time, which results in reduced building operational costs.

The industry standard for sustainable construction, LEED promotes codes and standards for construction firms to follow during the construction process. LEED is not an immediate action; it is functional for today, and in the future. Construction firms need to recognize that sustainable construction is increasing in demand worldwide.

The construction industry isn’t really set up for sustainability. Many of the resources used in one building are hard or impossible to reuse in another, actual construction can reduce air quality, and with the growing population there is a greater need for buildings. So, how does construction become sustainable?

Béton Du Chanvre

Starting in the early 1980s, French builders resurrected a form of building material known as béton du chanvre — now called hempcrete— which dates to circa 500 A.D. The process is simple: a mixture of crushed hemp hurd (material inside the stalk), water and lime. While often seen as a low-tech building solution, the technology has progressed in recent years to include pre-fabricated bricks and panels that have been employed in residential and commercial buildings across Europe and Canada.

The innovativeness of hemp concrete as a building material lies in its function as a multi-performance material. It can entirely replace mineral aggregates in conventional concrete, and historically it was added to concrete and mortars to avoid retractions in plaster or clay brick. When cured, it retains a large amount of air, with a density equivalent to 15% of traditional concrete, making it an excellent thermal and acoustic insulator. An interesting feature of the material is that it is both a good thermal insulator and has high thermal inertia. That is, though light and porous, hempcrete can quickly store energy and release it gradually, making it effective for climates with high temperature variation between day and night. It also has good fire resistance, is non-toxic, and is naturally resistant to mold and insects. There are even surveys that point to hempcrete being a carbon-negative material, which in addition to compensating for the carbon emitted in production, actually stores additional carbon within the material itself.

Nowadays, although there are legal barriers in many countries, the use of hemp as a construction material has had encouraging results, with research demonstrating its strong thermoacoustic and sustainable qualities. Hemp can be shaped into fibrous panels, coverings, sheets, and even bricks.

Cross-Laminated Timber

Another choice is mass timber. It is a category of construction characterized by the use of large solid wood panels for floors, walls and ceilings. Of particular focus in the mass timber family is Cross-Laminated Timber. CLT is kiln-dried lumber aligned in multiple layers, each at a right angle to the preceding layer and glued together under significant pressure. The result is a structural panel with exceptional biaxial strength, rigidity and stability.

As the term “mass timber” implies, CLT segments can be large; up to one foot thick and 10 feet by 40 feet or larger in width and length. Panels can be manufactured to custom sizes, which reduces on-site cutting to speed on-site construction. CLT’s strength makes it a viable option for floors, walls and roofs, and its natural aesthetics enable it to be used fully exposed. Developed in Germany in the early 1990s CLT soon became popular in Europe and is now gaining traction in the U.S. In 2015, CLT was incorporated into the American Wood Council’s National Design Specifications and into the International Building Code (IBC), which is the default code adopted by jurisdictions across the U.S.

The alternating fibers and solid composition of CLT give it the potential to substantially reduce the carbon footprint of new buildings by replacing structural concrete. It’s lightweight, strong, and fire and earthquake resistant.

Dalston Works—the world’s largest building constructed out of CLT—weighs approximately one-fifth of a concrete building of the same size. And on top of that, it was completed an estimated eight months faster than if traditional building materials had been used.

According to a study published by the Journal of Cleaner Production, timber is sourced from sustainably managed forests to maintain wood resources. One of the most important environmental benefits of using CLT is its carbon sequestration properties that aid in climate change mitigation. It is estimated that roughly one cubic meter of wood stores around 1.10 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Here are some other examples of green building materials that you can use:

1. Solar Tiles

Regular roof shingles exist to protect your home from the elements, but don’t do anything with any of the energy they absorb. Solar tiles do both: they protect your home while converting solar energy into power for your home.

2. Sustainable Concrete

Concrete is responsible for 7-10% of global CO2 emissions. Sustainable concrete can include recycled materials that would otherwise have gone to waste. Similarly, grasscrete involves laying concrete with space for plant life, which reduces the material need as well as improving stormwater absorption and drainage capabilities. Hempcrete is another sustainable concrete alternative; it is a concrete-like material made with hemp fibers.

3. Bamboo

Bamboo may be lightweight, but when it comes to durability, it’s actually a strong replacement for many heavier materials. It’s fast-growing, which makes it a great renewable resource that’s environmentally friendly.

4. Wood

You can’t go wrong with wood: it’s been a reliable building material for centuries! When people properly manage forest and wood production, they provide a sustainable renewable material that is less energy-intensive to process other building materials.

5. Mycelium

Mycelium combines biology, design, and computing to create a unique building material composed of mushroom bricks. This material is strong, durable, and water-resistant.

Sustainable Interior Finishes

Although the bulk of the energy-saving work is done in the building envelope, interior finishes can also play a role in indoor environmental quality, carbon sequestration, and communicating sustainability to occupants and other stakeholders. The number of green design materials available has exploded in recent years. Products that used to be offered in limited colors or designs are now as varied as their traditional counterparts. Because of consumer demand, sustainable painting, flooring, and countertop products that might have been less durable and expensive in the past are now stronger, longer-lasting, and often more affordable.

Paint: Nearly every major paint company has created its own green line, but not all green paints are created equal. A new generation of low-VOC or zero-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) paints give homeowners a healthier option. The new range of paints is every bit as durable as their unhealthier predecessors, but with a plethora of health and environmental benefits. The water-based paints are easier to clean and release fewer landfill, groundwater and ozone depleting contaminants. The paints are a far better choice for everyone, especially those with respiratory ailments, allergies or chemical sensitivities.

Sealants / Adhesives: The risk with most finish materials is that chemical adhesives used during installation can counteract the healthy qualities of products that have been manufactured to be green. Sustainable adhesives and sealants contain little to no solvents meaning that less or no VOC are released during the application and curing, nor in the finished product.

Flooring: Wood is one of the best earth-friendly and renewable materials you can choose. Not only are fewer raw materials used in creating them, but they also require less energy and natural resources. While materials like bamboo and cork are popular types of sustainable wood flooring, they can be limited in their durability – especially when compared to hardwood floors. Cork is a softer wood, harvested from the bark of oak trees, whereas bamboo floors actually come from the grass family.

Countertops: The most common kitchen counters you will find in homes are traditional laminate countertops. And they certainly live up to the adage ‘you get what you pay for’, as most of them still contain a lot of formaldehyde and they aren’t very durable. IceStone is one of the most popular recycled countertops out there with a spectrum of colors available. Another is PaperStone is made of 100 percent post consumer paper fused with a petroleum-free resin derived from cashew liquids.The material more closely resembles wood than stone, making it much easier to work with.

Sustainable Textile

As the demand for eco-design and sustainable furniture has increased, the textile industry has adapted to this trend. In modern textile production, therefore, the use of polluting chemicals is dispensed with. In addition, attention is paid to the environmentally friendly extraction of raw materials. Here are some examples:

Hemp Fiber: considered by many as the most versatile and sustainable plant on earth. Its skin is tough and insect resistant, and this is why often hemp is used as a rotation crop. Its fiber and oil can be used in making clothes, papers, building material, food, skin care products and even biofuels.

Organic Linen Fiber: Linen fabrics are made with flax fibers. You can find flax fiber’s excellent properties in the hemp fiber info section.While growing flax is far more sustainable and causes less pollution than conventional cotton, herbicides have been commonly used in conventional cultivation as flax is not very competitive with weeds.

Organic cotton: is an ecologically responsible and green fiber. Unlike conventional cotton, which uses more chemicals than any other crop, it is never genetically modified and does not use any highly polluting agro-chemicals such as those found in pesticides, herbicides and many fertilizers. Integrated soil and pest management techniques—such as crop rotation and introducing natural predators of cotton pests—are practiced in organic cotton cultivation.

Natural wool: is obtained by the annual shearing of sheepskin. Pure new wool expresses that it comes from a living animal. Organic wool also comes from animal welfare. The quality of the wool depends on the body regions, age and origin of the animal.

Bamboo: is a rapidly growing grass plant. It can be harvested every 2-3 years without having to re-plant it. It uses less water for cultivation, no pesticides and improves soil quality. Fabric from bamboo is moisture absorbent, hypo-allergenic and anti-bacterial. Bamboo fabric is very soft to touch and is made use of in luxurious upholstery.

Kapok Fiber: comes from the Kapok tree and is 100% natural. The first and most important to notice is probably that kapok is wild grown and therefore it does not need any artificial watering! Kapok trees are native to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The “tree wool”, as kapok is called as well, grows in big pods on the trees and the ripe unopened pods are normally harvested by knocking them off the tree. Afterwards, the fruits are hulled and seed and fibre are removed from the pods by hand. A tree yields about 15 kg of fiber a year. For 1 kg of kapok you actually need 15 pods

TENCEL™ Lyocell fiber

Another product leading sustainability in the textile industry is TENCEL™ Lyocell fiber. The fibers originate from the renewable raw material wood, created by photosynthesis. The certified biobased fibers are manufactured using an environmentally responsible production process. The fibers are certified as compostable and biodegradable, and thus can fully revert back to nature. TENCEL™ Lyocell fiber have gained a commendable reputation for their environmentally responsible closed loop production process, which transforms wood pulp into cellulosic fibers with high resource efficiency and low environmental impact. They are found in the collections of many leading designers and renowned retailers because they answer both the demand for sustainability and style.

Final Thoughts

The construction industry is undeniably making a profound impact on the environment; thus, it becomes extremely important that companies work towards maximizing the positive benefits while minimizing its negative component. Sustainable buildings are designed to help reduce the overall impact on the environment and human health during and after construction.

Aside from a lower impact on the environment, green buildings also create healthier, more comfortable indoor environments for the people who use them. Protecting the planet and promoting the physical well-being of the occupants are equally significant. This is beyond important for the future of our society.

Our future and our children’s future depend on our efforts to be more green and our ability to use sustainable materials.

Would you like to learn more about how you can jumpstart your way into creating a greener home for your family?

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The Power of Water

Water is one of the most indispensable and essential components of the general wellbeing and health of humans. In fact, there would be no life without water since the human body consists of seventy percent water. Like air quality in a home, water quality is an equally important consideration for any new construction or restoration. Both are susceptible to contaminants and both can be addressed with peace of mind solutions.

History

Water treatment throughout history dates back over 4,000 years with most civilizations figuring out that boiled and strained water helped eliminate unwanted substances for achieving better tasting water.

The first known domestic filter appeared when the Greek scientist Hippocrates invented the so-called Hippocratic sleeve, which consisted of a simple cloth-back filter.

Other civilizations filtered impurities from their water by sifting it through sand and gravel. With the development of the microscope, scientists zoomed into what exactly is in the water. Out of this revelation came filters made of charcoal, sponge, and wool to eliminate anything unwanted in the water. By the 20th Century, most developed countries had established regulations that set minimum standards of water quality. Even with these standards and water quality supply improving, for a variety of reasons the market for home filtration systems continues to evolve in making water even cleaner, better tasting, and rid of unwanted elements.

Are you drinking clean water?

In order for us to stay healthy, it’s critical that our water is safe to drink. If we can’t always trust the safety of the water coming out of our taps or wells, then it’s up to us to make it secure. That starts with knowing which contaminants to look out for—and how to ensure you’re drinking safe water.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, a water contaminant is defined as “any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water.”

Put simply this means, anything other than an actual water molecule qualifies as a contaminant. Not all contaminants that enter drinking water are harmful. For example, if a stray piece of sand makes its way into your drinking water, it would qualify as a “physical contaminant”—but drinking it won’t harm you. Consuming contaminated water can lead to mild to severe symptoms depending on how long a person is exposed, how healthy the person is, and more.

Water Contaminants

According to EWG, nearly all Americans today, including new born babies, have PFAS in their blood, and up to 110 million people may be drinking PFAS-tainted water.

According to the EPA, Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. PFAS have been manufactured and used in a variety of industries around the globe, including in the United States since the 1940s. PFOA and PFOS have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body – meaning they don’t break down and they can accumulate over time.
Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to:

  • Low infant birth weights
  • Effects on the immune system
  • Cancer (for PFOA)
  • Thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS)

There are many other substances and contaminants in water that are harmful to our health. The full list of potential drinking water contaminants includes thousands of entries. This can explain why numerous studies find that drinking water across the U.S. is highly contaminated. It’s no wonder when you consider the sheer number of ways that contaminants are capable of entering our drinking water, from industrial leaks to agricultural runoff, and even through additives added at water treatment facilities. Here are a variety of common drinking water contaminants that can potentially cause health issues:

Water Filtration Systems

There are various types of advanced home water filtration system available in the market and the top three are the following:

Activated carbon: It is one of the most common and the least expensive among the many types of water filters. The system is usually installed under the sink. You just replace the filter cartridges as often as needed. Activated carbon filtration systems are known to be effective in removing parasites, chemicals and heavy metals that may be present in the water.

Cation exchange water filter systems: It is also called ion exchange filters or water softeners. In this filter system, positively-charged ions are used to attract negatively-charged ions that are harmful, such as barium and calcium. Barium can cause some health issues as prolonged exposure to this earth metal can affect your internal organs. Magnesium and calcium can damage pipes and also make water taste bad.

Reverse osmosis: This is considered as the most effective home water filtration system. Reverse osmosis forces the water to pass through a semi-permeable membrane using air pressure. Almost all contaminants are effectively filtered out with this system. Water filtration process is either 5, 6 or 7 stages. Brands that process water in more stages (6 or 7) are able to produce alkaline water.

Choose The Best Filtration System For Your Home

To choose the best filter for your home water consumption needs, it is helpful first to learn more about your water source. Your water filtering needs depend on the quality of your particular water supply, your personal preferences when it comes to taste and odor, and any special health circumstances in your household. Understanding what contaminants may already exist in your water is an important first step when deciding whether you want or need a filtration system and, if so, what type will best meet your needs.

Then, consider how the filter fits your home, lifestyle and budget. Many different types of filters are available to consumers. Determining which type is most appropriate for you—or whether you need a filter at all—depends on what functions you want a filter to provide. No filter eliminates all contaminants, so understanding what filters do and do not do is important.

Water filter pitchers
These are pitchers that are filled from the top and have built-in filters that water must pass through before being poured out for drinking or other use. They are inexpensive to purchase, require no installation and are easy to use.

Refrigerators
Many refrigerators have a built-in filter that supplies water through the door and supplies an automatic ice maker. It comes with many refrigerators and often improves water taste.

Faucet-mounted filtration systems
These are attached to a standard faucet and can be switched on and off between filtered and unfiltered water flow. It allows easy switching between filtered and unfiltered water and is relatively inexpensive.

Faucet-integrated filtration systems
These are faucets designed with built-in filters (instead of an attached filter, like a faucet-mounted system) and require installation.

The above options are relatively inexpensive and easy to install, yet they require frequent filter replacement. Not only this may be cumbersome, but the quality of the filtering and with it the water taste degrades over the relatively short filter life.

It would also be best to note that using an inappropriate purification system may result in water not being filtered properly as well as slow down water pressure thus making it inefficient and expensive. Hence it’s important to choose a system that can provide high quality filtration which at minimum removes particles larger than 0.001μm while maintaining a proper water flow of 1.5 – 2.0 GPM (Gallons per Minute).

The chart below demonstrates the difference in quality between Carbon and Micro Filtration and a 4-stage Reverse Osmosis purification system:

Water Can Heal

Given the significance of water in sustaining life, it’s no surprise that access to clean water is a basic human right. Your body needs safe drinking water for it to remain healthy.

Our brains are made up of eighty five percent water and so even if we lose just one to two percent of body water, then this vital organ immediately suffers. 

This can have detrimental effects on our well-being. It is important to constantly replenish the body with high-quality water, to strip nasty toxins from our vital organs and help to carry nutrients to our cells, preventing us from becoming dehydrated. By making sure you stay hydrated, you’ll feel sharper, perform better, have more energy, get more done, and give your body what it needs to help ensure better health.

Impure water, on the other hand, can lead to illness and even death in extreme circumstances. That’s why the importance of water purification is incredibly high today. The good news? You can take charge of your water consumption habits and make sure you’re drinking the safest, and purest water possible. The most effective solution is to invest in an advanced home water purification system. With the increasing amount of water pollution, installing a water purifier that can remove 95-99% of most water-borne contaminants that can threaten health or taste such as lead, copper, cysts and nitrates is a necessity rather than a luxury. Removing only a portion of water impurities while at the same time removing essential minerals will not yield the sought after health benefits.

For that reason we recommend water purifiers from renowned brands like Bluewater who use a proprietary technology called SuperiorOsmosis which can remove contaminants as small as 0.0001μm while maintaining an amazing 50-60% recovery rate that reduces waste significantly, and helps reduce environmental impact.

Water Is The Universal Solvent

It is involved in every function of the human body. Now more than ever, it is essential that we are conscious of what we put into our body. One of the most basic of human needs is water. Drinking purified water assures that the vital minerals you need to function are present in the water you’re drinking.

Everyone has the right to drink water as clean as nature intended. Now, you can create your own source of pure, fresh and premium water with the right kind of product. Look for products that have the United States Water Quality Association’s Gold Seal Trademark. This seal is an industry standard that certifies water treatment products have been tested to meet industry standards. It ensures that a product is made from safe materials, that the claims listed on the packaging are backed by test data.

Protect yourself and your family by making sure that the water you drink and use is free of waterborne contaminants. Invest in a product that delivers crystal clean, healthier and great tasting drinking water directly out of your tap. Your body will thank you for it.

Contact us to find out how to obtain the best water filtration system at the best value for your home.

Call 1-866.815.0099

Soundscaping, Can Sound Heal?

Close your eyes for a moment and listen to the space you are in. Take a moment to breath. You may hear the rhythmic agitation of a washing machine’s spin cycle muffled only slightly by a closed door, the hum of the air conditioning or the neighbor’s dog barking. This mental sonic imagery illustrates the power of sound as a medium for communication. It can relay meaning, emotion, memory, and facts through language, music, and field recordings.

Sound, when understood as an environment, is a soundscape: a powerful tool that helps humans relate to their surroundings. Soundscape is said to help people sleep faster and feel better. American physicist David Gibson even suggests that sounds, those that induce the feeling of peace, tranquility, and relaxation—help the body and mind heal. The exposure to nature sounds enhances the body’s ability to ‘disconnect’ and let go of its natural ways of response, relaxing the central nervous system and allowing you to truly get connected with your inner peace. People that are exposed to nature sounds, and especially those that have high stress levels to begin with, may show a more positive attitude when being confronted with day-to-day problems and difficulties.

Stress Recovery Theory

Stress often drives people to seek relief through nature, even though we might not understand the biological basis for it. It is our innate desire to seek a safe environment that is behind the feeling of calmness and happiness caused by nature, which allows our bodies and brains to restore and maintain their energy. This is called the stress recovery theory (SRT). Due to this restoring effect, we are also capable of performing better on tasks that require our directed, voluntary attention.

Why is it that we are so driven towards nature? From a genetic standpoint, we are hunter-gatherers from 40,000 years ago-: our biology hasn’t changed much since. We are meant to live in nature, exposed to the sounds of running streams, the wind through tree branches and ocean waves. These positive emotions we connect with nature cause us to seek its presence : taking a walk in the park, bringing plants indoors, preferring a window seat. When people are asked to list their favorite places, natural environments are overrepresented. This concept for our instinctual desire for nature is known as biophilia. While the term is not too well-known, the concept is still very pervasive: people are willing to pay higher prices for real estate closer to lakes, beaches and parks, for high-rise views over cities and forests, or a mountain vista.

We feel what we hear.

In contrast, the feeling of exhaustion that so often hits us at the end of a workday might be the result of an early morning, a string of bad meetings or maybe a lack of caffeine. An equally likely culprit, though, is the barrage of sounds we’re exposed to each day, including ambient noise most people don’t even notice. Those hidden sounds, experts warn, could be having a big impact on your well-being. According to Julian Treasure, founder The Sound Agency, hearing is primal. We don’t have ear lids. There is no way to turn it off. We hear everything around us all day, all the time. When we get stressed out, our immune system suffers.

Replenishing And Restorative Effect Of The Sounds Of Nature

White noise has been called the legacy of sleep sounds as it has lulled people to sleep for ages. White noise encompasses all of the frequencies any person can possibly hear (about 20 Hertz to 20 thousand Hertz), it holds the potential to block out any outside sound. White noise sounds like the static you hear when you accidentally tune cable TV to an unused channel.

However, research explains how nature sounds (pink noise) can physically change our mind and bodily systems, helping us to relax. Researchers at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) found that playing ‘natural sounds’ affected the bodily systems that control the flight-or-fright and rest-digest autonomic nervous systems, with associated effects in the resting activity of the brain.

“We are all familiar with the feeling of relaxation and ‘switching-off’ which comes from a walk in the countryside, and now we have evidence from the brain and the body which helps us understand this effect.”

– Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag

Furthermore, a 2011 study comparing the effects of five different speech-masking sounds (including filtered pink noise) found that the sound of spring water was the most optimal for workplace performance, creative thinking and acoustic comfort.

Escape From Screens

With the average person now spending 6.5 hours+ a day in front of screens — bombarded by bad news, endless work, and social media strutting — there’s a distinct shift underway: a retreat from visual/digital culture into music and sound. This flight into music is being led by millennials/Gen Z. A recent global Spotify survey of 15- to 37-year-olds found that one of the five defining traits of this young demographic is that they: “use audio as an escape from their screens,” and audio is a “huge part of their everyday lives.”

It’s not just the kids: A recent Sonos global survey showed the many ways all people use music to boost their wellbeing:

Roughly 75% report they listen to music to reduce stress, and that listening to music is key to producing their best work.

Thus, you might want to consider creating ambient soundscapes to turn your home into a sanctuary and refuge, wherein peace, serenity, and calmness thrive.

Steps To Creating Good Sonic Environments

1. Remove Any Extraneous Noise
These should be positioned away from your space of rest or sound should be absorbed. Then you have to work on the acoustics of the space.

2. Think About The Sound System You’re Going To Put In And How You Route The Sound

3. Think About The Content You’re Putting Through It
That’s where generative soundscapes, appropriate music in retail spaces or biophilic sound masking is important.

Sounds Of Nature In Everyday Life

Now, think of a space in your home that relaxes you. Maybe a bedroom or a relaxation or meditation corner. Try to create the landscape of your comfort place through sound. This will give you a sense of place, and when you have it, you feel safe and peaceful. Music, an ambient soundscape, does more than just make your home feel cozier. It also gives you a feeling of warmth and tranquility. It makes you feel truly at home. You know you’re home when you hear those familiar sounds that soothe you and ultimately, calms you down.

To learn more about how to create the perfect environment through sound

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Can Air Purification Protect You From COVID-19?

To our valued clients, associates and friends,

As the Covid-19 Pandemic rages around the world life as we know it has been altered dramatically. There’s no telling at this point to what extent these changes are temporary and to what extent permanent. First, we’d like to wish anyone who’s been affected by this reality, whether physically, mentally or financially (and that probably encompasses all of us), a quick and safe recovery.

There’s a saying that every cloud has a silver lining. Our hope is that one of the resulting changes, following these circumstances, will be an improvement in the well-being for all of us. The emphasis on wellness and the desire by both clients and their design & build professionals to incorporate wellness enhancing concepts into their design predated the Covid-19 calamity. However, we suspect that this desire will grow following the current situation.

To that end, we would like to share with you a new concept we call Wellness by Design. This concept includes eight features and in the coming weeks we will bring you articles that discuss these features. We hope that you’ll enjoy these reads and for everyone to be safe and well.

Can An Indoor Air Purification System Help Protect You Against Covid-19 (and other pathogens)?

Our buildings can shape our habits, help balance our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.
Biophilia and wellness-related technology are becoming big business in workspaces, factories, hotels, prisons and other commercial environments. Now the technology is moving fast and furious into the residential sector.

In this newsletter series we will explore new and upcoming technology trends as they relate to wellness in design solutions. In addition, we believe that wellness doesn’t stop inside the four walls of a house or a building. Therefore, we will also include some related tidbits from other fields such as nutrition, fitness and spirituality. In this first installment we will focus on air. Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). We think this topic is extremely relevant to the current Covid-19 crisis.

“From Hunter-Gatherers to Cave Dwellers”

For millions of years humans used to roam the open savannahs, prairies and open fields at first as hunter-gatherers and later as farmers enjoying clean and open air for the most part. However, in the last couple of centuries humankind quite rapidly moved from a society that spends the majority of its waking hours in the open to a society that spends most of the time indoors. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American spends 93 percent of their life indoors.

The time spent indoors amounts to only one half of one day per week outdoors. It’s no wonder we generally feel happier when the sun is shining and we’re outside. In addition, since the Industrial Revolution the quality of the outdoor air has decreased exponentially.
Individually, we can’t do much about the quality of the air in our outdoor environment. We can, however, control the air indoors and ensure our homes and offices become a sanctuary of fresh air and wellbeing. Sadly though, in most cases the quality of air indoors is worse than outdoors.

Indoor air can be up to 5x more polluted (and sometimes more) than outside

US Environmental Protection Agency – Importance of Indoor Air Quality

The Velux Indoor Generation report found that 80 percent of Americans are unaware indoor air can be five times more polluted than outdoor air and don’t realize that all that extended time indoors has a detrimental effect on our health and wellbeing, similar to poor diet or lack of exercise. The eye opener is that poor air quality in our homes, our offices, and our schools directly impact costly health problems like asthma, respiratory disease, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Spending most of your time indoors and a lack of sunlight leads to lower brain function, sleep quality, mood and productivity.
As a result, we need to shift the way we design our interior spaces and view them as a ‘Micro-Environment’ and control what we breathe to create an overall a healthier environment for occupants.

Sick Building Syndrome

Sick building syndrome (SBS) is a common worldwide health concern, where people in a building suffer from symptoms of illness or become infected with chronic disease from the building they work in or reside in. Certain symptoms tend to increase in severity with the time people spend in the building; often improving over time or even disappearing when people are away from the building.

The main identifying observation is an increased incidence of complaints of symptoms such as headache, eye, nose, and throat irritation, fatigue, and dizziness and nausea from exposure to harmful chemicals released by toxic black mold. Some symptoms are linked to the average amount of time spent in a building, such as mold spore and dust inhalation.

Why does the indoor air quality get so bad?
Several factors affect Indoor Air Quality:

Gases – Vapors and gases from the ground are known to permeate through the foundation floor and walls in the basements and crawl spaces. This is the natural point of entry of radon gases and toxic vapors that seep in undetected. Combustible appliances such as furnaces, gas dryers, and water heaters can also leak harmful gases into the air.

VOCs (Volatile Omitting Compounds) – From cleaning materials, upholstery and window-treatments’ fabrics, paint and plastics used for toys and other equipment.

Formaldehyde – Building materials, cabinetry, carpeting contain formaldehyde which is given off in a gaseous state and has a life span of 10 years or more.

Moisture & temperature – Inadequate temperatures, humidity, and mold through condensation or leaks. Everyday activities such as bathing, cooking, and washing laundry increase the moisture level. Basements and crawl spaces are the most moisture laden areas of the home as seepage from outside and lack of ventilation increases and traps moisture in these areas. They therefore contain the most problematic air mass in the home. That air mass makes its way into the upper areas of the home through natural airflow known as “stack effect.”

Viruses – Viruses and bacteria from common health ailments and other sources pollute your home’s air allowing diseases to spread from one person to another.

Children’s bedrooms can often be the most polluted rooms in the house
Danish Eco Council (2016)

What Strategies can be implemented to achieve better air quality?

The first obvious answer is to filter the indoor air, but before we filter our air, it’ll be helpful if we could monitor the quality of our indoor air. Several companies offer indoor air monitors.

One such company; Pure365 offers relatively affordable indoor air quality monitors that house advanced sensors to measure the level of particulate matter, carbon dioxide and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), radon and more in the air. The Pure365 app allows one to view on their phone real time data as well as past pollution events. The connected air quality monitor takes the important first leg by communicating with your smart thermostat to activate the HVAC system when pollution levels pass a certain threshold that you can set manually.

Pure Air

The next step would be the installation of a Whole-Home Air Purification System. Air purification systems are not based on just one device. Regardless of the heating and cooling requirements of a home, to How Air Purifiers Work Achieve the benefits of a passive home and manage a healthy home environment, a whole home system will likely be comprised of many different components and depend on the spec of a home and its geographic location.

The system design will need to factor and address:
1. Ventilation – fresh air intake and exhaust
2. Air Exchange – energy capture management
3. Purification and filtration
4. Humidity Control – dehumidification and humidifying
5. Heating and cooling

Achieve the benefits of a passive home and manage a healthy home environment, a whole home system will likely be comprised of many different components and depend on the spec of a home and its geographic location.

The system design will need to factor and address:
1. Ventilation – fresh air intake and exhaust
2. Air Exchange – energy capture management
3. Purification and filtration
4. Humidity Control – dehumidification and humidifying
5. Heating and cooling

HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) is a standard for air filtration set by the U.S. Government. While this is generally seen as an acceptable measurement for whether indoor air is good or bad, we only see it as a starting point. After all, HEPA filters are not 100% effective for capturing particles up to 0.3 microns – which the American Lung Association qualities as “ultra fine particles.” Pure365’s technology has four times the filter loading capacity than a typical HEPA rated filter, with an efficiency of capturing 99.99% of pollutants at 0.007 microns (40x smaller than a typical HEPA efficiency at 0.3 micron).

Pure365’s Intellipure

Can then help with the air purification. Once the Smart Thermostat receives a bad air quality signal from the air quality monitor and activates the fan on the HVAC system to boost airflow and direct stale and polluted air through your return ducts and whole house filter system so that clean purified air comes out of the supply vents. It also saves you energy and pays for itself to boot.

The Intellipure whole-house air purifier then plays its role of anchor in helping to deliver the cleanest air possible throughout the home reducing the particulate level by over 90% over conventional filters.

It is seamlessly retrofitted into the home’s existing heating and/or air conditioning (HVAC) system. Clean air is passed through your HVAC system and delivered back into the home via the supply ductwork and diffusers located in each room.

Passive Home Design

If we install a whole-home air purifying system, yet polluted air still leaks indoor it’ll be detrimental to the efficiency and quality of the results from the purifying system. Therefore, it’s instrumental that we design the home for maximum insulation. Passive home designs are well-insulated housing envelopes coupled with air barriers, air sealing, and the use of heat exchangers to recirculate indoor air.

Managing home air quality begins with airtight construction and requires a sophisticated air purification management system. The system can also address air quality challenges in specific zones like kitchens, bathrooms, basements, utility rooms and attached garages. Passive home design and an air purification system need to be carefully engineered to properly address the objectives for achieving a healthy home micro-environment:
Energy Efficiency – Passive buildings use 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than the average existing building stock – to offer a proportional response to the climate crises. Note: despite widespread misleading descriptions to the contrary, most cold climate Passive houses are still required to have a heating system, it is just a very small heating system, and therefore likely not a traditional heating system.

Nor is a Passive house necessarily a zero-energy building – it uses power, if much typically less – but it can more economically and readily become “zero-energy” with a relatively modest addition of renewables.
Affordable – Added construction costs for high performance are substantially offset by a reduction in systems sizing. Because the reduced energy use translates into lower bills and protection from future energy shocks, occupancy is affordable.
Predictable – An integrated methodology and energy model provides predictability – an essential element in optimizing system sizing and cost.

“It’s a pretty wild approach to think that you could actually save the environment while having a better home”

-MICHAEL INGUI, BAXT INGUI ARCHITECTS

What about the cost?

Ongoing studies have suggested that buyers demonstrated willingness to pay more to live in a healthier built environment.
According to the Global Wellness Institute (GWI), the wellness real estate industry grew 6.4% annually from 2015–2017 and is expected to reach $198 billion in 2022, with a lot of this growth being driven by an increased consumer desire to lead a “wellness lifestyle.”

According to Coldwell Banker in their ‘2020 The Report, A large portion of this growth has been driven by the luxury real estate sector, where price premiums for wellness lifestyle real estate developments are often 10% to 25% higher than at conventional residential developments, justifying the additional investment.

Luxury Leads the Charge

Furthermore, they sight A study in 2018 which showed that three-quarters of people shopping for a home in the U.S. consider housing an essential or extremely important contributor to their health. When asked what constitutes health and well-being, 75% responded “having more energy,” while 65% said “feeling better rested.” More than half mentioned “achieving a happier state of mind” and “increasing mental alertness.”

Millennial Power

But why has there been a relatively sudden shift toward eco-sensitive buildings, wellness focused technology, and biophilic practices? Well, say hello to your new power purchasing demographic: Millennials.

The U.S. millennial generation born between 1982 and 1996 has over 73 million members, a number that has now eclipsed the 72 million U.S baby boomers to become the largest demographic grouping by age.
In the last three years, Millennials have seen a surge in population and buying power.

In its report, Coldwell Banker says CE pros, builders, and real estate agents need to be prepared for millennials to flex their economic muscle even more over the coming decades. In fact, by 2030, research estimates that millennials will hold five times as much wealth as they have in 2020, giving the group significant power in shaping future luxury trends.

“What’s happening with luxury new construction is that there’s a shift in what people are looking for because there has been a shift in who’s buying,” says Ricardo Rodriguez of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in Boston, Mass. “Buyers are getting younger, and these are established Millennials with kids entering the market, which redefines everything from unit size and composition to the level of amenities they expect.”

Final Thoughts

The comfort in knowing that the air quality in the home is as healthy or healthier than outdoor air is directly related to the HVAC and Air Purification System design. A house with Customized Indoor Air Quality System coupled with Passive House construction approaches being airtight, can significantly increase the wellbeing of its residents. All new home and renovations, besides meeting code, should consider an engineered air exchange and replenishment filtration system that measurably improves a home’s air quality.

Introducing the benefits of a custom designed HVAC system that features air purification and independent zone control are especially important in premium amenities like super kitchens, built-in bath spas and pools, dedicated laundry rooms, and workout/yoga spaces in both single-home or multi-living residences.

Fresh Nutrition – Designing A Produce Garden

We are living through interesting times.The pandemic has us sheltering in place and a large proportion of our communities are home a whole lot more than we used to be. Sheltering in place disrupts our normal schedules, distances us from our family, friends and co-workers. This isolation and finding new ways to adapt to it, forces us to refocus and realign our lives.

A new study from local market research firm Scarborough reveals that of the nearly 164 million homeowners in the United States, nearly half (49 percent) gardened in the past 12 months.

“Backyard gardening can inspire you to take an interest in the origins of your food and make better choices about what you put on your plate. When you grow your own food, you savor it more because of the effort it took to get to the table.”

Dr. Helen Delichatsios, an internist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital

Garden-To-Table 

The nature of the American food system is that grocery store produce has often been grown hundreds of miles away, meaning it can be days between harvest and your table. This process results in the quality of the produce often being compromised.

The American Dietetic Association has a new study published in the journal shows that a low-income family would have to devote 43 to 70 percent of its food budget to fruits and vegetables to meet the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, which recommends five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. “Most Americans fall short of the recommended servings,” says Milton Stokes, a registered dietitian and a spokesman for the American Dietetic Association.

Fresh fruits and vegetables tend to be more expensive than processed foods. Fresh produce has a short shelf life, which means that it spoils and therefore can’t be bought in bulk and stored in the same way processed or preserved foods can.

With people being more and more aware of the need to feed their families healthy food, an unprecedented demand for local and fresh food emerges. The National Gardening Association research shows that over the last decade there has been a 38% increase in people actively trying to grow food at home. This means that currently, 48 million households are trying to grow food at home and 60% of the households are highly interested in producing their own food.

Enjoy The Benefits Of Having Your Own Garden

Not only does gardening provide you and your family with fresh and healthy food, it also builds your body strength, promotes sleep, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. Here are some other reasons to build your own edible garden:

Improve your health. Consuming more fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. When you pick vegetables right from your garden, the vitamin content will be at its highest. Also, you are reducing the risk of eating vegetables that contain harmful chemicals–you know exactly what you’re eating. In addition, getting kids involved in the gardening process will make it more likely for them to try the vegetables.

Save money on groceries. One of the benefits of enjoying garden vegetables is a reduced monthly food bill. You can grow organic vegetables for a fraction of the cost in the stores.

Get outdoor exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source says gardening is exercise. Activities like raking and cutting grass might fall under the category of light to moderate exercise, while shoveling, digging, and chopping wood might be considered vigorous exercise.Either way, working in a garden uses every major muscle group in the body. This fact won’t surprise anyone who’s woken up sore after a day of yardwork.

Studies have found that the physical exertion of working in a garden may help offset both age-related weight gain and childhood obesity. And researchers at the University of Pennsylvania reported that people who garden are more likely to get a solid 7 hours of sleep at night.

Gardening is a natural stress reliever. Being outside in the fresh air and sunshine can improve mood and make you feel rejuvenated and overall happy. Growing your own produce also gives you a great sense of accomplishment.

Start Your Own Edible Garden

There are a lot of ways to start your own edible garden and it usually depends on the available square footage you have or the sunlight conditions in your space. Whatever the reason, there are several gardening options available for you.

Backyard Gardens

This is the growing of food on home property. Its produce is mostly shared among friends, family, and neighbors as it typically leads to a surplus in the harvest. The food can also be stored and preserved. Backyard gardens are beneficial to communities as neighbors can share each other’s backyard and employ different methods of farming leading to better yields.

Rooftop Gardens

Since urban areas have limited space, it does not mean agriculture cannot be practice. This is where rooftop space comes in as they can easily be utilized for cropping vegetables, fruits, and herbs. The advantage of rooftop gardens is that it can aid in reducing urban heat island as well as improving the air quality. Aside from these, rooftop gardens can be used to beautify recreational facilities.

Vertical Gardens

These are just tightly packed plantings that are hung on a wall rather than planted in pots or in the ground. In a small-space garden, it’s a clever way to get more greenery into a really tight area. It’s also a smart way to hide an unsightly fence. One of the easiest ways to grow food vertically is to secure window boxes or individual pots to fences and walls. To really stand out, paint the containers in bright colors before they are hung. Plant with compact herbs, vegetables, and strawberries.

Container Gardens

This is ideal for those with little or no garden space. Gardeners limited to a balcony, small yard, or only a patch of sun on their driveway can produce a wide variety of vegetable crops in containers. Basil, chives, thyme, and other herbs also are quite happy growing in pots, which can be set in a convenient spot right outside the kitchen door.

Raised Bed Gardens

A raised bed garden is when a planting bed sits on top of your existing soil. It can be anywhere from just a few inches tall to waist-high (or higher), and can be made of many different materials. Usually, there’s room left around the outside of each bed so you can walk around it (not in it), which allows the soil to stay loose and fluffy instead of compacted. That’s important, since roots grow best when there’s room for air and water to move easily through the soil.

Community Gardens

This is a shared, semi public space where people in the surrounding neighborhood share the work and harvest of maintaining a garden space for growing fruits, vegetables, flowers. One community garden can consist of several raised beds on an empty lot and neighbors can come by each day to attend the plants and pick food to eat. A different community garden can be in the yard of a house of worship, and the harvest supplies the soup kitchen and food bank.

Street Landscaping

This is the landscaping of streets for different uses such as community gardens, which are tended to by the people in the neighborhood. They not only make the streets look beautiful but also purifies the air creating a clean environment. Since they are primarily located along the street, their added advantage is their capability of reducing urban stormwater runoff.

Smart Gardening

You can simplify your gardening with the power of smart watering with a system that can automatically program itself based on real-time local weather data collected from the Internet to create an optimized watering schedule for your yard. One particular brand is Blossom Smart Watering Controller. This means that on the sunniest, hottest days, Blossom will apply extra water to replenish dry soil. On cooler, less sunny days, Blossom adjusts to irrigate less. If measurable rain is in the weather forecast, Blossom skips watering for that day. The result is an automatically adjusted irrigation plan tailored for your lawn and garden that can be monitored from anywhere at any time from your smartphone or tablet over this Wi-Fi enabled system.

Another tool, a moisture censor kit, can be added to supplement these functions. SMRT-Y Soil Moisture Sensor is an irrigation controller is directly linked to the absolute moisture requirements of a site’s vegetation. When the sensor detects dry conditions, the next scheduled watering cycle is allowed. If a site’s soil moisture level is above the threshold, the irrigation cycle is suspended.

Gardening experts also rely on the USDA/Sunset Plant Hardiness Zone maps or seed packets when planning a garden. These sources help growers determine which plants will grow in their geographic location. Hardiness zones indicate how well a plant will survive in a variety of growing conditions relative to heat, cold, and rainfall in the area.

Traditionally, we grow edibles in areas that receive 6-8 hours of full sun, thus, limiting one’s growing options to a relatively small area in many landscapes. What about using your entire landscape to grow food instead? Take some time to observe your yard. Is there a place that never seems to get any sun? Is there an area that has great morning sun, then shaded in the afternoon? How about an area that gets lambasted by the western sun? These areas are known as microclimates: areas that differ from the climate of the surrounding area.

Grow Anywhere With The Help Of Technology

There is a technology called Micro-Climate Technology. This technology helps gardeners grow anywhere…Indoor, Outdoors, Full sun, or Full Shade. One company, Agriscaping has been exclusively using micro-technology mapping. They established 6 basic microclimate categories, indicated by the letters A through F. Each letter represents a different microclimate zone according to the amount of sunlight it receives, which determines what plants will grow in that space. For example, Zone A receives the morning sun and is shaded in the afternoon. Zone B is known as the traditional zone since it receives sun throughout the day. For those shaded areas of your yard, Zone F is the microclimate for that space. You can have your property’s microclimates mapped out through this technology. In addition, you will learn what plants flourish in the specific microclimate with your personalized color-coded zone chart.

Knowing what to grow and where to grow in your microclimates will help extended success in your garden. Gardening invites you to get outside, interact with other gardeners, and take charge of your own need for exercise, healthy food, and beautiful surroundings.

Fun Fact

Our founder Alon, is one of the 48 million households who decided to grow their own food recently.

These are pictures of him and his family building their garden beds.

Their seedlings hatching

The crop from their garden

Final Thoughts

If you’re digging, hauling, and harvesting, your physical strength, heart health, weight, sleep, and immune systems all benefit. Those are just the physiological outcomes of gardening. It also cultivates feelings of empowerment, connection, and creative calm.

Start planting your way to a healthier you!

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The Connected Home 4 Things to Consider when Setting Up Your Wireless Network

It’s no secret that with the current Covid-19 crisis many Americans are restricted to working from home. As a consequence, reliance on video sharing platforms such as Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Outlook Teams, Google Hangouts, etc. has become an essential for proper workflow. All signs are pointing that even when this crisis subsides, the reliance on working from home and video conferencing will continue to be the norm. Add to that the popularity of streaming services for both video and music content, and our dependency on a reliable Wi-Fi network has never been more apparent.

Interview with Nathan Holmes from Access Networks

So, taking that into consideration, what can you do to have a reliable and safe Wi-Fi network?

Here’s the lowdown on what you need to consider when setting up a Wi-Fi network:

1. Understanding the Frequency

The first concept to understand is what frequency, or better yet, frequencies a Wi-Fi network operates on and their pros and cons. The first to start with is the more common 2.4GHz frequency: the main benefit is that the 2.4GHz frequency has longer wavelength. That means that you can get reception further from the transmitter. In addition, it’s more prevalent and therefore almost all wireless products contain a 2.4GHz card. The latter feature is also the 2.4GHz frequency’s detriment; since the bandwidth is rather busy, resulting in what we call ‘noise’. Hence, this noise often causes latency in wireless communications.

In contrast, the 5GHz frequency has a shorter wavelength, meaning that a wireless device must be closer to the transmitter in order to have a proper reception. As a result, fewer wireless devices contain the 5GHz card. That may seem as a negative, though this is the 5GHz frequency’s advantage; if set right, this frequency is much cleaner and therefore communications can be steadier and faster. The rule of thumb is that for proper communications the 5GHz transmitters must be set up within 20’-25’ radius of each other.

2. Which Network Extenders get the Best Reception

We determined that a 5GHz bandwidth is more reliable than 2.4 GHz, but unless you have a small one-bedroom, one transmitter is not going to be enough for full coverage of your residence. It means that multiple transmitters or a network is needed. So, what are your options? The way to resolve this is by setting up multiple transmitters called ‘Access Points’ that communicate with one another. There are several options and topologies to deploy Access Points and we’ll try to explain them without getting too technical.

The Range Extender

This solution was very popular a few years back; you plug a device that extends your network to an outlet, set it up on the same network as your main wireless network and now you have an extender in a different part of your residence. The main issue with this system is that the extender appears as a sub-network, i.e. if your network’s name (SSID) is mynetwork, the extender will appear as mynetwork.EXT. Every time you move from one area to another, you must manually connect to the nearest extender. In addition, each extender you add cuts your bandwidth by half hence the amount of traffic that these extenders can handle is very limited and not suitable for video streaming. This option is extremely easy to setup, yet cumbersome and limited to use.

Mesh Networks

Mesh networks have become extremely popular in recent years. Google Wi-Fi and eero are two prime examples of mesh networks. In a mesh network, one access point is designated as the ‘main’ access point and is connected to the main router. The rest of the access points are plugged into a regular outlet and the setup is done through a mobile app. As long as all the access points are spread within the proper distance of one another, you’ll have a reliable network. This sounds so easy and reliable, there must be a catch, right? Well, there is; in a mesh network, when a wireless device (we call this a Client) tries to communicate with the network, all the access points need to communicate to decide which one is best suited to handle the request. This form of communication creates a latency and slows down the download and upload speeds of large files such as music and video streaming content. Therefore, mesh networks are decent and affordable DIY solutions, though they’re not the most efficient solution out there.

In-Line Wireless Access Points (WAP)

The last solution is what most pros resort to; in-line wireless access points (WAPs). With the in-line solution, the access points are deployed within 20’-25’ of one another and each area of the residence must be within 20’-25’ of an access point. That means it can also be above or below an access point, as long as every corner of the house, including outdoor areas (using outdoor grade access points) that you wish to be covered are within that range. This sounds great, but of course there’s a catch here too: as you move from one area to another, your wireless device, a mobile phone for example, stays attached to the last access point it was communicating with as long as there’s a signal, even if that signal is weak. For that reason, a controller that manages how the access points communicate with the wireless clients (wireless devices) is essential. How well the network preforms is owed partially to how well the controller manages the ‘hand-off’ from one access point to another. When all the parameters are taken into consideration this type of network will be the most reliable and efficient, whether for a residence or a large commercial space.

3. How to Maximize Network Speeds

Many of our clients are focused on the download and upload speeds, also known as throughput speeds. Most residential ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) offer top speeds anywhere from 400mbs (Megabit per Second) to 1Gbs (Gigabit per Second). However, if you try measuring the throughput on a network speed testing app as you walk through your residence, you’ll discover that your throughput is actually around 30% of what you pay, i.e. if your ISP service is 1Gbs, the measured throughput on your wireless device will be around 300mbs. That usually enrages clients as they think something is wrong with their wireless network. There are many reasons for this drop, and without getting too technical, it’ll suffice to say that this drop is normal and has to do with the way wireless devices communicate with the access points.

Since you wouldn’t feel a noticeable difference between 200mbs and 100mbs download speeds, instead of worrying about the throughput speeds, there are other aspects that influence your network reliability and speed: Traditionally access points were only able to ‘speak’ to one client (device) at a time. Although that communication is extremely fast, when you consider the multitude of devices communicating with a given access point at once, that can really slow a network down. Newer more advanced access points can speak to up to four clients at a time, hence increasing network efficiency exponentially. This feature is far more important than the measured download speeds, as long as those are over 100mbs.

Another aspect that influences your network speeds and reliability is how noisy or congested the network is. This brings us back to deciding on which frequency to use, 2.4GHz or 5GHz. As stated, the 5GHz bandwidth is much less congested, hence ‘cleaner’ and more reliable, thus should be the frequency of choice.

4. Considering Cybersecurity

Considering our reliance on the home network, especially working from home and using video conferencing, in addition to the proliferation of IoT (Internet of Things) connected devices such as lighting, appliances, security cameras and many more, the need for cyber security has never been greater. For that reason, considering a system that can provide intrusion prevention is of utmost importance. For the highest security and peace of mind, such prevention should include a good firewall option as well as active monitoring for intrusion. Naturally such options add to the initial cost of your network deployment. However, consider the potential financial consequences, not to mention your personal privacy, should your network be compromised.

Final Thoughts

With today’s lifestyle, our reliance on connected devices and streaming services, and now the need to work from home while video conferencing in order to stay connected with peers and clients alike, our reliance on the Wi-Fi network in our homes has never been greater. Having a properly deployed Wi-Fi network can make the difference between having a successful meeting or a dreadful one, between a pleasurable movie night or a horror movie. In addition, making sure that our wireless world is as secure, if not more, than our physical world cannot be overstated. A properly deployed and secured network is one that is not noticed but can make all the difference to how everything else works and flows. We consider this peace of mind to be part of Wellness by Design.

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Why is Circadian Lighting Important to Our Wellbeing?

As we adhere to strict physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19, most of us are also spending more time indoors. This means more time spent in a “biological cave” – although indoor lighting may appear appropriate, the intensity and temperature of the light might be inadequate considering the time of day. This can send confusing signals to our brain, negatively impacting our sleep, well-being, and health and thus throw our body’s circadian system into chaos.

The cycle of sleep and wakefulness is one of the key human behaviours. We spend about a third of our lives asleep and cannot survive without it. When asleep, our brain memorises and processes information. Our body clears toxins and repairs itself, allowing us to function properly when awake. Light is the most important external factor affecting sleep and plays a central role in regulating circadian rhythm, the body’s internal clock that signals when to be alert and when to rest. Light also affects the production of melatonin, an essential sleep-promoting hormone.

What are your circadian rhythms?

Our bodies have evolved over thousands of years to follow a natural 24-hour light-dark cycle. We naturally sleep when it gets dark and wake when the sun rises. Your sleep-wake circadian rhythm is an internal clock that runs constantly, cycling between alertness and sleepiness.

The hypothalamus controls each person’s circadian rhythm by receiving signals from the eyes that report when it’s daytime and nighttime and also controls the amount of melatonin released to correlate sleepiness with darkness and alertness with lightness. Drowsiness increases with rising melatonin levels, which is one way that this hormone facilitates sleep.

Our eye detects the light and dark cycle within our environment. This is so powerful that people who have very severe eye damage can find their body clock is thrown off, leading to sleep problems. We have 37 trillion cells in our body, each with its own time clock. For our bodies to sleep properly, it’s vital that each cell is properly synchronised. This is the function of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a tiny area of the brain located within the hypothalamus.

“Light is this really strong time cue that’s used by the body to set the clock. As a result, it means that when we’re exposing ourselves to artificial light we’re actually pushing our clock forward and backward inappropriately.”

Stuart Peirson, a neuroscience professor and
circadian rhythm expert at Oxford University

Our circadian rhythms start to respond to light at around 100 lux, which is about the brightness of a dim room. Most office buildings are designed to have a light intensity of 300 to 500 lux, but that’s nothing compared to a bright sunny day with a light intensity 100-times that. Even on a cloudy day, the light intensity can be 1,000 lux.

Receiving light at the wrong time of day (light pollution) can disturb the circadian clock. Artificial light at night, from indoor lighting to electronic devices (e.g. computer or phone screens) suppresses the release of melatonin, essential for sleep. It can also lead the clock to synchronise to the artificial night light instead of daylight (in particular when the latter is in short supply), potentially delaying our sleep into the early morning hours.

The circannual clock

Similar to daily circadian rhythms, annual rhythms are controlled in part by exposure to earth’s light-dark cycle resulting from the 23.5° tilt of the earth on its axis, its daily rotation, and the annual orbit around the sun, as well as from climatic weather patterns.

Circannual rhythms have evolved as genetically programmed adaptive timing mechanisms to allow organisms to use favorable seasons to reproduce and grow, and survive through unfavorable seasons.

Why is it important to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm?

Sleep experts at the Stress Research Institute at Stockholm University have produced research that shows that more than one in ten Swedes have a sleep disorder. This is double the amount in Sweden 30 years ago. According to Helena Schiller, a PhD student at the Stress Research Institute, one of the reasons is the change in our way of life. “It’s about a 24-hour society that allows you to stay connected around the clock, and globalization that blurs day and night by allowing people to work with people in countries that are in a different time zone than ours.”

Lack of light is a primary cue that signals sleep. A healthy circadian rhythm and proper sleep are crucial not only for our mental well-being but also for our physical health, including our immune system functioning. Sleep not only reduces our risk for infection but can also improve outcomes once we are infected. This has been cleverly shown in experiments where participants were exposed to the rhinovirus, a common cold virus. Participants who reported less sleep had a greater chance of subsequently developing symptoms of the common cold.

An irregular circadian rhythm can have a negative effect on a person’s ability to sleep and function properly, and can result in a number of health problems, including mood disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder. Around 20.9 million Americans adults aged 18 and older have a mood disorder.

Misalignment of the circadian rhythm may also provoke anxiety. Most of the evidence on the relationship between mood problems and circadian rhythm comes from studies of shift workers, whose sleep periods are out of sync with their circadian rhythm. Multiple studies show an increased prevalence of depression in night-shift workers. One meta-analysis showed that night-shift workers are 40% more likely to develop depression than daytime workers. Conversely, circadian rhythm disturbances are common in people with depression, who often have changes in the pattern of their sleep, their hormone rhythms, and body temperature rhythms.

Depression as a mental illness which leads to medical issues and health disorders have a series of negative effects on an individual’s functions including feeling and thinking. It originates from genetic, hormonal or physiological factors, or it may be made by stressful environments or life conditions. Moreover, the disruption of circadian rhythms can contribute to the beginning of depression. Though the etiology of depression is complicated, circadian factors might have a significant effect in the process. As a disturbance of circadian rhythm could be due to lighting conditions and lifestyle in individuals who were exposed to a wide range of mood disorders including impulsivity, mania and depression.

How to Design Lighting for Health and Well-being

The benefits of electric lighting soon ensued as night shift work was introduced. By the end of the 20th century, technology provided people with additional sources of night-time light, including television, computer screens, e-readers, smartphones, and tablet computers. Today, >80% of humans and 99% of those living in the US or Europe experience significant night-time light pollution.

To promote a healthy sleep-wake schedule, architects strive to direct as much natural light into spaces as possible. To do this, you can install skylights and floor-to-ceiling windows, especially in large community areas such as the front lobby, cafeteria, and lounge. Architects can also help you site the building so that these community spaces get the greatest amount of direct sunlight when the highest number of visitors enter the space.

However, not every building or home can be designed with floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights. Budget constraints, privacy considerations, and other factors might make it impossible to direct enough natural light into the building. In such cases, artificial lighting is used instead.

Thanks to advancements in color tuning and lighting control technology, it is now possible to imitate the complex nature of daylight indoors.

Lighting control systems can mirror the variations in intensity and color that are intrinsic in the sun’s daily cycle and deliver these different types of light at the right time of the day. Lighting controls pave the way for interior spaces that support the internal clock of the human body, offering a healthier and less disruptive alternative to the traditional built environment.

Natural daylight is a dynamic light source. Over the course of the day, it transitions through different intensities and colors. Beginning in the morning, the natural light level builds in intensity toward its noontime high, and the color temperature moves quickly from a warm, orange-yellow at dawn to a cooler, crisper blue-white. In the afternoon, the intensity of the light from the sun wanes until sunset, and the color temperature warms from a cool white into the richer yellow glow of dusk.

A circadian lighting system is, in essence, an artificial ‘sunrise to sunset’ that travels through illuminance levels and color spectrums from a warm color spectrum (1,400K) to brighter, cooler (6,500K and upwards) and back again.

Studies have suggested that blue light is an especially powerful melatonin suppressant. Melanopsin, the pigment that helps eye cells assess light brightness, is particularly sensitive to shorter, cooler wavelengths like blue light, which some research says means blue light may affect the body more dramatically than other hues. One highly cited study from 2014 showed that using a blue-light-emitting iPad before bed suppresses melatonin, while reading a traditional book does not. IPad readers started producing melatonin 1.5 hours later than usual the next day.

There can be important differences between types of artificial light as well. Some types have more illuminance and brightness. That said, even light that appears to have the same brightness may, in reality, have a different wavelength, changing how it’s perceived by the eye and brain.

Tailoring Lighting Throughout the Home or Office

If you don’t have access to daylight, studies have also found that working under “blue-enriched” light bulbs that are at 5,000K and up actually increases work performance by supporting mental acuity, vitality and alertness while reducing fatigue and daytime sleepiness. Researchers at the University of Greenwich, Felderman and Keatinge, found in a two-month study that the workers they put under “blue-enriched light bulbs” reported feeling “happier, more alert and had less eye strain.”

Other benefits of blue light include lowering melatonin, which is created in our glands and basically puts us to sleep. This lower level of melatonin keeps people alert in the same way coffee does.

With so many brainpower benefits, blue or cooler light should be kept in brainstorming rooms where you want people to feel invigorated and excited to share their ideas, according to Felderman and Keatinge.

On the other hand, since warmer tones tend to create a sense of comfort, use this kind of lighting in more intimate settings where you want to feel calm and relaxed, perhaps in a meeting room for an office setting or the family room at your home.

Tips on how to choose your lighting system:

DIODES: The chipset used in the fixture must replicate the sun spectrum of light during the day to release energy and cortisol then almost eliminate all blue light at night while providing a warm amber glow to promote melatonin growth.

OPERATING SYSTEM: Your system needs to be simple to program, use and maintain both using an automated schedule and manual controls that override the automated system. If app based, the app needs to be intuitive and simple to adjust schedules. The system must allow for remote access for troubleshooting and repairs off site by a qualified support team.

COST: Everyone wishes they had an open budget, but reality is we all want quality at a reasonable cost. Many systems are too complex which raises their cost.

In many ways, light can be considered a drug, having the potential for both beneficial and deleterious effects. These conflicting effects can occur concurrently, and in a single individual and context. If circadian lighting can be used to manipulate a brain on a biological level, then we must be extremely cautious with how it is used.

It’s clear that, in trying to influence the physiology of people through light, there’s the possibility that we could lose sight of the simple objective of lighting: to create attractive and comfortable spaces that benefit people and improve the built environment for society as a whole.

Focusing on wellbeing is about understanding light’s impact on a space and how it can enhance a space either aesthetically, emotionally, and physiologically.

Aesthetic: creating spaces we want to use and be in.

Emotional: understanding the intrinsic, personal, and emotive relationships we have with light.

Physiological: the impact of the light on the functions of our body. And the importance of our perception on these functions.

By using this trio of considerations, we can craft a lighting environment that is truly human-centred. Because of our increased understanding of the impact of light on our health, circadian lighting design is already codified within sustainable building performance standards. The WELL Building Standard acknowledges and awards points for projects with these lighting systems. WELL is one of the first rating systems to value lighting’s influence on circadian rhythm above and beyond typical lighting standards.

According to the WELL standard, “Insufficient illumination can lead to a drift of the circadian phase, especially if paired with light trespass at night. Lower levels of light during the day can also cause drowsiness, especially in the afternoon. The body requires both periods of brightness and darkness at appropriate points throughout the day to maintain optimal circadian rhythm.”

Thus, although many people ignore it, the natural light we receive directly influences our state of health. By organising and artificially illuminating our routine, it is essential to try to imitate what the sun is doing at all times.

To learn more about our Human Centric lighting solutions

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Creating the Perfect Sanctuary

Our buildings can shape our habits, help balance our sleep-wake cycle, drive us toward healthy and unhealthy choices, and passively influence our health through the quality of our surroundings.

Biophilia and wellness-related technology are becoming big business in workspaces, factories, hotels, prisons and other commercial environments. Now the technology is moving fast and furious into the residential sector. In this newsletter series we will explore new and upcoming technology trends as they relate to wellness in design solutions.

In addition, we believe that wellness doesn’t stop inside the four walls of a house or a building. Therefore, we will also include some related tidbits from other fields such as nutrition, fitness and spirituality. In this second installment, we will focus on creating sanctuaries to foster well-being.

Mindful Design

The word mindfulness is sure a buzz word in recent years. Even public schools now incorporate mindfulness classes as part of their curriculum. So, how can we incorporate mindfulness into home-design? In this day and age most of us are bombarded with information, stimuli, and stressors. For most of us, when we get home, we’d like to close the door and leave the outside world and its stressors behind. Though, this is not always a viable option: Kids, spouses, chores, unfinished work and demanding clients or co-workers all want a share of our time and attention.

The Power of meditation

One way of coping with stress is the practice of the mind and body connection. Many people resort to the daily practice of yoga and/or meditation. As a matter of fact, the number of people practicing meditation tripled since 2012 and based on a 2017 research, over 14% of US adults practice yoga and/or meditation. (Read article here)

What About Your Clients?

There’s a vast body of research that shows the benefits of regular meditation practice and other mind/body methods, from stress relief to enhanced sense of focus and well-being. So, chances are that your clients are among those who have some form of mindfulness practice.

According to 2015 statistics, the meditation and mindfulness market was worth $1B back then and with the proliferation of mindfulness apps, such as Headspace and Calm as well as the explosion of mindfulness throughout other industries such as food & travel, that number is likely to have increased since.

According to a MarketWatch article published Oct 2018, “Meditation rooms are the hottest new work perk”. 

What about your clients’ residence? Wouldn’t it make sense to have a dedicated space where they can close the world behind and devote some time for themselves?

Biophilia

The Art of Bringing Nature Indoors

There are numerous studies that confirm the benefits of exposure to nature on our well-being, even if that exposure is to virtual nature, i.e. in the form of images whether static or active such as video content. The most notable of these studies is a research conducted by Robert S. Ulrich between 1972 and 1981 that found that patients recovering from surgery had faster recovery rates and fewer complaints when assigned to a room with a window view of a natural setting. (Read article here)

Today many companies use this concept to enhance their clients’ experience by providing virtual windows and skylights. Royal Caribbean for example, installed ‘Virtual Balconies’ in cabins with no window exposure. Cameras that are installed along the ship’s deck broadcast the ocean view 24/7 hence providing the same experience as rooms with ‘real balconies’.

The Perfect Sanctuary – A Wellness Room

So, how can these concepts be implemented in your projects? Step in Biodigrity:

Biodigrity is a term coined by CEPro magazine which means to stimulate nature through technology. 

Whether you work on a private residence or the common space of a condo or rental building, chances are that some sort of a dedicated media room or space is in the plans. A dedicated gym or a yoga room might also be part of the design. The time has come for these media rooms to evolve and add more benefits to their users. We now have the technology and know-how to incorporate natural scenery to these rooms to provide an immersive experience that can place their user in any natural scene their heart desires.

The Three Senses

Wouldn’t it be great to meditate or practice yoga in front of a gushing waterfall or a running stream? Maybe you prefer a mountain lake with snow-capped-peaks? And who wouldn’t like to
relax in front of an ocean sunset? We now have the ability to bring all these sceneries to your home, office or building with vivid experience that encompasses vision, sound, and even scent. If we take an ocean sunset as a preferred scene for example; we can have a vivid image in 4K (and 8K coming soon) on a large screen with splashing waves and a beautiful sunset (Fiji anyone?), hear the waves in life-like sound through 360 degree sound, while the light dims to a warm sunset glow. An Ocean Breeze scent made from organic oils, will then disperse in the space through a special dispensing unit providing a real-life experience that encompasses all three senses of vision, auditory and smell.

From Meditation to Concerts to Sunday Football

The convenience of these rooms is that they’re flexible in their nature: You can go from a relaxing meditation in the morning to a live concert or movie with high fidelity sound in the evening to a Sunday football party on the weekend with your team’s colors as the accent light. The beauty is that such a space can be incorporated into almost any design due to its versatility. It can also address the requirements of all the residence’s inhabitants, from those who love sports to those who prefer live music and those who simply want to close the world behind for an hour and just relax in nature.

Final Thoughts

With the rapid growth of urbanization in recent decades, us humans became removed from nature. The absence of interaction with nature which is an innate need to foster our feeling of well-being, resulted in many conditions that are prevalent in our society: Anxiety, depression, sleep deprivation and obesity just to name a few. We now have the power through technology to bring a virtual version of nature to people who don’t have regular access to it and help bring some of the benefits that come with a daily dose of nature.

Get The Sleep You Deserve With Soundscape

Wherever you are, you are surrounded by a soundscape. Soundscapes are inescapable. Every place has one and you are always in one. Each is unique to a specific location and it changes by the minute. Much like how a landscape describes the view of all the land around you, a soundscape describes the audio of all the sounds around you. If you close your eyes, you can paint a picture of your surroundings based on sound.

People wither physically and mentally without nature. We have known for years that natural light and views of nature can profoundly benefit humans. We are now learning that the same applies to sound. Hearing is primal. We can’t turn sound off. Even if we use earplugs – we can still ‘hear’ the silence. Sound affects us physiologically and psychologically in very powerful ways. Chief among them is it that it affects how we sleep.

Sleep is highly important for health in terms of recovery and is essential for learning and forming memories. While you are sleeping, you are unconscious, but your brain and body functions are still active. They are doing a number of important jobs that help you stay healthy and function at your best. So when you don’t get enough quality sleep, it does more than just make you feel tired. It can affect your physical and mental health, thinking, and daily functioning.

Neurologically, even as the body is seemingly resting, the mind is quite active during sleep. The mind unconsciously processes thoughts previously dismissed or, put aside as afterthoughts that occurred throughout the active, wakeful experience of the day. Chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to decrease several important cognitive abilities such as creative and flexible thinking, planning, and effective communication. Therefore, one of the simplest ways to maintain your cognitive abilities, is to ensure that you get enough sleep.

Sleep, Where Art Thou?

Estimates of prevalence of sleep disorders range from 30-40 % of all adults, with a subset of individuals experiencing severe daytime effects from insomnia. These reduce focus and concentration at work, as well as increase probability of accidents. They are also connected to a wide range of health problems including severe medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and depression. Sleep medication may provide easy relief but interest in non-medical ways to support sleep quality is growing. Recent evidence from research shows that music or the correct soundscape holds great promise in treatment of sleep disorders.

Listening to music is a widely used tool to improve sleep. In an online survey in a general population 62% (out of 651 respondents) stated to have at least once used music to help them sleep. In a survey in over 500 patients with sleep disorders, over 50% reported to use music as sleep aid.

People who are constantly disturbed by noise can be said to suffer from ‘noise annoyance’. The Guardian describes this as ‘the negative feelings noise can create such as disturbance, irritation, dissatisfaction and nuisance, as well as a feeling of having one’s privacy invaded’. This can, therefore, exaggerate the symptoms of mental illness as well as contributing to it.

Listening to music has also been shown to help reduce anxiety in cancer patients starting radiation treatments and may help them cope with the side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea. The emotional benefits of music therapy experienced by people with depression often apply to people with cancer as well, many of whom may experience symptoms of depression at some point after receiving a diagnosis, while they are undergoing treatment, or even once they are in remission.

How Does Sound Affect Us?

Sound affects humans in four main ways:

Physiologically: Sound can alter our heart rate, breathing rhythms, hormone secretions and brainwaves.

Psychologically: Hearing different noises can change our mood.
Cognitively: Sound affects our productivity and how much we can accomplish

Behaviourally: The ability to hear is a primary warning sense for us and has an important effect on what we do and where we do it.

What Are The Mechanisms Through Which Music Listening Improves Sleep?

According to an article in the SyncProject – this question remains unresolved, but researchers have put forth a number of suggestions and hypotheses. For instance, scientists propose that the improvement in sleep could stem from the effects that music listening has on emotions and emotion-related physiology: Music listening has been connected to activation of brain areas important for pleasure and reward, and listening to soothing music has been shown to lower arousal, with subsequent decrease in heart rate and blood pressure.

Another way that music may influence sleep is through altering the release of hormones. For instance, music listening has been found to increase the release of endogenous opioids and oxytocin. Oxytocin is called the “cuddle hormone” and it is important for functions related to intimacy, reproduction and bonding. Endogenous opioids are the body’s own painkillers, functioning much like the opioids that are used in medicine. The release of these two hormones during music listening decrease stress, and experiences of physical as well as emotional pain, which may be at the root of some cases of sleep disorders.

Masking Noise With The Sounds Of Nature

Finding that ideal background soundscape could potentially help to promote better rest. The ability to hear music depends on a series of steps that convert sound waves coming into the ear into electrical signals in the brain. As the brain interprets these sounds, a cascade of physical effects are triggered within the body. Many of these effects either directly promote sleep or reduce issues that interfere with sleep.

Several studies suggest that music enhances sleep because of its effects on the regulation of hormones, including the stress hormone cortisol. Being stressed and having elevated levels of cortisol can increase alertness and lead to poor sleep. Listening to music decreases levels of cortisol, which may explain why it helps put people at ease and release stress.

Natural sounds relax you because
they are constant noises of a pleasant pitch.

When listening to natural sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention; when listening to artificial sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. There was also an increase in rest-digest nervous system activity (associated with relaxation of the body) when listening to natural compared with artificial sounds, and better performance in an external attentional monitoring task.

Find Joy And Connection In Music

Turn your home into a tranquil and calming environment so you can reap the benefits of a rested mind and body.

Here are some tips to remember when searching for your ideal soundscape:

  • Slow-paced sounds tend to relax
  • Fast-paced sounds tend to stimulate
  • Stochastic sounds, such as rainfall or coffee shop noise, are useful for working
  • To avoid being distracted, you may want to choose soundscapes which include conversations, running streams, ocean waves and even birds or cricket chirping

A 2012 study explains that calming water sounds, regarded as non-threatening noises, are blocked out by the brain. On the other hand, sounds of abrupt threats like a helicopter approaching or a telephone ringing could jolt people awake. This is why sounds of rushing water paired with cozy home lighting and furniture is a good ambient sound to have at home. It easily relaxes your mind, putting on a sort of a “vacation mode.”

Apart from water, it would also be nice to have a collection of calming sounds from nature to help your body and mind slow down. The sound of falling rain or waterfalls crashing down are also very comforting. No wonder people find it very hard to get up during bad, “under the covers”, weather. The sound of chirping birds in the wild or the gush of wind in the forest takes you to another place, like a dreamland of sorts. These calming sounds are nature’s way of telling us to take it easy.

Modern sound systems are combining sight, sound, science, and biophilia to create a multisensorial experience that can be customized for different kinds of environments, matching the sound spread by the speakers with a visual sensation. Some systems can even monitor the evolution of the acoustic dynamics in the environment and consequently adjust dynamically the volume of the speakers in order to create an acoustic shield against the surrounding distractions, especially the human voices, typical of the open-space settings. Thus, the machine “listens” to the ambient noise in your area, and then adjusts its volume as necessary to help protect your sleep.

The ability to create a soothing, peaceful environment for you and your family is priceless. Don’t let noise take its toll on your mental and physical well being or allow it to induce physiological and psychological stress. Create your soundscape and gently immerse yourself in that wonderful state of calm and tranquility.

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