Suddenly, a strange virus has sneaked into our lives and has taken over our routines. It forces us to stay at home and determines the way we work, relate, and enjoy our leisure time. That if we are lucky people, if it has not disrupted our job stability, has attacked our own health or, in the worst case, that of someone we love who has not been able to overcome the disease.
Home: our second skin
Let’s face how each of us faces this crisis, and affect us as it affects us, there is something that unites us: we must limit our movements to a minimum and stay as long as possible in our homes. According to the World Health Organization, people spend on average between 80% and 90% of our time inside a building (be it our home, a hospital, or any space with four walls and a ceiling). During these weeks of confinement that percentage will be close to 100%.
However, this forced confinement offers us positive aspects, such as having more time to get to know ourselves better, to relate more to the people with whom we live (if this is the case) and, why not? our home and understand how it works.
That is why, regardless of our personal situation while this pandemic lasts, we propose to assess the here and now. Be aware of the building that surrounds us. That second protective skin of human beings that gives us shelter and protects us from cold and heat, and from unwanted infections …
Are you at home now It does not matter if you are an owner or tenant on a rental basis. We invite you to take a guided tour with the five senses around your home, through different aspects of your home to help you detect its strengths and weaknesses and discover how your home can contribute to improving your well-being and that of your family. In short, help you to inhabit it consciously and understand its defects and virtues to get the best out of it. From this perception of our home, we can pay attention to different aspects, as if it were a guided visit. Here we suggest you make 7 stops on this route.
1. The air we breathe inside the house
Just relax. Take a deep breath. What is the air like inside your home? Open the window and compare what we can breathe these days outside. The WHO warns that nine out of ten people worldwide breathe polluted air, but some studies indicate that the concentration of polluting particles can be two to five times higher inside a building than outside. Even more so in these days of home confinement in which the air quality of our cities is much better than usual. The quality of the air we breathe in a closed environment depends on the COtwo that we emit when we breathe or sweat, but also from the particles that our walls, floors and even our furniture emit. Some of these particles that come from varnishes, paints, and adhesives, called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are harmful to health, so the next time you plan to paint a room, change the floor, or buy a new piece of furniture, be sure to ask for materials VOC free.
To guarantee a good quality of air inside the house it is important to ventilate daily. If our house has facades with different orientations, or has a patio and we open several windows at the same time, we will do it quickly and efficiently: advantages of cross ventilation. Poor ventilation, added to thermal decompensation, electromagnetic charges and particles and vapors of chemical origin in suspension that circulate in the air can generate discomfort typical of what the WHO defined as Sick Building Syndrome, which affects 30% of the built park.
2. Just the right temperature to be fine
Let’s re-focus on our personal experience. Are you comfortable Do you feel too hot or cold? Is there too much humidity? Is the air movement pleasant? We talk about thermal comfort. The temperature at which we are well varies according to age, sex of people, our level of activity and, of course, the clothes we wear, but keeping a house at 20 ºC in winter and not more than 25 ºC in summer it is considered adequate to achieve thermal comfort. If the temperature is not right, try to identify the cause. You can touch the exterior walls with the palm of your hand, are they colder or do they stay at the same temperature as the interior walls?
Most of the problems regarding thermal comfort have to do with poor insulation of the house. And is that 51% of the main houses in Spain were built before 1979. That is, before the regulations forced us to build with some energy efficiency criteria, such as insulating walls and roofs. Perhaps it is a good time to consider some future project, such as addressing an energy rehabilitation of your home.
3. Efficiency in consumption
In Spanish homes heating represents 47% of the energy consumed. As it happens in our body, if it is cold the most suitable thing would be to wrap ourselves well, put on a coat, hat and gloves. Drinking a hot soup would only warm our body for a few minutes, but the heat would quickly escape if we are not warm. The same happens in a building if we plug in electric heaters or turn on the heating to the maximum but we have poor insulation. In addition to affecting our comfort, poor insulation has a clear reflection on the energy bill.
After heating, household appliances and domestic hot water are the largest consumers of energy in the home. Do you know what the letter is, from A to G, which is included in the energy efficiency certificate of your home? Do you look at the detail of your supply bills? Do you know the origin of the energy source you consume? In what percentage does it come from renewable sources? Have you considered betting on self-consumption? On the other hand, do you use power strips to avoid stand by of electrical appliances? According to the National Center for Environmental Education (CENEAM), use power strips, turn off the wifi router or television when not in use can save up to 15% energy. For its part, the Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving (IDAE) states that Replacing Appliances A with A +++ halves energy consumption, not to mention LED bulbs, much more efficient than filament bulbs and with 8 times longer life.
Efficiency in energy consumption is a vital aspect of your home and, luckily, it is easier to know it and to improve it little by little.
Know well how the air conditioning system of your house works, both heating and cooling. If you use a boiler, check if it maintains the correct pressure in the circuit, if the radiators are well filled, if the temperature of the thermostat is adequate… Knowing what you have and detecting possible problems is the first step to then address the solutions.
Now close your eyes and listen for a few seconds. We come to the territory of acoustic comfort. Do you suspect that your neighbor suffers some kind of deafness every time he turns on the TV? Do you hear the heels of those above when they dance? Does a busy street or road pass near your home? Perhaps during these days you are appreciating the pause on the move … In any case, if there are uncomfortable noises, try to identify the source. Lack of acoustic comfort is usually one of the main causes of problems in neighboring communities, and it is often solved in a friendly way. If this does not work and you no longer want to use more earplugs, perhaps you should consider the acoustic insulation of your home, both from the air noise that reaches us through windows and walls, and the impact that your neighbor causes when dancing. In addition, this acoustic insulation in many occasions will coincide with the thermal one, and will allow us to kill two birds with one stone.
5. Let There Be Light
Open your eyes wide, look around you and assess what the lighting of the space you inhabit is like. These days of confinement also serve to assess the quality of natural lighting. Knowing at all times whether it is day or night, even the color of the light is essential to maintain our biorhythms, perform more in our hours of activity and sleep better in the hours of rest. If you can choose, look for spaces with northern light to work and you will avoid glare on the computer screen. For rest hours, nothing better these days than a warm south or west light that invites you to relax. If you don’t have enough natural light, supplement it with adequate artificial light. Today, there are very efficient lighting systems (LEDs) that reproduce any color temperature, cold or warm, to help us turn us on or off. Having different lighting levels in a room (indirect lights, lamps, ambient lights, etc.) allows us to use the space in a more flexible way. Visual comfort influences our well-being more than we think and includes aspects of decoration and order at home: take advantage of quarantine to practice Marie Kondo method.
6. Every drop counts
We stop to think now about the vital aspect par excellence: water. Do you know where the water circulates in your home? Now that we’re washing our hands more frequently, do you turn off the tap well when you’re done? And while you brush your teeth or do the dishes, are you careful not to leave the tap running? “So many hours at home have helped me discover that the bathroom faucet is leaking,” Dolores Huerta, architect and technical secretary of Green Building Council Spain (GBCe).
And you, have you noticed if any faucet leaks? Do you take a shower or take a bath? Do you reuse water to water the plants? Are the radiators well filled and is the boiler pressure adequate? Now is also a good time to carry out these checks, review our habits and apply measures to make responsible consumption of water resources.
7. Weaving society
If this coronavirus crisis is achieving anything, it is changing our way of relating, among the members of the family with whom we share quarantine and among the residents of the street or the neighborhood. In your own home, have you wondered which room is at the center of interpersonal relationships? Does everything revolve around the kitchen table? Or maybe around television? Have you set up a space to exercise every morning or have you had to improvise work areas? The design of the spaces in a dwelling conditions the human relationships that will take place within it. In addition, it has to be flexible to adapt to the different circumstances of life, even these so strange that we have had to live.
The same goes for the social aspects beyond the walls of our home. The disposition of our house, favors the relation with our neighbors? Can we go out on the balcony, clap together at 8 pm and, even if it’s in the distance, see each other’s faces and share that feeling of community? Is it easy to create neighborhood networks to deliver the purchase to the elderly who should not leave home?
We are now more aware than ever that we need real contact. These are times of caring for human relationships, of mutual support and of great conscience. But, now that the situation forces us to stop and we have no choice but to stay at home, it is also time to reconcile with it, see the positive and discover that perhaps what makes us happy is closer than we think.
Dolores Huerta She is technical secretary of Green Building Council Spain (GBCe), expert architect in bioclimatic architecture and sustainable rehabilitation. Salomé Herce She is responsible for GBCe Communication, audiovisual communicator and anthropologist.