Your clean, safe home environment doesn’t conjure up the images of poor air quality, however, it’s shocking to consider that the air inside your home is usually between two and five times more polluted than outside air, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Some factors can make the air inside your home up to 100 times more toxic than the outside environment, and that’s why an eco-friendly home builder may be just what the doctor ordered, along with some air-purifying house plants.
“When we think of the term ‘air pollution,’ we tend to think of car exhausts or factory fumes expelling gray smoke,” said study co-author Prashant Kumar of the University of Surrey. However, the air we breathe contains so many harmful particles from day-to-day life.
Indoor air pollution comes from a variety of household items and contaminants, such as mold, paint, burning candles, fireplaces, gas cooktops, household cleaning products, soaps, chemicals, carpet fumes, non-stick pans, air freshener, formaldehyde from furnishings, pets, pesticides, dry cleaning and poor ventilation.
Not only do we impact our environment, but our environment impacts us.
So how do you even make a dent in reducing or eliminating those toxins from your home? Enter Shannon Harris, the founder of a certified green interior design firm and eco-friendly new home builder, Fuse Living.
Along with her team, Harris believes a home should be a place of security, where you make memories, feel comfortable and feel at home as yourself. “We consider the many facets that go into creating a space where you can feel truly at home,” says Harris, who believes we all should be rooted in wellness.
Specializing in environmental psychology and sustainable solutions, Harris considers the well-being of each client and the environment. “Our natural world is paramount to our well-being. Not only do we impact our environment, but our environment impacts us. Considering the symbiotic relationship between the two grants us a more complete picture of design,” she says of being an eco-friendly designer and home builder.
Harris and her team will open a new showroom this month for clients to experience firsthand the environmentally friendly products she uses in her design practice, to learn more about sustainable design and to be introduced to the psychological side that directly relates to design and how we can create a more optimal space for mental wellbeing, too.
We caught up with Harris and talked with her about sustainable design, what makes a house a home and finding peace in this crazy, busy world.
When we start making smarter decisions for our environment, we're actually also making smarter decisions for ourselves and our physical health.
Photographee.edu / Shutterstock
ICONIC LIFE: How did you get into focusing on a healthy home environment?
Shannon Harris: It started pretty early in my schooling, and the topic of sustainability was very new at that point. It’s something that really resonated with me as an eco-friendly home designer/builder when you start learning about environmental impacts, but more on the human health side of it. When we start making smarter decisions for our environment, we’re actually also making smarter decisions for ourselves and our physical health with air quality, using less-toxic products that we can bring in. Then, of course, the mental state matters, too. I am a meditation person, a yoga person and just really believe in a healthy mental mind and connecting that to our home spaces.
ICONIC LIFE: When you dial that all in, you have the opportunity to not only improve your health, but improve your mindset, as well.
Shannon Harris: I studied mental psychology and biomimicry, and both of those things look at the relationship of humans and nature as an eco-friendly home builders. We are so innately connected to nature and a lot of our current modern-day life takes us away from that. Consider a leaf. When our brains just passively look at a leaf, the pattern of the veins of a leaf are a trigger for our brain to go into this restorative state. When we have the cognitive fatigue, plants are good for our mental health.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: DESIGN GOES GREEN BY THE BEACH
ICONIC LIFE: Let’s set a foundation for your core philosophy in your business, and the way you and your family are living.
Shannon Harris: I brought on brand ambassadors, like a think tank, to really identify what we resonate with in our core values and philosophies we’ve implemented for the eight years that Fuse Living has been around as eco-friendly home builders and designers. There are two overall categories—the first one being whole person. And so that really looks at the psychological aspects of the things that we’re talking about—more about the whole person—noise control and circadian rhythms. And then we have our environmental category, and that brings in material sourcing, non-toxic components, the impact of our products on the Earth and sourcing responsibly.
ICONIC LIFE: Talk about the psychological impact of what home means to all of us.
Shannon Harris: It’s about getting into what each person feels is their purpose at home, like a purpose statement for life, but a purpose statement for your home. Different things are going to resonate with everybody, and we have the client think about what they’re missing or what really fuels them and then holistically approach their home as it specifically relates to each individual.
ICONIC LIFE: There are pleasant noises in the home and there are noises that have a negative impact on us. How do you manage that as an eco-friendly home builder/designer?
Shannon Harris: Two major ways. The simplest way is to introduce more soft elements, like rugs and draperies. And if you don’t like the idea of draperies, even just soft window shades help quiet the space. There are some really great sound absorbent materials; they’ve gone through extensive sound testing, and they claim up to 80-percent absorption of sound in a room.
The second larger part is creating zones in your house. Pay attention to your active spaces—kitchen, living room, maybe you a kids’ playroom—and sort those higher energy zones to create a transition from active zones to quieter zones.
ICONIC LIFE: There’s been a lot of talk about circadian rhythms and the importance of our bodies following the natural progression of light.
Shannon Harris: It’s becoming a hot topic for eco-friendly designers and home builders. It’s beautiful. There’s so much that our circadian rhythms affect. It’s more than just sleep; it just carries over through your next day. The biggest thing to understand is that the more we can follow the sun’s natural patterns, the better we’re going to be to be able to set that rhythm. So, when I think about what lights we’re turning on, we want to look at what time of day it is. Literally look out your window and use the lights in your home that are at similar levels as the sun is out the window.
ICONIC LIFE: And so how do you functionally figure that out at night? How do you wind your body down for sleep?
Shannon Harris: You don’t necessarily want to use overhead lights at night, because the sun is not overhead at night, but it’s at low points. If you only have overhead lights, then using a dimmer creates a softer ambient light instead of a direct light. You also want to have the warmer light at night, really paying attention to either table lamps, floor lamps, wall sconces—things that are just not overhead.
Ancient man didn’t have electricity and so, it was natural to follow the natural light of the day. We’ve sort of messed that up with our fantastic invention of electricity in 1892, less than 150 years ago and can work towards correcting it with eco-friendly home building strategies.
Smart-home technologies allow you to control your lighting on a schedule. Letting the light seep in through windows is the best way to go about it. Or use a dimmer with soft light or orange light to adjust to your new awakened state.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: ECO-CONSCIOUS ESTATES
What we focus on the most, is the least toxic input of all of our materials down to the frame and everything that goes into a piece of furniture.
Jamesteohart / Shutterstock
ICONIC LIFE: Transitioning to materials, how do you select materials that are on brand for you?
Shannon Harris: We utilize vendors that source ethically and are certified—woods with water-based stains, and more thinking like that. We don’t like synthetic materials. And really any synthetic is a chemical base, and it seeps into our air. What we focus on the most, is the least toxic input of all of our materials down to the frame and everything that goes into a piece of furniture. It’s more than just organic; it has direct impact on the air quality of our homes. There’s a conversation that needs to be had about that. We like to pick products that are found close to home in our region, saving on environmental impact of transportation if you are an eco-friendly home builder.
ICONIC LIFE: Where do you recommend people start?
Shannon Harris: There are really great, simple things you can do right now to just start small. That will just naturally take you into some larger furniture items or looking at what’s really in your walls and do I need to look at that? Those larger topics will just start to unfold.
ICONIC LIFE: What is the overall benefit, feeling or result that clients get from really focusing in on creating a healthy home?
Shannon Harris: Something that comes to mind right now is just the word whole. We look at the environmental and the health standpoint, and we look at that mental state standpoint. So, we feel whole, because we know that we’ve made healthy decisions. We are excited to open our doors, and we’re really happy that everybody’s going to be able to see, touch and feel what we’re up to.