Mindful—and possibly low-cost—ways to bring a soothing vibe through renovation
(Above) Energy-efficient CT home renovation by Sweeten architect Elizabeth; Photo © AdvancedPhotographix.com
In the 21st century, an increased awareness around wellness has led renovators and contractors alike to seek ways to turn homes into healing spaces. More knowledge about lighting, paint, non-toxic materials, soundproofing, and heated flooring have helped transform homes into soothing sanctuaries. Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, asked some of its contractors and architects the best approaches to bringing a philosophy of wellness and healing into their home renovations.
Bring in the light
Perhaps the most affordable way to make your home a healing space is with lighting. Sweeten general contractor Sean recommended installing dimmer switches on every light fixture. You might have a headache from a day at the office with bright lights, but dimmers allow you to adjust the lighting to your liking in every space. “Coming home should be a sanctuary,” said Sean, who met his business partner at a meditation retreat. Their business is founded on renovating homes for mindfulness, healing, and safety. With dimmers, Sean said it’s important to remember installing the switches will require a master electrician and possibly approval for meeting state codes. After these requirements are squared away, though, you could be coming home to a comfortable ambiance in short order.
When it comes to lighting during the day, windows are key. Sweeten architect Julia tries to incorporate natural, sustainable materials into homes as much as possible, which includes glass, native plants, and light. You want windows that invite as much natural light into your home as possible. If your windows are on the small side and you’re unable to expand them, there are some creative fixes. Julia has used white epoxy paint and mirrors as reflective surfaces to amplify natural light. Contractor Sean also said he maximizes natural light with mirrors.
Install radiant heat flooring
Even the most motivated person might have difficulty leaping out of bed once winter arrives, especially when your feet hit a cold floor. Radiant floor heating is just one way Sweeten general contractor Scott said clients feel like they have spent wisely. This cost-efficient way to heat your home provides warmth via electric wires or hot-water tubes hidden beneath the floor. This means no radiators clanking, random heat pockets, or vents with heat surges. An even blanket of heat rises from under your feet, meaning you can turn down the thermostat and reduce heating bills.
(Above) Sweeten homeowner Christina soundproofed her floors
Soundproof walls and floors
Many New York codes now require soundproofing between floors, and the softening of footfalls can result in other healing side effects—the extra cushion could extend both the life of your floors and your ankles.
Scott said insulation inside walls or on the surface of walls, foam, for instance, can also create a peaceful setting by diffusing outside noise. He added that soundproof windows can help silence everything from garbage trucks to fire sirens. As with all renovations, soundproofing comes with an increased cost based on square footage and labor. The low end of soundproofing walls might increase renovation costs by 5 to 10 percent while the high end could double costs. As for soundproofing floors, Sean gave a range of 10 to 30 percent of an increased expense over a typical floor renovation.
Nevertheless, Scott’s clients have been amazed at how healing it can be to keep unnecessary sounds out of their home.
(Above) Sweeten bathroom renovation with images of nature
Consider the color palette
The walls could be the next spot to consider for transforming your home. Sean recommended soft, earth tone hues with paints that are low-VOC—or lower in the volatile organic compounds they contain. In some cases, he also employs wallpaper with images of nature. “We can put a garden of birch or cypress in a foyer that can be breathtaking,” Sean said.
Julia has studied Japanese design strategies and recommends minimalism to create an environment that prevents feeling overwhelmed. She likes a focus of one to three colors and offers a reminder that white can be a wise choice to maintain simplicity and enhance mindfulness.
Think about insulation alternatives
Feeling safe is essential to being comfortable in your home. Humidity and dampness, especially in basements, can create toxic molds. One of the key ways to prevent toxic mold is proper insulation, including in-wall solutions such as MemBrane. Sweeten architect Elizabeth is on the cutting edge of using natural, non-VOC (volatile organic compounds) and non-toxic materials throughout homes. Elizabeth said it might cost a little more for renovators to ensure their home is both environmentally-friendly and safe for their health, but it might not cost as much as they think. “It doesn’t cost twice as much, but it costs a little more,” she said. “I compare it to buying organic foods.”
Elizabeth lists several insulation materials that aren’t harmful: cellulose, rock-wool, denim, mineral wool board, and GUTEX. Rock-wool and denim insulation, she said, are especially easy and low-cost and might lend themselves to DIY. Elizabeth has completely stopped using spray-foam insulation.
Create efficient cook spaces
Sweeten general contractor Sean said he ranks the places where we both make our food and eat it as high priorities for creating a healing environment. “We pay special attention to making the kitchen/dining areas, where we nourish and nurture ourselves, into a welcoming space with easy-to-clean, well-lit work surfaces,” he said. “We also encourage the client to choose efficient appliances that keep foods fresh and make quick work of healthy meals and we locate them in the space for the most comfortable, ergonomic layout.”
Designate a Zen room
Some people want to create a specific room to serve as a designated sanctuary. In this case, many of the elements highlighted so far can apply to a room for yoga, meditation, or any other restorative activity.
For example, some contractors incorporate elements they’ve used in creating commercial yoga or Pilates studios into the home. When creating a Pilates studio, Julia used natural light to its full effect. After discovering a skylight in the back of the room, she used reflective epoxy white paint on the floors to magnify the abundance of natural light streaming in through the front windows.
Other touches might be used as well. At a yoga studio for children, Scott turned a space behind the building into a grass turf so children could practice yoga comfortably outside.
Twenty years ago, Scott said, he wouldn’t have given much thought to the possibility of a peaceful space for yoga or meditation anywhere. “Now, the option is on his mind constantly. “If a client is comfortable, they feel like they got bang for the buck.”
A healing space can create the right environment that helps well-being carving a new path to your dream home. Said Sean, “If we don’t take this time for self-care, we’re no good to anybody.”
Here are four other ways to create a more mindful home.
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