From the Experts

Steps Toward a More Sustaining and Sustainable Home

Michael J. Berens, Aging & Design Author

By Michael J. Berens
Freelance researcher, writer and editor with extensive experience in the converging fields of aging and design

With today’s products and designs, you really can have it all. Houses provide us with shelter. Homes provide us with a place to live. And thereby hangs a tale. Whatever else we might want our homes to be, above all we want them to be livable. The more livable, the better.

What makes a home livable will vary from household to household, of course. Yet, when survey researchers ask homeowners what they value or want most in their home, the answers are surprisingly consistent:  comfort, convenience, ease of maintenance, safety, a healthy environment, and low energy costs.  Today, the trend is toward combining products and designs that integrate all these criteria into a holistic environment that is both sustaining and sustainable.

Homes are sustaining when they provide a safe and healthy environment that supports the way you want to live. When you think about it, every area of your home contributes to how well it sustains you. Take furnishings, for example. Whether in the bedroom, family room or living area, furnishings should be suitably sized for comfort and ease of use. They should be arranged so that you can move freely about the room without risk of tripping or bumping into something. Many of today’s products are designed for multiple uses and can be expanded for a particular purpose and then folded back to free up space when not needed. Comfort, convenience, ease of maintenance and safety—with the right furnishings in the right places, you can have it all.

Safety and health go hand-in-hand as well. In bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms where water and other spills can be a hazard, non-slip floors and stain-resistant countertops are a must. Today’s products use resins or coatings that not only protect against accidents but also help reduce the spread of bacteria and other germs.  Plus, they are easy to clean and require little maintenance to keep looking like new.

Sustainable homes employ “green” strategies to conserve energy and water, and thus reduce costs, but they do a lot more. Many “green” solutions improve safety and health, as well. Adding energy-efficient LED task lights to a work area, such as a kitchen counter or island, in combination with a dimmer switch for overhead, ambient lighting, will help reduce costs, and it will provide better illumination, resulting in reduced eye strain and lower risk of injury. Eco-friendly or “green” products, like low-VOC paints, bamboo flooring, and natural fiber textiles, contain few or no contaminants or toxins, thus improving indoor air quality. Single-levered, paddle-handled or sensor-activated fixtures for the kitchen and bath provide maximum convenience and comfort while saving water, cutting costs, and helping to prevent accidental scalding through better and more consistent temperature control.

Whether or not making your home more sustainable is a priority for you, reducing energy costs is a strategy that everyone can buy into. It’s the gift to your home that keeps on giving. Right from the get-go there are some simple steps you can take to lower your electric bill. When your old power-hungry appliances have exceeded their usefulness, replace them with Energy Star® models. Swap out your vintage dial-controlled heating/air-conditioning thermostat for a digital model that will allow you to pre-set multiple settings for peak and off-peak usage and those times you are away from home for an extended period. Insulate or increase the insulation to save money year-round, keeping the house warmer in cold weather and cooler in hot weather. These relatively low-cost improvements will more than pay for themselves over time with the energy you save. Plus, once you’ve made them, you’re done. They don’t require any additional maintenance and will keep on saving energy and money for years to come.

Making your home more livable need not be costly or complicated. With a bit of planning and research to find the products and solutions that are right for you, you can address multiple needs at the same time. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all, a design professional has the knowledge and skills to create a sustaining and sustainable home that fits the way you live—whether you need a little help or a lot.

In today’s housing market, many homeowners are choosing to stay put.  Why not make the most of the home you have? Enhancing your home’s livability will pay dividends for years to come in a higher quality of life and better health, as well as by reducing utility costs. And what’s more, you will add to the value of your home, because prospective buyers want these features in their homes as well.  Health, safety, convenience, comfort, well being, and savings, too. You really can have it all.