Designing spaces that are healthy and comfortable is a key aspect of Natural Element’s design philosophy. On average Australians spend 90% of their time indoors and it is therefore important that our interior environments are not only enjoyable to be in, but also promote health and well being.
Natural Element’s aim is to design interiors that:
Have ample access to natural light
Have ample access to fresh air
Have views to the outdoors
Are thermally comfortable
Are acoustically pleasant
Are well lit for the appropriate activities
Do not promote dampness and mould growth
Are free from toxins and volatile organic compounds off gassing from internal finishes
Access to Natural Light & Views
Good access to day light is vital for our health and well being, as it gives us a sense of time, place and provides us with the awareness of environmental and climatic conditions. Daylight can also reduce demands on artificial lighting and make a home more energy efficient.
Natural Elements gives special consideration to daylight qualities of different window orientation, as window orientation can significantly influence the ambience and lighting quality of interior spaces. North facing windows are desirable as they allow light and warmth to penetrate interior spaces during winter and are easy to shade in summer with horizontal shading, whereas South facing windows do not offer direct light or solar heating and can leave rooms feeling quite dark. However, as the light is diffused and even from this angle it is ideal for studies and studios. East and West facing windows can be mood enhancing, either capturing the rising or setting sun. However appropriate vertical shading needs to be installed over these windows to minimise heat gains in summer.
Artificial lighting can also have an impact on well being. Blue colour temperature will increase alertness for daytime activities because the colour temperature imitates the daytime sky. Whereas warm yellow-orange colour temperature imitates the evening sky and fire, which helps our bodies prepare for rest and restores the human body’s natural circadian rhythm. Natural Elements can help you choose lighting that has appropriate colour temperatures, lux levels and appropriate light fixtures for diffusion.
Natural Elements is a strong advocate for designing homes that are connected to the outdoors with views to gardens and greenery. Our design philosophy is to make interior spaces feel natural and light, and therefore we like to use a material palette that feels fresh, clean and is accented with natural materials and colours.
Thermal comfort is a very important part of our designs, a thermally comfortable internal space is one that is able to maintain a good temperature and humidity range and does not have draughts. Thermal comfort can be achieved through good passive design (see Passive Design page) and an energy efficient mechanical heating and cooling system.
Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling in typical Australian homes account for 40% of household energy usage. Good passive design can help in reducing the demand for heating and cooling significantly. However you may still need a small amount of heating and cooling system for peak temperatures.
Choosing a mechanical heating and cooling system is a nuanced task, that needs to take into consideration individual comfort, heat type (radiant or convection), heating/cooling load required, budget and fuel type. The following are some systems to consider:
Ceiling Fans, with a reverse heating mode.
Mechanical Heat Recovery System
Hydronic radiators connected to an electric heat pump, powered/offset by roof solar panels.
An energy efficient split system in main living spaces, powered/offset by roof solar panels. If you target the Passive House Standard, a simple reverse cycle air conditioner will be able to heat and cool your home effectively.
There is not one perfect mechanical heating and cooling system. Natural Elements can talk to you about the positives and negatives of many different types of systems and help you choose a system that meets your needs.
Access to Fresh Air
Sick building syndrome is rife in many buildings due to high carbon dioxide levels, mould growth and pollutants entering interior spaces. We recognise as buildings become more energy efficient and airtight, the health of the interior environment requires additional attention.
One method of ensuring healthy interiors is through adequate ventilation, which can be done by opening windows very regularly or through a heat recovery ventilation system. Natural Elements can design a home with good cross-flow ventilation at the concept design phase of the project and help devise an occupant manual or automatic opening system. Another aspect of healthy interiors is choosing insulation and furnishing materials that have low levels of harmful volatile chemicals. Dampness and mould growth are also important to consider. Natural Elements advises that the construction wall system should be vapour permeable towards the exterior to direct moisture out of the wall systems rather than accumulating.
The implications of climate change, drier conditions, bush fires and their impacts on future house design is well recognised by Natural Elements. Bush fire smoke can be very hazardous and cause significant respiratory problems to the young, elderly and to those that have asthma. If smoke entering your proposed home is of great concern, Natural Elements advises adopting the Passive House Standard approach of tightly sealing the building envelope and installing a heat recovery ventilation system with a carbon filter.
Acoustically Pleasant Interiors
External noise can have an adverse effect on the peace and quiet of a home and cause underlying stress to occupants. External noise can be minimised with good insulation, double glazed windows, acoustic door seals and landscape buffering.
Internal acoustic insulation between walls is also advisable. However, a mix of soft and hard finishes will provide the greatest acoustic comfort, where internal sound is absorbed by soft furnishings to prevent reverberations.