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  • Writer's pictureKate Hamblet

5 Essential Home Design Features for Sustainable, Healthy, and Accessible Living

By Kate Hamblet

Key Considerations in Home Design

Designing a new home or renovation is such a big endeavor that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the decisions, and ultimately overlook some very important design considerations. As an architect who specializes in sustainable and wellness design, I see a lot of new homes and renovations that are missing key healthy and sustainable design features. Many of these key features are pretty easy to incorporate into a home’s design if they’re made a priority during the design process. Here are some of the top healthy home design features that I often see neglected in home design.

  1. Home Orientation: Leverages Natural Light

You’ve probably heard me talk about this plenty of times! But orientation is the most important thing to get right when building a new home or adding to your home. Orientation is the direction that your home is facing. You want to maximize natural light by orienting your home so that the long part faces south and by putting the majority of windows on the south face. In the summertime, those windows need to be shaded by exterior overhangs, but in the winter, the windows will help heat your house for free.

2. Roof Overhangs Protect and Minimize Maintenance

A trending design feature is to have zero roof overhangs on houses, meaning the roof stops where it meets the wall, rather than sticking out beyond the face of the wall. But I urge everyone to ignore this trend, and make sure you have roof overhangs! Overhangs protect your house, making your house a lot more durable and less maintenance. They push rain and snow away from the foundation, windows, and siding, keeping water away from the house. Plus they can act as exterior shading devices for windows.

3. Kitchen Range Hoods: Important for Good Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality is paramount to good health and longevity, and properly designed kitchen range hoods can significantly improve the air quality in your home. I see a lot of kitchen designs that put the cooktop on an island, which often leads to not having a range hood over the cooktop. This is not good. Sometimes downdraft vents are used, but these are not very effective at removing all the toxins that are created during cooking. You want a range hood that is over the cooktop. Ideally, it should be about 6” wider than the cooking surface. So if you have a 30” cooktop, you’ll want a 36” hood. You also want to make sure the range hood vents directly to the outside. Recirculating hoods do not cut it! They can actually make the air in the home worse.

4. Wider-than-normal Doors and Zero-step Entries Ensures You Can Live There Longer

An interior residential door is typically around 2’-6” wide. This isn’t wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and can make moving furniture and appliances difficult. I recommend making all interior doors on your first-floor level 2’-10” wide. It will feel great moving around your house with this slightly wider opening. It’s also helpful to avoid having a step at your main entry. This can be done by having the grade come up to the first-floor level (talk to your designer about how to properly achieve this) or by ramping up the walkway to your entry door. The more you can do when you design your home to accommodate universal design, the less you’ll have to modify later for aging-in-place. Plus, making your home accessible to all is an important goal to strive for.

5. Intentional Square Footage Maximizes Use and Minimizes Cost

Think about how you’ll use your house now and in the future. If you have kids in the house now, remember they probably won’t be there forever. Rather than designing a separate room for every activity you plan to do in your house now, use flex spaces to combine different purposes into one room. When the kids are grown and out of the house, you’ll have a home that still feels like the right size. In general, we tend to make our houses bigger than we really need, which means they are going to cost more and use more resources to build, use more energy and cost more to run and maintain, and take more time to clean.

These are some of the top healthy home design strategies that I often see missing from home designs. If you can keep these 5 design strategies in mind at the beginning of your design process, it’ll go a long way in making sure you have a comfortable, healthy, and sustainable home. These features are part of my non-negotiables when I design homes for my clients. If you’d like to learn more about all my non-negotiables and get fully prepared for your healthy new build or renovation, check out my Healthy Home Design Toolkit.

By, Kate Hamblet

The Wellness Architect Balanced Architecture

Kate helps health-conscious families create homes that support and promote health, happiness and longevity. You'll find her at

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