Apparently, I need to have my house checked for toxic materials.
I'm not sure how I missed this information when we bought the house five years ago, but I've just learned that structures built before the 1960s in Toronto contain asbestos, and that if the previous owners didn't have it removed, it's likely still there. Terrific. My house is going to kill me and my family.
Of course, obviously harmful substances aren't the only ways your living, work and play environments can affect your physical and mental health.
The amount of light, the view from the window, the placement of stairs: these can make or break a healthy environment.
For example, according to the American Institute of Architects, a Harvard study found that men who climbed at least 20 flights of stairs per week had a 20 per cent lower risk of stroke and premature death from all causes.
Colour can improve your mood and productivity. And, according to the Chinese system of feng shui, placement of everything affects the flow of energy in an environment.
"Salutogenesis," discussed below, refers to design that supports health and well-being rather than just avoiding factors that cause disease.
What's going on in your house or office?
What The Experts Say
"The impact of built environments on our overall health, efficiency and productivity has been measured in many ways.
Certain studies indicate, for instance, that views of nature as well as engagement with it can alleviate stress as measured by pulse rate, blood pressure, the need for pain medication and even the length of stay in a hospital.
Access to daylight, along with various forms of therapeutic positive distraction, have also been associated with reduced stress levels, improved performance and in some cases improved health indicators.
Conversely, the design of the built environment can have a negative impact on health. For example, certain building materials, interior finishes and furnishings with high levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) have been shown to have negative health impacts on people who work or spend a great deal of time in those settings.
This is especially significant in hospitals, where staff are working under stressful conditions and patients' health is already compromised. Design and layout of the built environment has also been shown to affect infection rates and other measures of safety and certain adverse events common in hospitals.
Ultimately, the amount of time we spend in any given environment, along with our inherent health status and ability to cope with environmental stressors, will determine the impact that any designed environment can have on our health."
DAVID ALLISON, professor and director, graduate studies in architecture and health, Clemson University, Clemson, North Carolina
"At the city and neighbourhood scale, safe and attractive walkable street networks, access to transit and parks can help increase physical activity and social capital and decrease stress and the negative health impacts of driving. Access to healthy food and reduced exposure to toxins (whether emissions from tailpipes, chimneys or contaminated water or soil) are also important at the community scale. At the building scale, physical activity can also be encouraged by the prominent placement of stairs. Views of nature can reduce stress and improve mental health. Careful selection of construction materials and finishes can reduce exposure to toxins in paints, glues and other products."
ELLEN DUNHAM-JONES, professor of architecture and urban design, Georgia Tech School of Architecture, Atlanta
"Structurally, people need to watch out for a few things. If they have a beam or a bulkhead in the bedroom, I would not suggest sleeping under it. If they need to be under a window, they should make sure they have a high headboard or really thick curtains.
Feng shui is not just a study of the environment, but also of how energy shifts as time passes. Here are some general energies for 2014. If your front door, kitchen or bedroom is in the east, the northeast or the northwest part of your home, you need to take more precautions. The illness energy will be stronger this year for these areas.
Pregnant women should refrain from sleeping in a bedroom in the east, as should elderly people or those who are more fragile. They should find another room to sleep in, or, if they only have that east bedroom, put more metal in that room.
Feng shui is all about the elements: fire, wood, metal, water and earth. Certain elements can increase or reduce energy. Placing metal in the east reduces the illness energy. The general energy for the northeast affects emotional health.
Anyone whose front door or bedroom is in the northeast will find that 2014 will be a year of emotional ups and downs. They might feel they can't trust people and need to protect themselves. They might feel lonely. There could be a lot of jealousy, which can take quite a toll. Three stalks of bamboo in a glass vase could reduce that energy."
SAFRINA KADRI, feng shui consultant, fengshuiandprosper.com, Toronto
"What we call salutogenesis can promote health in the built environment. Patients are exposed to a lot of stress. We need to create a quality of environment that will mentally engage them. This can reduce pain during hospitalization and work as a positive distraction.
A shift from the left side to the right side of the brain - one of the dynamics salutogenesis promotes - can happen through the use of colour, shape and light. I've always wondered why Toronto allowed a highway to block access to the city's most beautiful area: the waterfront.
At the same time, Toronto is one of the most exciting cities in terms of developing new hospitals and health care facilities. Credit Valley Hospital is one of the most successful designs. It's a very beautiful, very powerful built environment. There are colours from nature, like blue and green, different soft colours and lots of wood. Sounds that can positively affect the environment include the sounds of nature and classical music. We should have interactive art - and a big aquarium, too - in a hospital.
Salutogenesis can be used in all kinds of health care facilities, but why not in office design, too? Or school environments? Exposing kids to salutogenically built environments could help them learn and stay engaged."
ALAN DILANI, founder and COO, International Academy for Design and Health, Stockholm
"Emotions such as sadness, anger, bitterness and jealousy are real in our lives but also energetic in nature. Every season has a different influence on our emotional makeup and experiences. And we are all unique in the bundle of carefully chosen emotions we carry with us, season to season.
Each emotion has an opposite vibratory reflection, similar to colour. For example, red is the opposite of green, orange the opposite of blue, and yellow the opposite of violet. The psychology of colour is about colour balance in our lives. It alerts us in a subtle way to imbalances in our relationship with the environment. We are a full-spectrum people and need every colour under the sun.
Individual colours in the spectrum have the energetic power to correct imbalances if the person knows how to allow this energy-in-transition, how to emote and how to remain aware and connected with themselves.
When selecting colours for schools or hospitals, consider what goes on there. For example, in hospitals, blue shades are calming and reassuring, and greens can promote thoughts of healing. Beige and white give a sense of neutrality and cleanliness.
In schools, oranges and crimsons boost creativity, and yellows stimulate the intellect.
If you trust your intuition when selecting shades to brighten up your home or office during low-light seasons, you'll never go wrong."
JULIANNE BIEN, colour therapist, Spectrahue Light & Sound Inc., Toronto