Danish company VELUX began with a belief in building healthier homes. Created over 75 years ago by Villum Kann-Rasmussen, the manufacturer has now expanded around the world, with millions of people getting fresh air and daylight through their products. With recent events on the COVID-19 pandemic, Lone Feifer and Peter Foldbjerg of VELUX explore how architects and designers can find better ways to work at home and create healthy living spaces.
How was VELUX founded, and what is your core mission?
Lone: The VELUX Group is founded on one man’s idea to transform dark attics into livable spaces enriched with daylight and fresh air through the roof. Our vision is to create better living environments for all through better building design, using daylight and fresh air as key design parameters.
VELUX has stated that people are increasingly spending up to 90% of their time indoors. What are some of the major effects of lighting and airflow in a home?
Peter: Yes, that’s right and that’s a fact presented by WHO and long before the COVID-19 crisis occurred.
But you’re right there are many benefits related to good lighting and airflows at home. Better daylight conditions in our homes, schools and offices can lead to healthier and more productive places to enjoy life indoors, rest, play, learn and work. Studies have shown how better daylight led to better learning in school (pupils in daylit classrooms did in example did better in maths test than those who were in less daylit rooms). Better access to views, along with improved daylight conditions, were found to significantly improve performance in both tests, with workers in the call centre found to process calls 6% to 12% faster when they had the best possible view versus those with no view.
Office workers, meanwhile, were found to perform 10% to 25% better on tests of mental function and memory recall when they had the best possible view versus those with no view.
And then there’s our air inside our homes, schools and offices. Many people are not giving this insight much thought. But, the air we breathe is just as important as the food we eat or the water we drink. In fact, the air inside our homes can be up to five times more polluted than the air outdoors, because of e.g. pollutants that emanate from toxic materials inside, such as building materials, cleaning products, furniture, plastics, toys, etc. Human activities such as cooking, burning candles, drying clothes indoors, etc. are also contributing to air pollution inside.
Fortunately, there are a lot of simple things you can do to improve the indoor climate surrounding you in your everyday life:
- Open your windows at least three to four times a day to allow fresh air in
- Keep bathroom doors closed and turn on the extractor fan or open a window when showering
- Turn hood fan on when cooking and open your windows
- Don’t burn candles
- Dry clothes outside
- Clean regularly
Recent events with COVID-19 have been swift. As people begin using their homes for remote work and offices, what are some healthy habits and spatial ideas to keep in mind?
Lone: It is a very unfortunate situation we’re in. It’s affecting us all, all over the world and we hope we soonest possible are on the other side of this crisis. You’re asking me what healthy habits we can apply to create a healthier workday at home, your current work environment under these COVID-19 circumstances? If you’re not looking into bigger home improvements, there are a few basic and simple tricks you can use to get a better indoor climate, now that many of us are using our homes as a workplace, unfortunately. Normal working days, we spend 65% of our time in our homes; here are several tips for a healthy home coming from Harvard School of Public Health.
Peter: During these times we must focus even more on good air quality, especially in the bedrooms. See this animated graph of the difference in CO2 in a bedroom with open or closed door. However, this problem is also valid for a home office. If you barricade yourself in a small room (10-15 sqm) the same physics as in the bedroom situation applies. Even a mechanical ventilation system might not have a sufficient air change rate and you still have to air out using windows. Some rules of thumb for changing the air - the more windows opened at one time, best across or as stack effect:
It is very important to have a thorough air change. For those living in places with cold weather at the moment, air out at least three times per day for ten minutes, or more if you cannot use stack/cross ventilation. Those experiencing warmer weather must air out longer. Natural ventilation via open windows is recommended by the European indoor climate association REHVA as a good way to ventilate to reduce spread of virus. It is also a good time to be a bit more rigorous about cleaning.
Today, as many as 1 out of 3 European children live in homes with deficiencies that could negatively impact their health. How can designers better address daylight, energy and indoor climate to create healthier spaces?
Lone: Make design tools more available. We are in example making our Daylight Visualizer and Indoor Climate Visualizer easy, accessible online for everyone and free of charge. These can help homeowners and design professionals to see very specifically how they can improve a building’s daylight conditions and air flows. The point is, that it is important that the designers take time to evaluate the indoor climate of the spaces they work on. Make sure the air change is adequate all year and in all rooms, make sure overheating can be avoided with sustainable solutions like natural ventilation and solar shading, and of course make sure there is the right daylight conditions all year.
Peter: We may see more people working from home in the future, and the population is aging, with more elderly spending a lot of their time at home. So there are many good reasons to ensure that homes are healthier in the future - and this will certainly benefit the health of children growing up in these homes. Climate changes are almost a given fact and not a question of “if”. Design tools can use future predictions of the climate in the calculations and simulations and thus ensure great performance of the building even in a world of change.
With many firms transitioning to remote work, what tips would you provide to firm leaders?
Lone: The key to successfully work from home is to establish routines around your day, to make the situation a new (temporary) normalcy. There has been a lot of advice about working times, putting on shoes, having regular lunches. What is crucial is to establish a good indoor hygiene, change the air several times a day. This should optimally not be something managers point out, but a part of a personal hygiene - we still shower every day, don´t we? The indoor hygiene is unlikely to be on the personal radar, so managers may need to remind about it, a bit like they would in a workplace, where the facilities are professionally taken care of.
How can tools like your Daylight Visualizer and EIC Visualizer be used to promote healthier designs?
Peter: The tools empower architects and engineers to test their design before it is built. The tools allow the designer to explore which design solutions work the best. Where is the optimal location of windows? What is the optimal type of glazing? What is the effect of overhangs? Will solar shading make a difference? How efficient can natural ventilation be to minimize overheating?
And even as we work hard to meet the Paris agreement with an ambition to minimize climate change, the 1,5C temperature increase will have an impact, and designers can use the tools to evaluate how their building designs will perform in future climate. Creating a healthy space must be a key ambition for the design, and is as important as the architecture and aesthetics.
VELUX is working in more than 40 countries, with an extensive distribution network. How do the ways we build and use elements like lighting and airflow differ around the world?
Lone: Light and air are universal elements, whereas traditions, typologies and legislation vary a lot from region to region. Our building cultures reflect societal norms, ways we live and work, the same goes for how we use daylight. We have our individual perceptions of daylight, but also collectively, where it connects us when we gather - typically in buildings for faith. Daylight has many benefits, also hygienic - think about the sanatoriums, where patients were treated successfully with sunbeams for severe diseases, in fact my father went to a sanatorium in 1937 and was treated for tuberculosis.
Technological progress and advanced mechanics have improved buildings to be very comfortable for us humans; maybe we have reached the peak of this progress, and now it is time to consider how we reconnect with natural elements, to bring the outside in, to follow the seasons, to navigate by our senses rather than by a technological fix?
- Schools Indoor Pollution & Health Observatory Network in Europe, 2014
- Heschong Mahone Group (2003) Windows and Offices: A Study of Office Worker Performance and the Indoor Environment
- United States Environmental Protection Agency: Report on the Environment
We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.