Nature is hardwired into us. But it’s not just an affinity towards organic objects, it’s something absolutely necessary in our biological processes — a concept embodied by biophilia (literally, a love of living things) and biophilic design, with architects, designers and homeowners wanting more natural elements incorporated into projects. We still crave the outdoors with every fiber of our being and we suffer physically, mentally and emotionally from our severe nature deprivation.
The reason for this is our ancestors thrived being outdoors 100% of the time. Nowadays, however, people on average spend 90% of their time indoors, and it’s going to be a long while before we adapt to these indoor environments.
The Demand for Wellness
“I think we’re at the beginning of what’s going to be a huge segment of what we do for a living,” Jan Vitrofsky, founder of the high-end integration firm Home Entertainment Design (HED), tells CE Pro. Jan like many integrators, found wellness by way of lighting.
As a long-time lighting control specialist, he was approached by a high-end homebuilder who wanted to know: “What do you know about circadian rhythm lighting?” At the time, the answer was: not a whole lot. But, after a trip to New York City to speak with Delos, who had built the Well Building Institute and founded the WELL Building Standard, Vitrofsky was hooked.
“I’ve always had a passion for lighting,” he says. “With Delos, I learned about wellness, and more about lighting. I got further entrenched in wellness with them.”
Back in 2017, just as it was it was creeping into the public consciousness, then-Delos-backed Ketra (acquired by Lutron in 2018) showcased perhaps the most automated of circadian simulations. The imagery — arctic sky, firelike glow — was deliberate, mimicking scenes of nature (“biomimicry” or “biomimetics”)that lie at the heart of circadian lighting.
Our natural hardwiring means our clocks are set to the 24-hour day/night cycle, and lighting is perhaps one of the most critical components in organizing that clock. Our rods and cones respond to color temperature and lighting intensity. Non-visual photosensors in the eyes and skin pick up on the location and other more subtle characteristics of light. However, being indoors shields us from these cues.
Disruption of these natural light patterns confuses our highly evolved circadian circuitry, which informs our sleep, hormone secretions, alertness, neurological functions, metabolism, immune systems, moods … pretty much everything that makes us human at the cellular level.
Lighting, Then Air
As Vitrofsky notes, “In the wellness sector, lighting is only one of the pillars.”
Enter: air (surprise, it was always here), specifically indoor air. According to the EPA, indoor air is two to five times more polluted than outdoor air due to tighter building envelopes and a rise in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the home. And now, fears for COVID and other pathogens have an even greater focus being placed on indoor air quality (IAQ).
Unlike with HCL, however, the health benefits of clean indoor air have been well known for decades, people are only just now giving it the attention it deserves, thanks in part to COVID. Right now there are whole-house air purifiers and ventilation systems, but the options for indoor air quality (IAQ) solutions also extend into features like motorized skylights. Velux, for instance, offers Velux active, working with IAQ sensors from Netatmo to automate skylights for optimal ventilation.
Delos, likewise, is continuing trying to accelerate interest in IAQ among smart-home pros. The company has been training dealer members on its full wellness ecosystem, including HCL, IAQ, water quality and more.
The Roots of the Solutions
Both HCL and IAQ systems have their roots in nature, so what other aspects of nature do people need in their lives? The answer: a lot. And a lot of it, as research tells us, is something we wouldn’t even consider, like the movement of the air, the warmth of the sun, the smell of fresh water.
As electrification disrupted natural lighting conditions, so too did AC and heating smooth out the normal ups and downs of ambient temperature. Just think: It’s always warmer during the day, and colder at night. So, our ancestors evolved biological responses accordingly. Cold conditions tell the body to wind down, and hot conditions tell it to ready up.
However, in the great outdoors, “warm” and “cold” really don’t touch upon the myriad of temperature varieties. With lighting, the rising of the sun is gradual just as the darkening of the day is gradual, and our bodies respond by similarly slowly gearing up or winding down.
Temperature plays by the exact same rules. And yet, every single indoor space is usually set to around 70 degrees at all times. That’s because it’s the temperature where occupants tend to be the most comfortable.
Comfortability doesn’t account for stagnation, though, which is what really tampers with our natural processes. Constant blue light. Constant heat. Constant air. The body craves variation in its environment to function properly. And as research shows, the absence of these triggers now cause people to get fatigued, complacent, error-prone and unproductive.
Bringing Nature Back Into the Home
As of right now, integrators believe the bedroom will be the center of this biophilic transformation. Experts recommend not just optimal temperature and light generation, but variable options as well. And people can get creative with it: personal fans, a cold slab of marble or a warm heated cushion.
Research indicates that “pleasant thermal sensations are better perceived” when humans are already in extreme conditions, such as a cold splash of water when it’s hot; a hot cup of coffee when it’s cold.
So there is some science behind innovations like the Wave bracelet from Embr Labs, which “cools or warms the temperature-sensitive skin on your wrist in waves, creating a natural response that makes you feel 5 degrees more comfortable overall,” the company claims.
Another version of this article previously appeared in CE Pro.