Contrarily to the Sick Building Sydrome, which is characterized by feeling sick within the building and experiencing a healthier state outside of the building, the Holistic eco-dwelling generates a feeling of unifying health and joie de vivre.

Art & Colorful Images of Nature can be Healing

Art paintings of Nature and even posted images of Nature within buildings have been found to be a significant destressor in urban settings. Building occupants’ need for human interaction with nature has been found to compensate for a lack of nature exposure by adding images of nature to the office environment (Source A) &  (Source B) Using Attention Restoration Theory (ART) as a framework, Felsten asked students to imagine they were mentally fatigued and to rate various images on their perceived restorative potential. Felsten found that students perceived mural views of nature with water as the most restorative. (Source).  Other studies have shown  beneficial effects the representation of Nature on the wellbeing of building occupants. In this perspective, Ulrich observed a better recovery from gallbladder surgery when the patient was able to appreciate images of Nature. (Source) Other studies showed that other Patients who were able to see Nature representations were able to recover faster  and required less pain medication than patients whose view was of a brick wall. (Ibid).

Norms: Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC)

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) is the technology of indoor and vehicular environmental comfort. Its goal is to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality. HVAC system design is a subdiscipline of mechanical engineering, based on the principles of thermodynamics, fluid mechanics and heat transfer. “Refrigeration” is sometimes added to the field’s abbreviation, as HVAC&R.

HVAC is an important part of residential structures such as single family homes, apartment buildings, hotels and senior living facilities, medium to large industrial and office buildings such as skyscrapers and hospitals, vehicles such as cars, trains, airplanes, space-crafts, ships, submarines, and in marine environments, where safe and healthy building conditions are regulated with respect to temperature and humidity.

The three major functions of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning are interrelated, especially with the need to provide thermal comfort and acceptable indoor air quality within reasonable installation, operation, and maintenance costs. HVAC systems can be used in both domestic and commercial environments. HVAC systems can provide ventilation, and maintain pressure relationships between spaces. The means of air delivery and removal from spaces is known as room air distribution. (Designer’s Guide to Ceiling-Based Air Diffusion, Rock and Zhu, ASHRAE, Inc., New York, 2002). Exhibit B details a few of the constituent elements that go into the meeting of these criteria, thanks to which dwellers can be both comfortable and healthier.

Natural vs Non Natural Air Circulation

Ventilating or ventilation is the process of exchanging or replacing air in any space to provide high indoor air quality which involves temperature control, oxygen replenishment, and removal of moisture, odors, smoke, heat, dust, airborne bacteria and diseases, carbon dioxide, and other gases. 

If anything, stagnation of the interior air is the most toxic with regard to modern buildings, given the off gazing of carpets, walls, paints and more. Likewise with airborne diseases like TB and pneumonia.

Methods for ventilating a building may be divided into mechanical/forced and natural types. ASHRAE is the organization that generates American standards. (See Ventilation and Infiltration chapter, Fundamentals volume of the ASHRAE Handbook, ASHRAE, Inc., Atlanta, GA, 2005)

Holistic and Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation is the ventilation of a building with outside air without using fans or other mechanical systems. It can be via operable windows, louvers, or trickle vents when spaces are small and the architecture permits. In more complex schemes, warm air is allowed to rise and flow out high building openings to the outside (stack effect), causing cool outside air to be drawn into low building openings.

Natural ventilation schemes can use very little energy, but care must be taken to ensure comfort and safety. In warm or humid climates, maintaining thermal comfort solely via natural ventilation may be challenging.  Air conditioning systems are often used as backups or supplements. Air-side economizers also use outside air to condition spaces, but do so using fans, ducts, dampers, and control systems to introduce and distribute cool outdoor air when appropriate.

An important component of natural ventilation is air change rate or air changes per hour: the hourly rate of ventilation divided by the volume of the space. For example, six air changes per hour means an amount of new air, equal to the volume of the space, is added every ten minutes. For human comfort, a minimum of four air changes per hour is typical, though warehouses might have only two. Too high of an air change rate may be uncomfortable, akin to a wind tunnel which have thousands of changes per hour. The highest air change rates are for crowded spaces, bars, night clubs, commercial kitchens at around 30 to 50 air changes per hour. (Cf. “Air Change Rates for typical Rooms and Buildings”. The Engineering ToolBox. (Source))

Room pressure can be either positive or negative with respect to outside the room. Positive pressure occurs when there is more air being supplied than exhausted, and is necessary to reduce the infiltration of outside contaminants. (Cf. Bell, Geoffrey. “Room Air Change Rate”. A Design Guide for Energy-Efficient Research Laboratories. (Source)

Natural ventilation is a key factor in reducing the spread of airborne illnesses such as tuberculosis, the common cold, influenza and meningitis.

Opening doors, windows, and using ceiling fans are ways to maximize natural ventilation and reduce the risk of airborne contagion. Natural ventilation requires little maintenance and is inexpensive. It is the best Holistic approach in this realm.  (Escombe, A. R.; Oeser, C. C.; Gilman, R. H.; et al. (2007). “Natural ventilation for the prevention of airborne contagion”. PLoS Med. 4 (68): e68. (Source)

Ceiling fans and table/floor fans circulate air within a room for the purpose of reducing the perceived temperature by increasing evaporation of perspiration on the skin of the occupants. Because hot air rises, ceiling fans may be used to keep a room warmer in the winter by circulating the warm stratified air from the ceiling to the floor.

A Holistic Eco-house in the Forest will include the natural essences of the trees and wild flowers that tend to be anti-microbial. Lacking these natural essences, aromatherapy can be envisaged, whereby the dwellers will ionize each room with a good smelling and anti-microbial  Essential oil. A blend of eucalyptus and citrus will do that and as a bonus, the room odor will be fresh and spiritually up lifting, as that is the nature of the citrus terpenes.

Free cooling & Heat Sinks

Free cooling systems can have very high efficiencies, and are sometimes combined with seasonal thermal energy storage so that the cold of winter can be used for summer air conditioning. Common storage mediums are deep aquifers or a natural underground rock mass accessed via a cluster of small-diameter, heat-exchanger-equipped boreholes. Some systems with small storages are hybrids, using free cooling early in the cooling season, and later employing a heat pump to chill the circulation coming from the storage. The heat pump is added-in because the storage acts as a heat sink when the system is in cooling (as opposed to charging) mode, causing the temperature to gradually increase during the cooling season.

38mm diameter by 50mm tall pin fin heat sink with thermal profile and swirling animated forced convection flow trajectories from a vaneaxial fan, predicted using a CFDanalysis package

A heat sink  is a passive heat exchanger that transfers the heat generated by an electronic or a mechanical device to a fluid medium, often air or a liquid coolant, where it is dissipated away from the device, thereby allowing regulation of the device’s temperature at optimal levels.

Some systems include an “economizer mode”, which is sometimes called a “free-cooling mode”. When economizing, the control system will open (fully or partially) the outside air damper and close (fully or partially) the return air damper. This will cause fresh, outside air to be supplied to the system. When the outside air is cooler than the demanded cool air, this will allow the demand to be met without using the mechanical supply of cooling (typically chilled water or a direct expansion “DX” unit), thus saving energy.

The control system can compare the temperature of the outside air vs. return air, or it can compare the enthalpy of the air, as is frequently done in climates where humidity is more of an issue. In both cases, the outside air must be less energetic than the return air for the system to enter the economizer mode. (Enthalpy is a property of a thermodynamic system, it is equal to the system’s internal energy plus the product of its pressure and volume).


Dehumidification (air drying) in an air conditioning system is provided by an evaporator. Since the evaporator operates at a temperature below the dew point, moisture in the air condenses on the evaporator coil tubes. This moisture is collected at the bottom of the evaporator in a pan and removed by piping to a central drain or onto the ground outside.

A dehumidifier is an air-conditioner-like device that controls the humidity of a room or building. It is often employed in basements which have a higher relative humidity because of their lower temperature (and propensity for damp floors and walls).

Conventional Ventilation

Mechanical, or forced, ventilation is provided by an air handler (AHU) and used to control indoor air quality. Excess humidity, odors, and contaminants can often be controlled via dilution or replacement with outside air. However, in humid climates more energy is required to remove excess moisture from ventilation air.

Kitchens and bathrooms typically have mechanical exhausts to control odors and sometimes humidity. Factors in the design of such systems include the flow rate (which is a function of the fan speed and exhaust vent size) and noise level. Direct drive fans are available for many applications, and can reduce maintenance needs.

Air Conditioning

An air conditioning system, or a stand alone air conditioner, provides cooling and humidity control for all or part of a building. Air conditioned buildings often have sealed windows, because open windows would work against the system intended to maintain constant indoor air conditions. Outside, fresh air is generally drawn into the system by a vent into the indoor heat exchanger section, creating positive air pressure. The percentage of return air made up of fresh air can usually be manipulated by adjusting the opening of this vent. Typical fresh air intake is about 10%.

Air conditioning and refrigeration are provided through the removal of heat. Heat can be removed through radiation, convection, or conduction. Refrigeration conduction media such as water, air, ice, and chemicals are referred to as refrigerants. A refrigerant is employed either in a heat pump system in which a compressor is used to drive thermodynamic refrigeration cycle, or in a free cooling system which uses pumps to circulate a cool refrigerant (typically water or a glycol mix).

Maintenance & Risks

All modern air conditioning systems, even small window package units, are equipped with internal air filters. These are generally of a lightweight gauze-like material, and must be replaced or washed as conditions warrant. For example, a building in a high dust environment, or a home with furry pets, will need to have the filters changed more often than buildings without these dirt loads. Failure to replace these filters as needed will contribute to a lower heat exchange rate, resulting in wasted energy, shortened equipment life, and higher energy bills; low air flow can result in iced-over evaporator coils, which can completely stop air flow. Additionally, very dirty or plugged filters can cause overheating during a heating cycle, and can result in damage to the system or even fire.

Because an air conditioner moves heat between the indoor coil and the outdoor coil, both must be kept clean. This means that, in addition to replacing the air filter at the evaporator coil, it is also necessary to regularly clean the condenser coil. Failure to keep the condenser clean will eventually result in harm to the compressor, because the condenser coil is responsible for discharging both the indoor heat (as picked up by the evaporator) and the heat generated by the electric motor driving the compressor.


Living in an energy efficient, modern building can have unintended side effects, and all the more so that the inhabitants forget maintenance. One of these side effects is less air flow. Lack of air flow allows for indoor air pollution to build up and cause health issues like asthma or sick building syndrome. In fact, modern furnishings, varnishes, paints, synthetic building materials, and  carpet may carry more chemicals than expected. These chemicals can make up to 90 percent of indoor air pollution. As a consequence, ventilation is very important.

For the Institute, the best approach is to avoid using furnishings, building material and carpets that are toxic. And to complement with house plants, HEPA filters and the like, including ionizers and essential oils and makig sure all electrical appliances are well grounded and without wireless technology.

Heating: Holistic vs Conventional

Heaters are appliances whose purpose is to generate heat (i.e. warmth) for the building and dwellers living or working therein. In modern societies, this can be done via central heating. Such a system contains a boiler, furnace, or heat pump to heat water, steam, or air in a central location such as a furnace room in a home, or a mechanical room in a large building. The heat can be transferred by convection, conduction, or radiation. In developing countries and holistic building, heating techniques are less toxic, provided care and maintenance are ensured.

For centuries, the main heating source was a fireplace, or a stove with good insulation, like straw-bale, clay and lime. But for these to be safe, it’s necessary to ensure safe ventilation. Many developing countries use wood and diesel in unsafe conditions. These then tend to be toxic. In Holistic building, technology is often high-tech. Couple examples below.

Ground source or Geothermal heating

Ground source, or geothermal, heat pumps are similar to ordinary heat pumps, but instead of transferring heat to or from outside air, they rely on the stable, even temperature of the earth to provide heating and air conditioning. Many regions experience seasonal temperature extremes, which would require large-capacity heating and cooling equipment to heat or cool buildings. For example, a conventional heat pump system used to heat a building in Montana’s −70 °F (−57 °C) low temperature or cool a building in the highest temperature ever recorded in the US—134 °F (57 °C) in Death Valley, California, in 1913 would require a large amount of energy due to the extreme difference between inside and outside air temperatures. A few feet below the earth’s surface, however, the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Utilizing this large source of relatively moderate temperature earth, a heating or cooling system’s capacity can often be significantly reduced. Although ground temperatures vary according to latitude, at 6 feet (1.8 m) underground, temperatures generally only range from 45 to 75 °F (7 to 24 °C).

An example of a geothermal heat pump that uses a body of water as the heat sink, is the system used by the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Illinois. This building is situated on the Chicago River, and uses cold river water by pumping it into a recirculating cooling system, where heat exchangers transfer heat from the building into the water, and then the now-warmed water is pumped back into the Chicago River. (Al-Kodmany, Kheir (2013). The Future of the City: Tall Buildings and Urban Design. WIT Press. p. 242). While they may be more costly to install than regular heat pumps, geothermal heat pumps can produce markedly lower energy bills. Geothermal heat pumps still provide higher efficiency than air source heat pumps. Some models provide 70% saving compared to electric resistance heaters. (Cf “geothermal heat pumps and power saving”. Retrieved 30 Dec 2017). (Source)


Heaters exist for various types of fuel, including solid fuels, liquids,  gases, solar, wind and thermal. Another type of heat source is electricity, normally heating ribbons composed of high resistance wire like Nichrome. Nichrome is any of various alloys of nickel, chromium, and often iron (and possibly other elements). The most common usage is as resistance wire, although they are also used in some dental restorations (fillings) and in a few other applications.

Almost any conductive wire can be used for heating. Most metals conduct electricity with great efficiency, requiring them to be formed into very thin and delicate wires in order to create enough resistance to generate heat. When heated in air, most metals then oxidize quickly, become brittle, and break. Nichrome wire, however, when heated to red-hot temperatures, develops an outer layer of chromium oxide, which is thermodynamically stable in air, is mostly impervious to oxygen, and protects the heating element from further oxidation. (Cf. Ventilation and Infiltration chapter, Fundamentals volume of the ASHRAE Handbook, ASHRAE, Inc., Atlanta, GA, 2005)

This principle is also used for baseboard heaters and portable heaters. Electrical heaters are often used as backup or supplemental heat for heat pump systems. The heat pump gained popularity in the 1950s in Japan and the United States. (Source) Heat pumps can extract heat from various sources, such as environmental air, exhaust air from a building, or from the ground. Heat pumps transfer heat from outside the structure into the air inside. Initially, heat pump HVAC systems were only used in moderate climates, but with improvements in low temperature operation and reduced loads due to more efficient homes, they are increasing in popularity in cooler climates.

Distribution: Water/steam

In the case of heated water or steam, piping is used to transport the heat to the rooms. Most modern hot water boiler heating systems have a circulator, which is a pump, to move hot water through the distribution system (as opposed to older gravity-fed systems). The heat can be transferred to the surrounding air using radiators, hot water coils (hydro-air), or other heat exchangers. The radiators may be mounted on walls or installed within the floor to produce floor heat.

The use of water as the heat transfer medium is known as hydronics. The heated water can also supply an auxiliary heat exchanger to supply hot water for bathing and washing.


Warm air systems distribute heated air through duct work systems of supply and return air through metal or fiberglass ducts. Many systems use the same ducts to distribute air cooled by an evaporator coil for air conditioning. The air supply is normally filtered through air cleaners to remove dust and pollen particles.

Dangers & Risks

The use of furnaces, space heaters, and boilers as a method of indoor heating could result in incomplete combustion and the emission of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, and other combustion byproducts. Incomplete combustion occurs when there is insufficient oxygen; the inputs are fuels containing various contaminants and the outputs are harmful byproducts, most dangerously carbon monoxide, which is a tasteless and odorless gas with serious adverse health effects. (Bearg, David W. (1993). Indoor Air Quality and HVAC Systems. New York: Lewis Publishers. pp. 107–112).

Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide can be lethal at concentrations of 1000 ppm (0.1%). However, at several hundred ppm, carbon monoxide exposure induces headaches, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. Carbon monoxide binds with hemoglobin in the blood, forming carboxyhemoglobin, reducing the blood’s ability to transport oxygen. The primary health concerns associated with carbon monoxide exposure are its cardiovascular and neurobehavioral effects. Carbon monoxide can cause atherosclerosis (the hardening of arteries) and can also trigger heart attacks. Neurologically, carbon monoxide exposure reduces hand to eye coordination, vigilance, and continuous performance. It can also affect time discrimination. (Source)

Plumbing, Toilettes, Showers, Kitchen and Garden

Volume Two will detail the holistic approach with regard to common appliances withing the house. Depending on the Code, it may be possible to install compost toilettes, grey water systems, massage cold-and hot showers and produce propane from compost bins so as to provide free fuel for the kitchen burners. Whatever the case, kitchens would need more intense ventilation systems. This is called “Demand controlled kitchen ventilation” (DCKV), whereby the volume of kitchen exhaust and supply air in response to the actual cooking loads in a commercial kitchen is correctly regulated. Traditional commercial kitchen ventilation systems operate at 100% fan speed independent of the volume of cooking activity and DCKV technology changes that to provide significant fan energy and conditioned air savings. By deploying smart sensing technology, both the exhaust and supply fans can be controlled to capitalize on the affinity laws for motor energy savings, reduce makeup air heating and cooling energy, increasing safety and reducing ambient kitchen noise levels. (Cf “Technology Profile: Demand Control Kitchen Ventilation (DCKV)” (PDF). (Source). Permaculture and-or organic gardens are also part of holistic eco-dwellings. Volume Two will delve more into this wellness tradition.