Ask the Expert: Green Design with FUSE Living

Today we are talking about sustainable design with the owner of FUSE Living, Shannon Harris. Shannon and her team develop and design homes with a focus on green design and building. We first connected on Instagram (where else?!) and after a bunch of messaging back and forth, I knew I wanted to share her knowledge with you! Read on to hear about her path, her green design mission, and some great tips for designers and homeowners alike!

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Kate Miller: Hi Shannon! Tell us a bit about your path.  What led you to where you are today?

Shannon Harris: From the time I was in school, I was very interested in sustainability. For me, it revolved more around human health. Before design school, I was going in the direction of medical school. However, after my first certification and an internship in a laboratory office, I knew I needed something more creative and less routine. I am SO not routine! I explored myself a bit, thought I’d give design a try and fell in LOVE with all aspects. Code was one of my favorite classes (odd, I know!) because it was mathematical, same with space planning. Total left brain. And then there was the ability to create, total right brain. For me, I’m most fulfilled when I get to utilize both, and interior design is the perfect combination!

KM: You clearly share my passion for creating a healthy home.  Why is this important to you?

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SH: I’ve always had a drum beating in me to ‘help’ or care for others- hence why I thought I’d go into medicine at a young age. Since I’ve continued on this path of caring for others via interior design, I’ve learned so much about what makes a healthy home, or a not so healthy home. I am aware of the harm our building materials, furniture, and products are causing, and I just can’t go back. I know that I can help educate and make wiser decisions to reduce toxic exposure for our new generation.

KM: Sustainability has become a buzzword with a variety of meanings.  What does sustainability mean to you?

SH: Honestly, when I think about sustainability, I think about trees and air quality - because air quality plays into our health in such a big way! It’s about taking a few steps back to what is natural and incorporating natural elements into our living and working spaces.

KM: What are a few of the key components to building a healthy, sustainable home from the ground up?

“Get the entire team together in one room to outline the goals of sustainability and ensure everyone is on board”

“Get the entire team together in one room to outline the goals of sustainability and ensure everyone is on board”

SH: First you need to get the entire team together in one room to outline the goals of sustainability and ensure everyone is on board. This team includes your architect, designer, builder, and some of the key trades: HVAC contractor, plumbing contractor, roofer, and insulator. Insulation is HUGE. It drives so much of the thermal envelope, along with windows and sealing all exterior penetrations (which is usually done with an insulation material in a green building).

It’s equally important to look at the home in relationship to its surrounding community and the site it’s built on. Take into consideration the type of landscaping for your specific location – attempt to fully xeriscape. If you have a choice, select a site that is within walking distance to basic life needs. Incorporate natural elements that make the home feel more native than cumbersome.

KM: For homeowners that bought an existing home and aren’t currently able to make serious updates, what are some more affordable ways to make their home healthier?

SH: This is my current mission and passion! Where to start?! There are a handful of “low-key” things you can do. Take a look at your air filters, select new ones with a MERV8 or higher air filtration rating. Get your ducts cleaned! If you can’t replace windows, there are solar films to protect against heat gain (or loss), and they are fairly undetectable. Replace weather stripping where the seal is not fully in tact – this will help keep the thermal bridge as well as prevent dust and little critters from getting in! Clean your carpets, with an eco-friendly carpet cleaning company. Or better yet, if you do have some splurge money, reduce the total amount of carpet in your home…it’s a trap for allergens and dirt!

“ Incorporate natural elements that make the home feel more native than cumbersome.”

Incorporate natural elements that make the home feel more native than cumbersome.”

Look at the materials going into any new furniture purchases, aim to select more cotton and linen, or woods with a sustainably harvested stamp of approval. Go to vintage shops and reuse what furniture is already out there!

And of course there are numerous eco-friendly cleaning products out there. Though, I still don’t trust a lot of the store bought products. I’m a fan of both Young Living and Melaleuca’s cleaning and home care lines.

KM: You’ve shared with me that you have a particular interest in “healthy” furniture.  What makes furniture healthy (or unhealthy)?

SH: There’s a full life cycle of how a piece of furniture is manufactured, and actually, a full life cycle to each component that goes into a piece of furniture. We look at the manufacturing process of each component as well as the piece itself. We look at where the materials derived from. We look at the waste that may have come from the manufacturing process. A healthy piece of furniture would be made of the purest materials, from the purest manufacturing process, with the purest shipping methods. Hard to do, but more achievable now than before because we’re becoming smarter about the whole process.

Watch out for synthetic materials! They are, well, just plain BAD! They give off toxins, and they do not break down. Some of the materials used in our furniture will be sitting around our earth for 100s of years. Among the worst are acrylic, polyester, rayon, acetate, and nylon.

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KM: Do you have any favorite resources or books for learning more about healthy furniture or creating a sustainable home?

SH: I turn to Sustainable Furnishings Council when I need to find some new manufactures. I actually use social media a lot as a stepping stone. I follow a lot of greenies on Instagram, and then vet their websites and products. I also follow green or sustainably driven groups on Link’d In and read the articles they post. Lastly, I LOVE my ‘Environmental Psychology’ book. It’s a wealth of knowledge into human interactions with our spaces and how to design for a positive experience in an environment.

KM: What is next for Fuse Living?  Any exciting new projects you’d like to share?

SH: We are building out our development firm for new construction projects, and still creating healthy homes for our residential clients. Up next, is to focus on bridging the gap between a green home new build, or remodeled home to be green and the furniture we are putting inside. What’s the good in a green home if we fill it with toxic furniture?!

We’re (soon) opening a new location in Scottsdale, AZ that will house a showroom of sustainable furniture! Stay tuned for that.

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Thank you Shannon for your time!

You can follow Shannon’s passion and wealth of knowledge on social media: @fuseliving.