5 Ways to Create Healthy Home Environments

Your home is your castle and it should be a space that contributes to your wellness rather than challenging it.

As we spend upwards of 90 percent of our time indoors, much of that inside our homes, it makes sense to understand how our homes impact our well-being and pursue health-minded improvements that nourish the body, mind, and soul. With some thoughtful attention to design and a few simple fixes, we can all create home environments that support our health and wellness.

Why it’s important: During the daytime hours, light suppresses the body’s natural production of melatonin to help us feel more awake and alert. Research has tied daylight, in particular, to higher productivity and energy as well as improved mood. At night, however, the body neither wants nor needs light, as natural darkness cues the body to rest and reset. Light at night, in fact, is linked to anxiety, depression, and obesity.

How to do it: Put dimmers on light switches and install smart, adjustable color temperature light bulbs in key areas of the home to reinforce the body’s natural circadian rhythm. At night, limit the amount of light that can enter the home from external sources like the sun or landscape lighting by installing shades, curtains, or other window treatments. Inside the home, control light pollution from things such as chargers or electronics by placing a small strip of black electrical tape over light sources. Ambitious homeowners might even invest in solar-adaptive shades that automatically adjust to the sun’s movement.


Why it’s important: Though a fancy term, biophilia is little more than our innate sense as humans to want a connection with nature. Design with natural elements has been shown to increase calm, drive productivity, spark inspiration, and contribute to an overall sense of well-being.

How to do it: There are simple ways to bring the outdoors into a built environment. Wood floors and wood beams are two popular design choices that reconnect us to nature, while live plants, natural materials like bamboo, and sunlight pouring in through large windows further invite nature into our homes. Interestingly, even a photo of a scenic view can release serotonin, a nerve cell-produced chemical that is a natural mood stabilizer and helps with sleep and digestion.


Why it’s important: A room’s color can play heavily on our mood and trigger certain emotional responses. Whereas a color like red is stimulating and energizing, the cool, calming effect of blue promotes mental focus. The wrong color in certain spaces can impact our well-being by eliciting different, unintended emotions.

How to do it: Carefully consider how you want a room to make you feel. Then, review the basic tenets of color psychology, factor in personal preference, and select wall colors that function just as you need them. While a vibrant orange will likely work great in an exercise space, it’s almost certain to overwhelm a bedroom.


Why it’s important: Try as we might, the air in our homes can become polluted by cleaning products, fuel-burning appliances, tobacco products, and excess moisture. In fact, studies from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have found that indoor air is generally 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. Poor air quality can lead to health problems ranging from throat irritation and headaches to more significant conditions, such as long-term respiratory issues or even cancer.

How to do it: Maintain indoor air quality by regularly opening windows to ensure proper ventilation. Adding houseplants, which release oxygen and humidity into the air, can also help remove airborne toxins. You might also choose low VOC products and invest in an air purifier to help minimize indoor air pollutants like pollen and dust particles.


Why it’s important: Cluttered spaces – overpacked kitchen counters, shoes piled at the front door, and stuffed closets – can have a big impact on one’s physical and emotional health. Clutter can increase stress, drain your energy, and cloud the mind. Yet more, clutter can also harbor dust, mold, and mildew that hampers indoor air quality.

How to do it: Create a decluttering schedule and work to keep areas organized and tidy by having a designated space for items and putting them there. Many have adopted professional organizer Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method, which encourages people to only keep items in their home that spark joy and to then organize those items so they are easy to find.

Creating Your New Home Wish List

Picking your forever home can seem a daunting task. Unlike, say, buying a new shirt, a home is a far more serious purchase. A home, after all, requires a sizable investment. There’s no return department or free 30-day trial. You want to get it right and minimize regrets.

To ultimately arrive at a home that delivers the comfort and pleasure you need, consider your current living arrangement – something most of us have become remarkably well acquainted with in 2020. With some earnest reflection around what you like and dislike in your current living situation, you can create a new home wish list rooted in real wants and needs and pursue a home that satisfies.

Wish List Step #1: Create a list of what’s working in your current home
Take stock of your present living environment and define the home’s best features. Is it the open layout that enhances entertaining? Is it the ample storage that keeps clutter from overrunning the house? Is it the three-car garage that allows you to have an accessible workshop? Reflect upon the spaces you most enjoy and the qualities of the home that you just wouldn’t want to live without.

Wish List Step #2: Flip it and detail what isn’t working in your current home
After considering the valued assets of your current abode, identify elements of the home that are failing to deliver. Do you dread venturing into the basement for laundry? Is the foyer an unsafe, scattered mess of backpacks and shoes? Is temperature control or excess energy use an ongoing problem? By detailing your current residence’s blind spots, you can address those gaps in the next home.

Wish List Step #3: Examine function
Consider how you interact with and use your home on a regular basis. Where is your current home proving inefficient or falling short? Does the compartmentalized nature of your home make it difficult to monitor children? Is the eat-in kitchen too small to accommodate family meals? Is the formal living room underutilized extra space you’re paying to heat and cool and furnish? Are the 12 steps up to the second floor a drag? A home needs to work for your lifestyle, not create unnecessary burdens or force significant compromises. If nightly family dinners are important, for example, then you need a space conducive to hosting those meals.

Wish List Step #4: Factor in happiness
Homes should foster happiness, so survey what makes you happy in your current residence. What sparks enjoyment and a smile? Is it the backyard that’s big enough to accommodate Wiffle ball games? The master suite with its own separate tub for relaxing baths? The covered front porch that’s the ideal setting for a morning coffee and watching the sunrise? While an eastward facing front porch might seem an odd request to some, it’s a pertinent wish list item if it delivers happiness to your day and inspires a smile.

Make the Wish List Your Guide
Creating a new home wish list demands some sincere reflection and one that can undoubtedly be aided by reflecting on your current living environment. Thoughtfully, carefully, and honestly evaluating your current residence – namely, where it excels and where it lacks – can deliver a clear understanding of what you need and want out of your next home, extracting you from hypotheticals and grounding you in real-world living conditions.

And that will put you on the path to a home you will love and enjoy.

Gallagher and Henry: Our Origins

It all started on a ride to a 1953 Notre Dame football game – at least, that’s the tale etched in family lore.

On their way to see Heisman winner Johnny Lattner and the top-ranked Fighting Irish in South Bend, Bob Gallagher and his brother-in-law Dan Henry noted pent-up demand for new middle-class housing in Chicago, a city experiencing an economic and residential boom in the post-World War II era. Ignited by a shared entrepreneurial fire, Gallagher and Henry determined they could be a part of the solution and made a bold decision to enter the homebuilding business.

“Our father grew up in abject poverty, so he was motivated to be financially stable,” recalls Tim Gallagher, one of Bob’s four sons. “It was exceedingly important to him to be a good provider for our family.”

In 1954, Gallagher and Henry pulled other family members into their fledgling venture, purchased their first lots near Midway Airport, and began building their brick homes. Spurred by federal insurance for homebuilding that made it more economical for Chicago residents to trade leasing for ownership, neighborhoods on the city’s edges began to blossom with single-family homes and a housing boom took flight.

In the partners’ opening years, Gallagher, a buyer for a fruit market, and Henry, a bricklayer, maintained their existing work schedules, while devoting evenings and weekends to their upstart business. They would personally visit each home site to oversee construction and communicate with buyers, a hands-on process that would become a staple of their homebuilding firm.

“They were two workaholics,” says Michael Gallagher of his father and uncle.

Gallagher and Henry, who lived three doors away from each other in the city, made for a formidable team. Introspective and intensely focused, Gallagher refused to be bound to an office. He had a toolbox in his car trunk alongside a tape measure and rubber boots. Henry, by contrast, was more laid back and happy-go-lucky, a personality that brought balance to the partnership.

“There was a real chemistry between the two,” Tim Gallagher says. “The sum of their parts was better than the individual pieces.”

An ambitious tandem focused on building the type of quality homes they would want for their own families, the pair found quick success and their business swelled. By the 1960s, Gallagher and Henry had moved beyond the area surrounding Midway Airport. John Gallagher recalls his father scouting properties on the weekend, keeping a typewriter and contract in his car to get a jump on deals.

“He always felt buildable land was a smart play,” John Gallagher says. “Plus, you can’t be a builder in a community if you don’t have land.”

Gallagher and Henry began building homes in Chicago neighborhoods like Scottsdale and Hegewisch. A Chicago Tribune story from August 18, 1962, noted how Gallagher and Henry “was unveiling the future” with its smartly designed ranch homes in Hegewisch’s Avalon Trails community. For about $16,000, buyers could, the Tribune noted, purchase a 1,400-square foot “ranch home which emphasizes practical interior layout and use of space” as well as modern elements, such as attached garages, spacious closets, and concrete patios with sliding glass doors.

Henry assured the Tribune that Gallagher and Henry’s principal objective was “to satisfy the demand of today’s homebuyers for more house for less money.”

“We know this house has top value for the money, and we invite the home buyer’s comparison in every way,” Henry beamed to the newspaper.

By June 1964, the Tribune reported that 77 Chicago Police officers had purchased homes in Avalon Trails, a sign of the community’s strong middle-class appeal. Gallagher and Henry, meanwhile, had also introduced additional home plans to accommodate the “specifications” of growing families.

In little more than a decade, Gallagher and Henry had transformed the seedling of an idea, the simple observance of a market need, into a booming homebuilding operation.

“They expected great things,” Tim Gallagher says of Gallagher and Henry’s founding duo. “And they achieved great things.”

In the beginning, Gallagher and Henry was strictly a family affair, a predictable reality for a bootstrapped residential construction business founded by a wholesale produce buyer and a bricklayer. Co-founders Bob Gallagher and Dan Henry, brother-in-laws by way of Dan’s marriage to Bob’s sister, Grace, launched the business in 1954 to capitalize on the post-war building boom.

In the earliest days, Grace Henry and Shirley Gallagher, Bob’s wife, decorated the firm’s model homes, bringing their innate sense of order and style to homes designed for Chicago’s working class. Shirley, though, added another task.

“Our mother worked for a lawyer in downtown Chicago and she’d go to City Hall on her lunch break to apply for permits,” recalls Tim Gallagher, one of Bob and Shirley’s four sons.

For Gallagher and Henry to survive and thrive, everyone had to pitch in, and that eventually included the co-founders’ children.

The four Gallagher boys, in particular, can all readily recall devoting days of their youth to the office or a construction site, learning the business and the trades, the value of a buck, and the importance of doing a job the right way. They swept houses. They cut the grass at model homes. They filed papers at the office.

“Dad would take us to the office on Saturday and always have something for you to do,” Tim Gallagher recalls. “No one got out of doing work.”

As a pre-teen, John Gallagher rode his bike to deliver donuts and coffee to members of the construction crew. Later, in the summer of 1969, John remembers getting paid $1 per hour to sweep out houses.

“And it wasn’t a dollar cash. I got taxes taken out,” John jokes.

Michael Gallagher, the youngest of the four Gallagher boys, remembers his first day working away from his father’s side. He was pulled out of his bed at the family’s Palos Heights home and driven to the company’s office in Countryside before being dropped at a homesite in Darien.

“I was plopped down at a site I didn’t know, to work with people I didn’t know, and to do a job I didn’t know,” Michael says. “But you learned to make your way and to do what needed to be done.”

Tim Gallagher says his father, a former first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, got his sons accustomed to devoting an honest effort to the family business.

“Being around it so much, you got used to the concept that the family and the business were completely intertwined,” Tim Gallagher says. “It was a real family affair and we all learned to value that.”

While Dan Henry retired and sold his share of the company in 1978, later leaving the Chicago area before his 2011 passing at the age of 83, Bob Gallagher remained actively involved with the company into the 21st century. That gave him an opportunity to incorporate his sons into the business, to parlay those youthful lessons into a second-generation business now onto its 66th year. Today, John heads the firm his father and uncle founded, while Rob oversees the company’s fleets operations, Tim helps define the overall business strategy, and Michael shepherds Gallagher and Henry’s marketing efforts.

By the time of his death on May 13, 2005, at the age of 80, Bob Gallagher had overseen the construction of about 15,000 brick houses. Perhaps even more importantly, he had successfully positioned Gallagher and Henry to remain a healthy family business.

“Our dad’s hope was that Gallagher and Henry would be a multi-generational business and that’s why he exposed each of us to different facets of the business,” Tim Gallagher says. “He wanted us to learn about different areas, gain a variety of skills, and see where our individual talents could best help the business. The fact that Gallagher and Henry remains a family-owned and family-operated business would make him incredibly proud.”

Click here to read G&H Origins Part Two

Considering New Construction Amid COVID

Supply-and-Demand Realities Fuel Interest in New Home Construction

An interesting swirl of action in the residential real estate market, not to mention forces fueled by the novel coronavirus pandemic, has swung the market’s supply-and-demand equation and compelled an increasing number of prospective homebuyers to ditch the resale market and contemplate new construction.

Buyers on the Prowl

As states like Illinois reopen from COVID-19, a swelling army of buyers are hopping off the fence and touring homes with masks on and taking advantage of virtual tours and other technology to view houses.

And that action’s translating into a rise in contracts and mortgage applications among hungry buyers.

After a significant dip in listings going under contract through March and into April, Compass, a real estate brokerage, reported a surge in contracts at the close of April and into May.

Inspired by interest rates hovering as low as 3.2 percent, one of the rare positive side effects of the pandemic’s economic shock, homebuyers are also overpowering banks with mortgage applications. In Illinois, the Mortgage Bankers Association has seen purchase loans jump double digits.

After weeks of homebuyers largely sitting on the sidelines amid stay-at-home orders in the typically robust spring market, their pent-up demand is stirring activity that industry analysts expect to carry throughout the summer and well into the fall.

Resale Listings Down

Just as homebuyers flood the market with hearty demand, the number of resale homes available for purchase has declined. According to data from realtor.com, total listings in May were down approximately 20 percent from the same period in 2019, while new listings plummeted about 40 percent.

Industry observers say all but the most motivated of sellers have been reluctant to welcome visitors into their home given health issues while others have decided to delay a move until some semblance of normalcy is restored.

Analysts predict the lack of inventory in the resale market will persist into the near future.

Rising Appeal of New Construction

With eager buyers out there amid dwindling inventory, the supply-and-demand equation is likely to push up prices on the resale market, increase competition for homes, and spur discontent among already frustrated buyers. The National Association of Home Builders’ recent Housing Trends Report, in fact, found buyers struggling to find the right home at the right price. Forty percent of buyers said they couldn’t find a home at a price they could afford, while 32 percent said they couldn’t find a home with the features they wanted.

Such new realities have intensified interest in new construction.

Homebuilders across the country have reported a sudden surge in demand as the resale market tightens and homebuyers seek a home that works for their needs. Anecdotally, real estate agents have seen accelerating interest in single-family homes and suburbs, where homebuilders such as Gallagher and Henry offer larger homes and plots of land that lend themselves to the stay-at-home, work-at-home culture the coronavirus ignited.

For many homebuyers, new home construction is an option they hadn’t fully considered. As resale market supply declines, interest rates remain low, and buyers clamor for homes that fit their lifestyles, however, new construction has emerged an increasingly compelling opportunity and one worth exploring.