Building Wellness in the Home

The industry’s increasing focus on wellness is leading to healthier home environments

By JULIA EDINGER

The green building industry is evolving rapidly. Following closely behind, the building industry as a whole is advancing to include the green building movement. It seems that, each day, leaders are producing more innovative solutions for the built environment.

 

An Evolving Standard

While individual states are still leading the charge on energy codes for building efficiently, the nation is following these trends – albeit, at a slower rate.

California, for example, has been a pioneer of environmentally conscious energy regulations, continually expanding and improving. Title 24 building regulations are updated each year to further the transition towards a net zero future, in which buildings generate as much energy as – or more energy than – they use.

“The most visual change to new homes will be that new single-family and low-rise residential buildings (three stories or less) will require a solar photovoltaic system,” explained J. Andrew McAllister, Lead Commissioner for Energy Efficiency at the California Energy Commission.

While the codes guide builders and developers to implement energy-saving features, initiatives implemented by green building advocates help to further those standards. For example, the United States Green Building Council’s Los Angeles division has launched the Net Zero Accelerator program. This program helps with the existing divide between the ambitious net zero building goals and current technologies available.

With ever-evolving green building standards, industry leaders can reasonably expect this trend to spread across the national market in only a matter of time. Homebuyers can expect to see solar panels, savings, and a smaller carbon footprint from the built environment in the near future.

 

Designing for the Environment

One of the most important elements of wellness is having clean air to breathe. Designs with seamless transitions between indoor and outdoor living spaces help to build this connection. These spaces are being added to homes of varying styles as they have many benefits. In addition to the high demand for this type of layout, and the improvement of air quality due to natural air, these spaces can be sustainable, too.

“The environmental benefits we see include less saltwater runoff, less erosion, and an outdoor living space that can help reduce the cost of heating and electricity within a home,” states Peter Rotelle, President of Rotell(e) Development Company and Studio(e).

Thoughtful design can allow for these added environmental benefits of outdoor living spaces. It also protects a home’s indoor spaces from Tight Box Syndrome, in which an extremely efficient home with a tight building envelope suffers from lack of proper ventilation. A balance must be found.

“A critical idea to remember when creating an indoor-outdoor living space is that even though we want the space to flow into or out of one another, we need to make sure that these two spaces still have clear boundaries,” explains Jessie Kim, a third generation Feng Shui consultant. “Make sure you can close the doors and the curtains when appropriate to keep the energy inside your home.”

 

Holistic Wellness Approach

High energy efficiency is no longer a feature for a niche market, but rather, it is quickly becoming the standard by which all builders and developers will construct homes. The emerging trend today is the focus on wellness as an important aspect of the home.

A home’s wellness depends on the builder creating properly ventilated spaces with maximized natural light and clean air. It also depends on the education of the homebuyer or occupant who will need to consciously think about how things like cooking appliances could negatively affect their home’s health – and in turn, their own health.

“We’ve spent the past 20 years focusing on creating these really energy-efficient homes, and now we’re spending 90 percent of our time in these buildings,” explained Jennifer Berthelot, President and CEO of A SustainAble Production. She has been involved in the wellness movement since the first version of the WELL building standard’s creation, and has witnessed the shift to more efficient buildings’ effect on the wellness movement. “They’re airtight and energy-efficient, but they’re also full of toxins that are not healthy for us…I think people are realizing that buildings can be used as preventative care.”

Leaders of this movement have been implementing solutions to educate homebuilders and homebuyers alike on the benefits of having a healthy home. Sometimes this involves behavioral changes, so education is critical to improvement.

Wellness is likely to be a topic of conversation among building experts and industry leaders as the building regulations and energy goals in other states follow those that have been enacted in California. It is important that with these increasingly efficient homes, builders are able to ensure the health inside of the homes.

Educate buyers and builders on the importance of these factors and the savings that will follow. Give them the information on the risks of ingesting contaminants in an unhealthy home. Inform designers and architects that a tighter envelope requires stronger ventilation. Education is the key to wellness.

Julia Edinger is the Assistant Editor for Green Home Builder Magazine. She can be reached at julia@penpubinc.com.