From helping to develop the WELL building standard, to running her own consulting firm for builders, Berthelot explores the growing role of wellness in the industry
Green Home Builder: How have recent developments in green building shaped the industry on a larger scale?
Jennifer Berthelot: What has been really interesting is that we’re starting to see things like health and wellness and resiliency really drive the industry. For me, it has been really exciting to watch healthy buildings become an important conversation during design and construction.
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. They’re air tight and energy-efficient, but they’re also full of toxins that are not healthy for us. What really influences our health and wellbeing is the physical and social environments where we live, work, and play. I think that people are realizing that buildings can be used as preventative care.
I’m starting to see things like the WELL building standard really accelerating in the market, and changing the conversation at the beginning of design and construction. Three to five years ago, this wasn’t even a conversation, let alone something driving design and construction.
GHB: What trends have you noticed in green homebuilding thus far in 2019, and what trends do you expect to see in the coming months?
JB: I think homes being healthy. We’re really seeing the commercial aspect of what we’re learning with the return on investment. People at home don’t care about their return on investment, but they’re starting to realize materials are important and that indoor air quality is important.
I also think having those smart home technologies, especially around things where they can change their thermostats while they’re not home or turn their lights off. There is something to be said about the ability to manage energy and usage like that, whether you’re at home or not.
People are focusing on health and wellness from materials to indoor air quality, and also looking at how can they make their homes more efficient, whether it’s the energy side, or having smart homes.
GHB: How do you think green homebuilding practices influence affordability in housing, both for the buyer and for the builder?
JB: There’s a misconception that building sustainably means that it has to be more expensive. What we’ve found is that if you actually design communities and you do it in a way that’s sustainable, it can actually save you money — because you’re using less conduit, and you’re using the land and everything that’s naturally there to help you, as opposed to fighting what’s there to put in new construction.
I think what’s great is that you can actually save money as the builder and then, as the buyer, having those energy and water efficiencies will have an obvious ROI.
I also think having good air quality is a way for a builder to sell quicker. So many people have environmental allergies; they know when they’re looking for a home that they may need a higher air filtration, for instance, or they may care what products were used in their home.
Having both the sustainability aspect and the health and wellness is going to benefit the builder and the buyer with the extra marketing, as well as the ongoing savings financially of having something that will operate cheaper.
GHB: What advice do you have for homebuilders that are seeking to build more sustainably?
JB: One of the things I would say to a homebuilder is, “Look at the new codes and goals that are coming out.” The City of Los Angeles has a really aggressive plan that the mayor has adjusted three weeks ago. It tells you what our goals are for 2020 and it keeps going. That will tell you all buildings have to have solar by a certain year. Knowing that your home will have to be net zero by a certain time is really helpful to know ahead of time, so you can really start planning ahead. So when those things are required, you’ll be able to meet them already.
I think the best place to start is with your local utilities; they have a lot of rebates and incentives available. They’ll come in and do an analysis of your house to see what updates they can do for free, like adding insulation.
I think it’s also starting with behaviors, like taking those small steps: eliminating your vampire energy, like unplugging electronics when you’re not using them. Also, if you get solar, it’s zero cost to install it and you’re literally paying for it with the savings every month.
I think that’s something for people to realize: it will be mandated in the future and the incentives won’t exist. There won’t be a 30 percent federal rebate available, let alone what any local utilities may have. So looking at that now and getting ahead of the curve would be huge for people to save them a ton of money.
Depending on where you are, it pays to look at your water usage and how you can reduce that, whether it’s through landscaping or fixtures, or installing an HVAC system that’s efficient and sized properly and will also provide the right indoor air quality.
GHB: What projects are you working on now that implements innovative sustainable techniques or features?
JB: We’re working with a ton of projects right now. We’re working with three portfolios doing the WELL building standard. Some of the innovation that we’re seeing is:
- A couple of projects are doing net zero – both water and electric. We are looking at fuel cells and hydrogen cells, and what can we do with the hydrogen coming out of those cells to benefit not only their own properties, but also in other places.
- A LADWP project where the project itself doesn’t need the roof space for solar. They won’t use anywhere near the energy, but because of the space size of the building, LADWP will fill the entire rooftop with solar and run it back to the grid.
It’s also really exciting what people are doing with water, and seeing how they can be using water in innovative ways.
Looking at what some of our projects are doing with health and wellness, a lot of our WELL projects are gold certified, or platinum standard. A lot of those innovative and sustainable techniques we’re seeing are in people using the WELL standard in a way that is scientifically based, with verifiable outcomes. And people are really pushing the envelope in sustainability so that it’s not just net zero, it’s net-positive.