Building Homes With Wellness and Health in Mind
Real Estate Report: Elements of wellness can be addressed through design, system or lifestyle changes
As homebuilders zero in on building the most energy-efficient homes possible, they’re increasingly turning their attention to delivering a product that might actually enhance the health and well-being of residents.
It all started with trying to make sure people’s homes weren’t making them sick. “The wellness movement is a lot more than indoor air quality, but that’s probably the main focus because it’s an offshoot of the green, sustainability kick we’ve been on for the last 15 years,” says John Guilliams, director of design for KGA Studio Architects.
Ways to improve indoor air quality include installing a built-in central air purifying system to eliminate airborne pollens and dust particles and using low VOC (volatile organic compounds) products. Hard flooring rather than carpet also helps.
Guilliams says there are seven areas of wellness to focus on: air, water, light, fitness, comfort, nourishment and mind. Each element can be addressed through design, system or lifestyle changes.
“We try to address each one either through design or systems or lifestyle change,” Guilliams says. “In a sense, it’s a little bit of social engineering, but it’s a welcomed social engineering as opposed to forced.” From a design perspective, addressing light is low-hanging fruit. Large windows will maximize natural light, which boosts mood and productivity.
KGA also promotes a whole-house water filtration system and encourages its clients to put a sink or refrigerator in their home fitness centers as a reminder that they need to stay hydrated. KGA also puts closets in garages for homeowners to let their dry cleaning dissipate gas before hanging it in their regular closet, and it’s designing closets that house all of a home’s electronics to isolate their electromagnetic fields.
While thoughtful design can promote wellness, there also are programs such as the WELL Building Standard, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and well-being.
Inside the residences at Lakehouse.
Nava Real Estate Development President Brian Levitt is pioneering the WELL Building Standard in Denver with Lakehouse, a 196-unit mixed-use condominium project on the south shore of Sloan’s Lake. Nava also plans to build a 249-unit condo building in Uptown to the WELL Building Standard. Lakehouse’s healthy infrastructure includes enhanced thermal, visual and acoustical comfort, MERV-13 air filtration, increased window sizes for natural light, environmentally friendly products, the use of natural and durable materials, recreation and exercise facilities, edible landscaping and biophilic designto enhance the human connection to nature.
“Buildings can make us healthier, and they can also take away our health,” Levitt says. “We spend most of our time indoors, and I appreciate the impact that space can have on not only our physical health but also our state of mind.”
Levitt worked on Northfield Stapleton, North America’s LEED-certified main street. He struck out on his own in 2007 and founded Nava in 2013 with Trevor Hines. Levitt was introduced to WELL Building in 2014.
“It really resonated with me, because we’d been focusing on energy efficiency and the environment,” he says. “There’s some overlap with LEED in terms of air, light and water, but in a WELL building, the air and water quality are tested. LEED is based on documents that are certified. WELL holds our building to a very high standard.”
The goal is to provide Lakehouse residents with healthy choices. The building has a cooking demonstration kitchen that can provide a farm-to-table experience. The kitchen walls retract so that the kitchen is connected to the barbecue and the farm. There’s a juicing center next to the sauna, and the developers have been working with fitness and yoga instructors, as well as ski, paddle board and bike manufacturers, to help with equipment that promotes a healthy lifestyle.
Builders of single-family homes also are focusing on building homes that promote well-being.
Every house built by KB Home is a smart or healthier home and adheres to Energy Star standards that over the years have evolved beyond energy efficiency to include indoor air quality, KB Home Vice President of Innovation & Sustainability Jacob Atalia says.
“All the homes are built as a system,” he says. “All parts of the home have to be cohesive together, whether it’s the shell of the home or the frame of the homeand the active systems inside. Homes have better filtration and ventilation. Every home is tighter, and we manage the rain and moisture away from the home so we don’t create an environment for mold.”
KB uses hardware on interior door handles that is treated with microban to kill germs so they aren’t transferred throughout the house. It offers drywall in the living areas that helps to control VOCs and air purification systems that push more fresh air into a zone in the home where it senses particulate matter or CO2.
“It’s a very active system that’s testing the air every two minutes throughout the house,” Atalia says. “The customer doesn’t have to do anything.”
Sleep also has been getting a lot of attention as part of wellness, so KB has paid extra attention to the design of its bedrooms. It installs smart light fixtures that communicate with the “brain” of the home and set the light color temperature to be equal to the natural light color outside. It uses shades that completely darken bedrooms at any time of the day, and the room temperature automatically drops for sleeping.
“If they want music to lull them to sleep,” Atalia says, “it can be done through Google speakers.”