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Building Blocks for Wellness Within

Choosing the best products for your home using a holistic approach to wellness

By Julia Edinger

Wellness Within Your Walls (WWYW) is a program that bridges the divide between homebuyers and homebuilders to create a healthier home from the inside out. It serves as a guide for the building team, including manufacturers and interior designers, to focus on wellness as a central objective.

Though sustainability and energy efficiency are still important, health and wellness have recently advanced to the forefront of the conversation on the built environment. This is the result of the dedicated work of wellness advocates like Jillian Pritchard Cooke, an interior designer and the founder of the WWYW program.

Both Cooke’s career as president of DES-SYN and an environmental cancer diagnosis gave her insight into the level of contaminants in the average home. WWYW is her solution to educating others on these harmful contaminants in living environments. The program educates consumers and building and design industry professionals and certifies people, places, products, and programs that emphasize health and wellness. This has created a higher standard for the health and wellness components of a sustainable home build.

Technology in the Home

Smart home technology is increasingly being found in homes across the country. Green builders are implementing it at an even faster rate, as having smart technology can regulate waste in the design/build process, as well as reducing utility costs. Innovation in technology has benefits that go beyond sustainability and net-zero calculations, as well.

“Home innovation technology can help support the homeowner’s behavioral strategies, providing whole-house safety, better comfort, monitored ventilation, air and water purification, light exposures, toxin detection, and potential maintenance issues,” explained Cooke in a column for Green Home Builder Magazine.

Builder.Media and WWYW worked together to incporate the Healthy Living System throughout the design and build of the ABC Green Home 4.0.

Technology can greatly benefit the wellness of an occupant by making them more aware of their behaviors, which is an important in maintaining wellness in the home. A builder can take all the necessary steps to use healthy building materials and educate the buyer, but it ultimately comes down to active behavioral changes to ensure continued success and wellbeing.

Detection devices are becoming more widely available to monitor the levels of certain toxins and contaminants in the air and water. Cooke faced a challenge with a recent WWYW pilot home in Nashville, Tennessee. The builder was committed to keeping a wood-burning fireplace in the new home, despite the fact that it can result in combustion spillage: harmful combustion gases flowing into living spaces. Through open dialogue and the implementation of additional technology to help monitor appropriate ventilation, contaminants, and user behavior, a compromise was found. In this compromise, wellness protocols coexist with the presence of the fireplace. Cooke’s goal is that open dialogue during WWYW’s pilot home program will unlock more opportunities for technology that can detect unwanted toxins.

There are similar transitions happening with other products in WWYW pilot homes, including something as standard as cooking appliances. Again, this requires a behavioral change as much as an appliance upgrade. For instance, the transition to convection and induction cooking from a gas-burning stovetop will likely see some hesitation. However, Cooke believes an open dialogue and educational conversations will facilitate the shift.

“Just like the many Tennessee communities that are attached to their wood-burning fireplaces, there are chefs attached to their gas stovetops, because conventional wisdom says it’s easier to cook with gas,” Cooke explained. “They believe that their food will taste better as a result. Proper education can make a difference while the market adapts.”

While some individuals will make home selections based purely on wellness and may immediately stop using a gas stovetop, others may not be swayed so easily. Those who believe induction stovetops will affect their cooking, for example, may insist on using what they know. Builders can educate those buyers, then, on how moderating usage can offset the negative effects created by using it, and the importance of having proper ventilation and VOC detection devices when it is in use.

Healthiest Materials

The key to ensuring a home’s interior health is the use of sustainable and non-toxic materials. For example, choosing formaldehyde- free cabinets and other responsible building products can help reduce contaminants to which a homeowner might be exposed. It is imperative to analyze overlooked sources to combat contaminants early. Achieving wellness in the home requires thoughtful and responsible decisions in regards to all building products, materials, and systems, including air ventilation, water purification, paint, flooring, cabinets, and appliance choices.

The first flooring product to receive the WWYW product certification is Kährs wood flooring. This manufacturer has a long history of sustainable flooring, even actively engaging with forestry organizations to work towards reforestation. Kährs has studied how wood flooring can help improve the indoor environment and the environment at large as well, making them a responsible, healthy, and sustainable choice.

Drink, Sleep, and Breathe Wellness

Air quality is at the heart of wellness. In a build with a very tight building envelope, it is necessary to specify appropriate mechanical ventilation systems in order to avoid Tight Box Syndrome, which occurs when a building with inadequate ventilation traps in harmful toxins, reducing indoor air quality.

Through WWYW’s campaign addressing Tight Box Syndrome, Cooke acknowledged the danger of not having proper ventilation. She has taken great strides in educating builders and buyers alike about its importance.

While the energy-efficiency movement has advanced the industry’s focus on building envelopes, Cooke and her team at WWYW have been echoing the movement with wellness.

“Following WWYW guidelines that include proper ventilation, water purification, vetting of all products, and off-gassing procedures will result in healthier home environments,” Cooke pointed out.

Water purification is another critical factor of wellness for a homeowner, but one that is often overlooked by those focused on efficiency over all else. Because of water shortages, many green builders have been focused on tackling consumption and conservation. While that is very important, the wellness aspect involves addressing water contamination.

For true wellness, the 10-step approach found in WWYW’s Healthy Living System covers everything from clean water, to clean air, to behavioral strategies. Looking at a home project through this lens allows a holistic method to the materials, products, furnishings, and maintenance strategies used in a home. This is why it is vital to use a comprehensive approach.

“Isn’t there a case to be made with the WWYW pilot home program for doing the best you can, and understanding how you can do even better?”

Jillian Pritchard Cooke

Wellness is something that will constantly advance and evolve. As experts continue to learn about toxins and sources of contamination, standards will continually improve. There is room in the conversation to discuss a balance, but the evolution of wellness stems from dialogue.

Said Cooke, “Isn’t there a case to be made with the WWYW pilot home program for doing the best you can, and understanding how you can do even better?”

Builders that want happy and healthy customers should continue to implement a new focus on wellness in their builds – starting from within.

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