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Wellness Within: A Healthier Built Environment

Wellness Within Your Walls provides a blueprint for designing a home with wellness as the focal point


Wellness is defined as “the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.” By this definition, wellness is something that should be continually aspired to, constantly increasing the standard for what qualifies as being well.

Jillian Pritchard Cooke, founder of Wellness Within Your Walls, became an expert on eco-friendly design with her groundbreaking work on EcoManor, the first LEED Gold-certified home in the U.S., as the head of her interior design firm, DES-SYN. It was this journey in design, and the subsequent cancer diagnosis thought to have been caused by environmental factors that resulted from it, which led her to analyze the standard by which we deem homes acceptable. This led to the creation of Wellness Within Your Walls (WWYW).

Cooke began to examine and understand the contaminants found in building products, materials, and furnishings – including paints, stains, sealants, engineered wood, and textiles – and other often overlooked features of a home’s interior environment. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93 percent of their lifetime inside of buildings. Of these buildings, the home is often the only place that one can customize; should that home not be the healthiest place to spend a majority of your life?

The WWYW Healthy Living System has helped homes to be healthier through a 10- step approach towards wellness, focusing on the following: clean air, clean water, natural light, chemical control, physical wellness, conscious consumption, mental wellness, spiritual wellness, food science, and behavioral strategies. Builders use WWYW’s three categories (Natural, Sustainable, and Responsible) to implement the Healthy Living System in the design and specification of products and materials to adhere to this approach.

“For every step the building industry has taken as it relates to efficiencies, we’ve been shadowing with the conversation of contaminants,” Cooke explained.

Increased energy efficiency is vital, but it cannot stand on its own without a focus on how this is affecting occupants of the homes being built. Tight Box Syndrome, for example, can occur as a result of designing extremely efficient homes. It is necessary to include a proper ventilation system and healthy materials, which is a key focus for the WWYW team.

The results have been studied by WWYW through a number of case study homes that Cooke’s team has been working on across the country. Unsurprisingly, the building challeng- es vary based on region, but Cooke has found that it often requires educating homeowners on their behaviors as much as it does edu- cating builders on the materials they should use. WWYW has commenced a Pilot Home Program, implementing WWYW’s standards and Healthy Living System.

Castle Homes: Nashville, TN Pilot Home

Mid-Tennessee is going through a building boom right now, but sustainability regulations still remain lenient. Those who have lived in this region may remember the tradition of sit- ting around a standard wood-burning fireplace as a family. However, harmful contaminants in wood-burning fireplaces may pose a dilemma for a wellness-focused builder.

“Rather than omitting this commited builder from the Wellness Within Your Walls program, we made the decision to educate the builder and design team and architect on how to responsibly handle working fireplaces,” Cooke stated of her solution.

Working with the team and using open dialogue can increase the number of detection devices installed around the fireplace. The dialogue can also inform the homeowner of the importance of using the fireplace in moderation or omitting it completely, if the homeowner suffers from lung irritation.

This was an interesting contrast to the previous case study and pilot home in California, where wood-burning fireplaces are much less common. Still, rather than telling builders that wellness and wood-burning fireplaces cannot coexist, she considered alternative solutions.

“With our pilot program, we are letting in some of these question marks,” she explained. “We believe if we start on the pilot program by having a responsible dialogue, it will open up more opportunity for technology to detect unwanted combustible gases.”

These decisions help to further the wellness conversation, as well as the conscious decisions of individuals. Doing everything possible to reduce toxins, and then carefully managing something like a wood-burning fireplace with detection and moderation can help achieve a balance between tradition and wellness.

ABC Green Home 4.0: Crestline, CA Case Study and Pilot Home

The latest ABC Green Home project is being built in the San Bernardino Mountains just south of Lake Arrowhead. The high altitude challenged the creativity of the team, as the area’s temperatures can fluctuate dramatically.

Having received an Award of Merit from the Pacific Coast Builders Conference’s Gold Nugget® Awards in the category of “Best Innovative Energy Design,” there is no question that this home is efficient. One thing that sets it apart from the other merit honorees is the intrinsic focus on wellness throughout the design and build of the home, which facilitated it receiving a second Award of Merit for “Innovative Housing Design.”

Builder.Media and WWYW worked throughout the planning process of the ABC Green Home 4.0 to ensure the incorporation of the Healthy Living System.

Builder.Media and WWYW worked through- out the planning process of the ABC Green Home 4.0 to ensure the incorporation of the Healthy Living System. Implementing this 10- step approach ensured that the best practices in green building would be paired with the best practices in holistic design.

Lessons Learned

WWYW’s case study homes are in a number of locations, from California to Florida — even England. As WWYW gains traction worldwide, region will not be the only factor that changes between projects. Whether it is adjusting to a region’s culture, behaviors, and attitudes; or whether it is the elevation, climate, and temperature, having a guideline can help ensure the health of the build.

Builders and homeowners alike are inquir- ing about their home’s health through tools like the HaywardTM Score. Bill Hayward of Hayward Lumber is working on the next WWYW pilot home for his family in Pebble Beach, California.

The WWYW program provides a design guideline for the building industry with well- ness at the heart of it. This is the way that we make the built environment healthier — no matter where you are building.

Julia Edinger is an Editor for Builder and Developer Magazine. She can be reached at julia@penpubinc.com.