Dec 2, 2022 - Health

How healthy is your home?

Illustration of a house wearing a stethoscope

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

How healthy is that new home you're eyeing? The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is developing a new rating system to help answer that question.

Why it matters: Air and water quality, light levels, building materials and similar factors can have a big impact on home occupants' health.

  • Plus, we spend a lot of our time at our houses and apartments — some of us more so than ever, thanks to remote and hybrid work — making it critical for our homes to be healthy spaces.

What's happening: IWBI — the organization behind the WELL Building Standard, a widely used health certification system for office buildings and more — is branching out into single-family housing, its president and CEO Rachel Hodgdon tells Axios.

  • "We're developing standards ... from the perspective of what actually matters, what actually generates real outcomes when it comes to human health."

For example: "In a home, so much of it is going to have to do with air quality, and so that's a major area of focus," Hodgdon said.

  • "Another one, which ties to equity, is acoustics and sound. Oftentimes, low-income housing and middle-income housing have massive instances of noise intrusion and very poor construction."
  • "And it turns out acoustics are linked to everything from impacting sleep to a higher incidence of heart disease."

How it works: Once the new scale is up and running, homebuilders can apply to have their projects rated, and then use their score as a marketing point to attract buyers.

Where it stands: IWBI is working with a handful of developers to figure out how best to craft the scoring system in a way that would spur adoption.

  • For it to have an impact, IWBI needs to convince as many homebuilders as possible to get on board.
  • Then, ideally, buyers would think about a home's health score just like they consider its price, size and location.

What they're saying: A home health rating would be an "immediate step up for people to have comfort — there will be a third-party certification that things were done right," said Paul Barnes of homebuilding firm Shea Homes.

  • Homebuyers, Barnes said, are increasingly interested in health-oriented features, in part because of their COVID-19 experience.
  • "I literally this morning had someone asking me about [air filtration] because they're asthmatic," he said. "Certainly people are more conscious about it."

The bottom line: "Our goal is not just to sell a bunch of certifications," Hodgdon says.

  • "Our goal is ... can we look back 15 years from now and say the average home is built differently because of the work that we did on this system, regardless of whether they have a WELL score or not."
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