Housing Innovation Alliance's Podcast

Digging into Opportunities for Innovation in the Healthy Home Space - Nathan Kahre, EnergyLogic

August 13, 2020 Housing Innovation Alliance Season 3 Episode 1
Housing Innovation Alliance's Podcast
Digging into Opportunities for Innovation in the Healthy Home Space - Nathan Kahre, EnergyLogic
Show Notes Transcript

Betsy Scott asks the hard questions about opportunities for innovation related to healthy homes... Listen in as Nathan Kahre, EnergyLogic offers his insight and expertise.

Nathan is the Business Development Manager, at EnergyLogic, he works with builders of all sizes to help find areas for improvement and opportunities to grow closer to the idea that all homes can be efficient, healthy, and durable.

Many thanks to our partners at the University of Denver for their editing and post-production talents, specifically Lija Miller and Lisette Zamora-Galarza.

The University of Denver Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management, teaches the full life cycle of the built environment. From integrated project leadership skills to a cohesive understanding of the built environment ––experience the only school of its kind!

"Upbeat Party" is brought to you by Scott Holmes, songwriter from Free Music Archive

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Speaker 1 (00:06):

Welcome to the Housing Innovation Alliance podcast in partnership with the university of Denver's Franklin L Burns school of real estate and construction management, the housing innovation Alliance is a nationwide community of game-changers, driving the future of home delivery through crowd accelerated innovation.

Speaker 1 (00:23):

We represent thought-leaders from dirt to dweller with a focus on the production builders business environment.

Speaker 3 (00:35):

Hey, this is Betsy Scott with the housing invasion Alliance. I'm here with Nathan Kahre from energy logic, a company that provides applied building science services and digital tools to help builders and raitors  improve and measure the performance of homes. How are you doing today?

Speaker 1 (00:51):

Doing great. Betsy, thank you for having me here. Really looking forward to talk more about healthy homes.

Speaker 3 (00:57):

Great. Looking forward to hearing more about what you've been up to. You're relatively new to the housing industry and you've spent the last five years really kind of laser focused on healthy homes and aspect of home performance. That's just starting to pick up steam in the marketplace. So what inspired you to dig into healthy housing?

Speaker 1 (01:16):

Well, I, I really see two big things that are going on and housing that really got me excited about healthy homes. One of those is that, you know, energy efficiency is starting to grow on its own. There's rapid consumer interest, that's growing around it and there's building codes that are pushing that forward. There's not that same piece for healthy homes. And so we have this idea that every home should feel and be that safe space for a homeowner and the family that's living there. And so I wanted to make that a reality and keep pushing forward on it.

Speaker 3 (01:50):

So as a graduate student, you actually researched the effects of weatherization and ventilation and indoor air quality. Can you give us a snapshot of what your research entailed?

Speaker 1 (02:01):

Absolutely. So my thesis advisor did this great study for HUD, where we went in and measure the indoor air quality and a group of homes in North Carolina. We looked both before and after a weatherization to see what, uh, what change happened to the indoor air quality and what we could see for improvements. And, you know, if we made these types of measures of these types of changes, this is how it affected indoor air quality. I got to take all of that great data and try to really put a dollar value to some things we wanted to be able to give information in a way that policy makers could really understand. And in the grand scheme of things, putting a dollar to it is one of the best ways that they can understand this. And so really looking at what we're going to be, the societal impacts to these changes in indoor air quality. And, and could we compare that to the overall cost of weatherization and the expected energy savings. And so that all boil down to, uh, a list of recommendations and a list of, uh, what homes to go look at and what impacts and what measures you could take on these homes to have the biggest overall.

Speaker 3 (03:14):

That's great. Um, so that was predominantly an existing housing that you were doing in the, in the North Carolina area. Yeah,

Speaker 1 (03:20):

So it was a existing, low income homes, uh, in three different areas. We had an opportunity to look at different climate zones and look at homes that are in the city versus out in more rural areas, really try to dive into the true impact of weatherization and pull out some of the noise around the existing areas around them.

Speaker 3 (03:44):

Well, anytime you can put a dollar figure to something that's also incredibly valuable to the building community. So even though this was existing housing, that's the kind of thing that, that builders and developers are also always looking to justify, you know, investment and what value that delivers to the end consumer. So that's great that you guys were looking at that. Were there any key takeaways that builders or developers or architects should consider as they're designing new homes and communities that you got out of the process?

Speaker 1 (04:13):

Absolutely. You know, to me, um, one of the big pieces that is going to affect and, or air quality or the materials in the home in existing homes, we didn't have a huge opportunity to impact or change those pieces, but in new homes, we always have an opportunity to start off with the best materials that are gonna fit the price point we're looking for. And then the next pieces one ventilation is key. Uh, we saw huge impacts from adding kitchen ventilation, and then also looking, not just in the kitchen, but also whole home ventilation. This has been a key part of the weatherization assistance program for many years now and has shown huge impacts on actually improving indoor air quality in the home. Um, the other piece, and this is a little more focused would be taking some time to look at where the ducks are located and how tight they are.

Speaker 1 (05:06):

And, uh, or another area where we saw just these huge impacts and air quality. We're seeing in a traditional, a manufactured home where ducks are underneath the home, in this kind of semi conditions, skirted area where it's not really in the home, but it's not really truly outside either. It's this weird interstitial area, um, that is often wet, uh, often dirty musty moldy. And so that was an area where if we saw that ducts were being sealed and better insulated, you would see the indoor air quality in the home improve dramatically before and after. So this is another area and new construction. We have an opportunity to design and pick where that duct work is going to go from the beginning. We have an opportunity to test it and understand how tight it is and that we're not pulling in contaminants from outside the home and creating conditions that we don't want and possibly negatively impacting those homes.

Speaker 3 (06:10):

Yeah. That underneath mold and dirt and things doesn't sound very either appetizing or very healthy at all. So, um, and actually the first time I heard about you about you personally, was from gene Myers at thrive. He's the CEO of thrive, humble leaders in there. Obviously, you know this, but anyone who doesn't know him, who listening, they're a builder who has a great reputation for pushing the envelope on home performance. He was so impressed with what you did in school. You became part of his team to help them pursue healthy homes as part of their platform. So what was it like being able to apply the expertise you gained and kind of that real world working environment within a builder?

Speaker 1 (06:53):

You know, it was, to me, it was fantastic. I got to take a lot of what I've learned and really discern down the, um, you know, what are the best practices that we always want to do and find ways to implement those. And then also look into where can we go? What is it going to take to make that next big step? There's so many of these, I call them leading best practices that in our current market, whether it's your, your labor force and their skill, or just the overall cost, they're just a little out of reach right now. And so trying to kind of map out at thrive, and we did a lot of this of looking for, okay, what can we make sure we're doing right now versus what do we want to start looking at two to three years ago? What do we think is something that we're going to have to partner with a manufacturer to look at five years from now? And so that was really, really interesting, and being able to work with our teams in the field every day to help them build the best home that we can right now is just so gratifying.

Speaker 3 (07:56):

That's great. So in essence, you're creating kind of a blueprint for change management so that you could, you had an end in mind where you wanted to go, but you are strategically looking at what, what could be accomplished, but what also made sense from a business perspective and from the consumer's appetite, basically.

Speaker 1 (08:16):

Absolutely. You know, I look at this and I think with every, every home that's being built on the market, we're building them for an intended buyer. If we price out that buyer or put something in a home that they can't afford or don't want, then we're doing both ourselves and that buyer disservice. So it's really, can we design a home that will meet different buyers where they are both from a cost standpoint, but also just where they are on their journey with healthy homes and with indoor air quality.

Speaker 3 (08:49):

Yep. Perfect. So healthy homes are relatively new concepts. Like energy was 15 years or so ago. What other experts or programs have informed your strategies in this space?

Speaker 1 (09:02):

Yeah, so I would say that I really look to maybe three or four areas. One of them would be the existing home work. That's been done the national center for healthy housing and HUD have both spent a lot of time looking at existing homes, you know, how to make improvements and look at, you know, what's going wrong in homes. How can we change them and how can we make that better? And so, you know, taking that and saying, how can we take those best practices and just put them straight into new homes from the beginning. The other piece what's being looked at in the commercial space, Harvard, for example, has their healthy building program. We'll say this program is really more focused on commercial space than it is on residential space, but some of the research that's coming out of there, some of the things that we can learn can absolutely apply to residential space.

Speaker 1 (09:58):

And so trying to disseminate things that are maybe not quite residential focused or learn how we can apply them from commercial to residential in that same area, a place to look at, that's not typical. Residential would be, uh, surprisingly enough. NASA has these amazing resources. It sounds a little nuts, but if you think about it, they're putting people in these closed and capsulated systems and they have to be hyper focused on what they're putting into these space shuttles and the space station to make sure that they're not going to negatively impact or create unsafe situations. And some of these extreme conditions. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to leave, but we also can take some of those best practices and push them. And then another area that I would look is just information coming actually from our national labs and from the EPA Lawrence Berkeley national lab, I think is one of the great resources that has just been leading the industry and leading the research that's happening around healthy homes. I'd say the two gentlemen there, Brett singer and Ann Walker. Uh, if you want to know anything about kitchen ventilation, they are your go to guys. They know so much. Um, and I'll say there's another program called home Kim that is doing some similar, really innovative research. That's a university of Colorado. Boulder is a great partner in that. And I believe a university of Texas, a and M as another great partner in that they are nationally funded programs that are doing just outstanding work that we can learn from.

Speaker 3 (11:44):

So you've talked quite a bit about indoor air quality, and obviously that's one of the first things I think about when I think about healthy homes. You know, if you can't breathe, that's a big problem. What are some of the other types of characteristics or things that you consider when you're looking at healthy homes?

Speaker 1 (12:00):

So a lot of this starts in the existing home space and then comes into the new home space where an existing homes we're going to be worried about. Um, are there trip hazards, are there a possible electrical hazard? Are there things that could, while rare, dramatically impact or dramatically hurt somebody in the home? Fortunately in the new construction world, we have building codes that are going to keep our homes safe from damage and say from entering people. But then we also get to think about where these homes are being built and how the community around them is going to impact them. Are people going to be able to stay active? Are they going to have access to healthy foods or outdoor activities in a way that they can really engage and focus on their personal health? So indoor air quality to me falls in between these where it's not currently in the building code as a way to promote it, but there is this great intersection and this great opportunity to dramatically impact how people live in their homes.

Speaker 3 (13:09):

Right? Absolutely. So recently you took another step on your career path. So first you started educationally focusing on healthy homes, and then you were in the, as a builder and now you've joined energy logic. So you're, now you've now become an enabler. First, you were a researcher, then you were a deliverer and now you're an enabler, helping people deliver better home performance within the industry. How has your role in delivering healthy homes changed? Like how are you helping other people apply what you've learned? Yeah,

Speaker 1 (13:38):

Yeah. You know, it's, it's really great to me. Um, being an enabler means that I have this opportunity to impact so many more homes. Uh, you know, I, I went from working with one home builder to now with energy logic. We're working with over 200 home builders, uh, and then a wide variety of architects, engineers, developers, and general contractors all up and down the front range of Colorado and really what I've learned and what I think is the key takeaway. It's, uh, it's not just the building science. It's not just saying, Oh, can we change this spec? Can we change this detail? Can we do this one thing differently? It's also making sure that from that change forward, we know how to do it and do it at a high level. And then also know how to talk intelligently with homeowners and home buyers about this. If we can engage them and help them understand the value of healthy homes, we're going to get a excited, educated, and hopefully a buyer who's willing to pay a little bit more around these different issues.

Speaker 3 (14:47):

Absolutely. So a number of builders who are considering healthy homes was a key value proposition are already focused on energy efficiency and sustainability. Where do you see the crossovers between the two,

Speaker 1 (15:00):

You know, energy and efficiency and sustainability are going to have a huge impact on both healthy homes and indoor air quality. All of the key parts of the home that we think about for energy efficiency are also going to have this really big crossover into indoor air quality. You know, if we're looking at installing a better HPAC system to get that higher efficiency system, we're also going to see indoor air quality benefits because we can run the system more often. We can put in a better air filter, we can put in a better ventilation system that will not only make the home more energy efficient, but it's going to promote indoor air quality as well. And then when we look at sustainability, you know, where that home is built and what it's being built out of are some of the key pieces for sustainability. When we look at where the homes being built, having that access to get out and engage with the community is going to be a huge part of healthy homes, but then also the materials, what they're off gassing, what they're made of are so important for sustainability and for indoor air quality.

Speaker 3 (16:08):

So some builders may in essence already be doing quite a few things that resonate from a healthy home perspective, but they've been doing it under under energy efficiency and sustainability. What do you think if they just take a look at what they've done already and see how much of that story they have, and maybe they just need to make some incremental improvements to deliver better value in that?

Speaker 1 (16:31):

Absolutely agree. I think there was a, you know, the big mold issues from super insulated houses in the seventies. And so taking a look at that as a story of we learned from how energy efficiency could poorly impact indoor air quality. And we've learned from it, we are doing energy and efficient efficiency in a way that is not only going to have you end up with this really efficient house, but it's also going to impact the indoor air quality and how you feel in the home as well.

Speaker 3 (17:04):

Great. We haven't talked about this at all. We've been talking about really this, the internal systems kind of the heart, the lungs, all of that kind of stuff within the house in terms of healthy home. But what role are you seeing? What involvement do you have in leveraging smart home technology in this space? What's your experience like in that area?

Speaker 1 (17:24):

Uh, I'm impressed in how much this is growing. There are a lot of manufacturers spending a lot of time to bring things like smart ventilation or smart windows into the market and learning things like, can we pull information from the air outside to impact how and when, and why we open or close windows or use, this is something that we've been looking at and it's been kind of the Holy grail for ventilation right now. We say, Oh, let's turn it on at this rate. And we know it's going to do something, but if we can flush the home at the best time of the day or move more air or move less air when outside conditions dictate that that's going to be huge for home performance.

Speaker 3 (18:14):

Yeah. That's absolutely an opportunity for innovation to be more in sync with the natural environment when you're looking at air quality. Absolutely. So you've been in a few different roles. Are there any fail forwards or things, you know, things that you tried and didn't quite work or something that, um, didn't get the reception that you might have thought it would get from a builder as a client or from customers as the builder that you'd be able to share with others. So we hear all the great things. Is there something tangible on the fail forward side that you'd be able to share?

Speaker 1 (18:46):

Just thinking through issues and conversations with buyers, to me, where there's the possibility to fail to me all relates back to a homeowner expectations and homeowner education. If they don't know what they're wanting from their home, and if they don't know how to properly interact with it, then you're going to run into some problems. For example, being in Colorado, in Denver, where we're pretty dry climate. And one of the pieces that we've looked at is adding humidifiers into homes. It's a great idea and a great way to improve the air that you're breathing. You're going to feel better. But what we found is you can also increase a risk for the big, uh, big M word mold. And so teaching homeowners when they should, and shouldn't use a humidifier and, uh, how humid they want their house is, was a homeowner education piece, but trying to go into a home and say, Oh, we know we put this great piece of equipment in, but we didn't quite tell you how to use it. And it caused this problem. Let us help you fix. It really was an opportunity to take a potential black Mark with that buyer and turn it into a we're here we care. We want to help you do this better and really help turn that around.

Speaker 3 (20:08):

Yeah. Having been in communications, the communication side, and working with lots of people with technical backgrounds for years on my end, you can't discount what you know, and someone else doesn't know. Um, and what that, how that could impact you. So that's absolutely critical. And I think sometimes it's really hard to be on the builder's side and know how to communicate that to the end buyer or the dweller within your homes. So is there anything that you guys do, and this is kind of out of the scope of what's here, but is there something that you guys do in terms of supporting the communication efforts of your clients at energy lines

Speaker 1 (20:45):

At energy logic have tried to work more with our builders marketing teams, and it's something that we're growing into every day, both to help them just market and sell more efficient homes and healthier homes. That's an area that we're really looking forward and see an opportunity and in the future, not just helping them to sell, but also helping them to teach their buyers how to use their homes and great some great platforms for homeowner education that are easy to distribute digital and are going to help the home buyer fully take advantage of what they have going on. So it's not just what we do with the home. Are we in empowering and enabling homeowners to use it to their best benefit?

Speaker 3 (21:30):

Right? So it makes them in the end, happier with you as the provider. And it also saves you the risk issue. Cause you still do still have that looming, usually 10 year warranty or more. And, you know, we'd rather spend, spend the money up front and, and educate them then having to deal with customer satisfaction issues. Certainly. So that's good that you guys are looking at that. I think that's helpful, very helpful for them.

Speaker 1 (21:57):

Oh, I just think, you know, from a risk standpoint, we are putting in great systems into a home that have filters and maintenance and care that that's a huge risk of what happens if we put it in and the homeowner doesn't touch it in a year and a half that great DRV or that great ventilation system or the great air filter that you put in is now just a black cloud mess of articulates and all of the things that end up in our homes and how is that going to impact how they're living and how they feel?

Speaker 3 (22:32):

It's like the stationary bike in the bedroom that just ends up with the clothes, all hanging on it cause they don't know how to use it. And then they're like, why did I do that? I don't understand. So, um, um, what, if any barriers do you see in healthy homes becoming more prevalent in the marketplace?

Speaker 1 (22:54):

You know, I think one of the biggest barriers to me is going to be effectively communicating this to a buyer, helping them see value. We have research and experience that homes can make us feel poorly. I look at the manufactured homes after Katrina and the, the experiences that those homeowners had with, you know, high formaldehyde, uh, lead paint and housing are just examples of how homes can poorly affect how health, but we need to step away from telling our buyers about the skull and crossbones and get them excited about what their home can do for them. You know, uh, that to me is going to be the big barrier. And so I'm excited to see where the research is going around productivity around cognitive abilities and about how feeling around this. And I think too, uh, the opportunities that we're seeing are huge with COVID going on, people are excited, but they're also afraid. And so how can we keep that excitement and that engagement and take it away from I'm afraid and too, I want to live better,

Speaker 3 (24:11):

Absolutely change the narrative to being reactionary and fearful, to being hopeful and, you know, and planning and like knowing what to ask for it. I think that's a huge problem, especially when things, you know, basically a house is a big technical connection of lots of pieces and parts, and depending on how well you put it together will impact on how impact, how well it performs for you. But like what are cell phones like when the iPhone came out, people didn't know that they wanted the iPhone. Somebody had to sense what the pain were and simplify it. And I think that's, I agree with you. I think that's a huge opportunity for us to, to help create the narrative and help people think differently about how to shape what that opportunity is. And to that end, we'd see. And we talked about this a little earlier that we think, we think the end in mind is that healthy homes will become the new energy efficiency in the next five years impacting things like codes and Palm valuations and so forth. Do you have any thoughts on from your perspective

Speaker 1 (25:22):

Now? I, I would say that that is right on track. I will say that the big piece, uh, I think we'll need to be focused on is how people live in their homes. There's so much that we can do to improve indoor air quality. But if the buyer is, and our partner in it, then all of our work is going to go by the wayside. You know, it's it's how do we get this from? We're giving you this great asset and this great opportunity to where teaching you and training you and empowering you to use that asset to its fullest.

Speaker 3 (25:57):

Yep. It's a, it's a have to lead people, but I honestly think that's the same thing that happened in energy efficiency. There was a big driver to get there and they need to get there. That might've been a little bit easier to quantify though. So I think that might be a challenge too, then, you know, it's granted the hers index was created, but it's a, it's a very measurable thing. So to think of how we can measure, you know, in some of that is some of the quality of life, things that you were talking about. Some of the impacts on can't remember I was reading a study that I think it said 80 or 90% of the impact on your, your health and your life is where you're living. That's the home that you're living in and the community that you're living in has such a massive effect and then should also have a massive effect on the support systems that you have in that community.

Speaker 3 (26:49):

So there should be some way that we can just like we've been tied tax incentives and things to energy efficiency that we should be able to do that with health in some respect as well. I think that will be a fun thing. I look forward to talking to you and other people about that. I think that's a fun thing for us to try and delayer and because it serves all of us the better, you know, the better environments we have to live in, it's going to make everyone's quality of life better as one final thing, because we've talked about a lot in there, a lot of things that people can do out there. I think one of the biggest challenges when we talk about innovation is that sometimes it's hard to know where to start. And you've been in this role in a couple of different places. And obviously you consult with people on a regular basis. If you could speak directly to a builder, who's interested in pursuing healthy homes and hasn't done anything about it yet. What would you tell them to do first?

Speaker 1 (27:40):

I would say first look to the Y and think about what you're wanting to offer to your buyer, uh, and then look to your existing team and our world as a key subcontractor for a builder. We're trying to have these conversations day in and day out. There's a high likelihood that the hers rater that you're working with is going to have a lot of information or have a lot of resources to help guide you along the way. So I would say, look, look at that person and go from there.

Speaker 3 (28:14):

Well, great. Well, thank you so much for taking time to chat with us today. I know we've reached out to some of your builders, so hopefully we'll be sharing some case studies of some things that are going on directly in their businesses, how they've taken your advice and, uh, you know, some of the things that they're doing as well. And we'll be sure if you're listening to this to share Nathan's contact information so that you can connect with energy logic. If you are interested, we will talk to you again. Next time

Speaker 1 (28:47):

On behalf of the Housing Innovation Alliance and the University of Denver. This is dr. Eric Holt, Thank you for being part of our journey. This is where innovation calls home.